Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.

Saloons and Such

Click here for Mike Conley's 7 Favorite Things.

Best Downtown
With more than 40 bars serving alcohol and a downtown that houses restaurants open until the wee hours of the morning specifically to cater to the drunks who need food in their bellies before slogging home, Fullerton has a romping-stomping after-dark scene that is ripe for the guzzling. But it's not just about the booze: A walk through downtown Fullerton is comparable to turning the dial on your car radio. Home to the jazz club Steamers, rock & roll venues such as Slide Bar, and such loud pop pushers as Rockin' Taco, Fullerton has a little taste of everything you can jam to. Whether you're a straight-laced conservative or a rock-hard emo warrior, make it a point to drink this city in—while you can. Because of such trifles as increased crime and congestion, this drunken paradise will get a lot less fun, starting next year. In June, the city council voted to establish a 45-day urgency moratorium on ABC permits, which allows for a ban of "happy hour" at bars and restricts alcohol-sale times to between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays and till midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. It is the end of an era, people, so drink up before it dries up—and try not to throw up on your way out.

Reader's Choice: Fullerton

Best Bar in Orange County
Kopa Room
201 S. Brookhurst Ave., Anaheim
(714) 774-2253
Getting trashed while bowling is every American's birthright. There's nothing like the thrill that comes from catching a nice buzz before trying to gracefully power-walk down the lane, throw a strike, and not crack your skull after you drunkenly step over the line and hit the slick waxed wood. Open 24 hours—since you never know when the 4 a.m. bowling urge will strike—Linbrook Bowl, the Anaheim Googie institution, features the Kopa Room, which gets the prize this year mainly because it's a dark hole frequented by people who just want to get drunk and bowl. Sure, some may prefer the glitz of a place like Sutra Lounge, but Linbrook offers far more earthy and meaningful pleasures. And unlike at some of OC's fancier bars, you barely even need to be employed to afford the drinks. And they have nightly karaoke. And darts. With the adjoining lanes' all-night hours, you can hit the Kopa, get drunk, bowl all night, get a hangover, and nurse said hangover with some hair of the dog back at the Kopa when it begins serving alcohol again at noon the next day. In theory, there's no reason to ever leave Linbrook Bowl.

Reader's Poll: Chronic Cantina

Best Neighborhood Bar/North OC
Continental Room
115 W. Santa Fe Ave., Fullerton
(714) 526-4529
Three words can sum up the Continental Room in Fullerton: small, dark and cool. Stepping through the doors feels like stepping back in time into a hip 1940s jazz club. This gem consists of a dimly lit room lined with U-shaped booths that feature call buttons to signal to servers you are ready for another round, a stage area hosting great local talent including Elvis impersonators on Wednesdays, and a sweet outdoor station for smokers that doesn't make them feel like lepers or societal rejects. The Continental's outdoor area consists of two walled-in rooms with candelabra adorning the walls and intricately designed wrought-iron work on the ceiling. It also offers a rentable banquet room complete with a circular couch for hipsters in search of a more private party, and yes, smoking in this private station is allowed.

Best Neighborhood Bar/South OC
Mugs Away Saloon
27324 Camino Capistrano, Ste. 102, Laguna Niguel
(949) 582-9716
The first thing you might notice when walking into Mugs Away are pictures of naked women outside the patio that look like they were ripped from the pages of a 1980s Penthouse. Advertised below a teased blonde's globular silicone breasts are the specials that make this place great, such as $8 happy-hour pitchers of Pabst Blue Ribbon and $2 all-you-can-eat pizza "until it's gone." The locals shooting pool have control of the jukebox and a penchant for '80s metal—deal with it. The rusted-out frame of a bike that looks like it was pulled up by an unlucky fisherman is just one of the plethora of interior oddities, such as street signs containing unnecessary curse words. Oh, and Mugs Away is infamous in Orange County for instigating that annual tradition involving hundreds of drunk people pulling down their pants and showing their asses to a nearby passing Amtrak train. Need we say more?

Best Neighborhood Bar/Central OC
The Olde Ship
1120 W. 17th St., Santa Ana
(714) 550-6700
Conveniently located on 17th Street in Santa Ana—but, unfortunately, just outside walking distance from the Weekly's offices—is the best source of bottled ships, maritime paraphernalia and British food you're likely to find in Orange County. And by British food, we mean the kind with a 2-inch coffee-colored head that froths and settles in your glass and has a name like Boddington's, Fuller's London Pride, Newcastle, Bass or Guinness. Besides beer, the Olde Ship has several wide-screen televisions tuned to Barclay's Premier League socc—er, football, a full bar and actual (solid) food, including a fantastic, peppery meat sandwich called the Captain's Burger, excellent fish and chips, curries, bangers and mash, and black pudding, all of which will be served to your table by a nice blond waitress who's always there and always seems to know your name, no matter who you are: "Luv."

Best Neighborhood Bar/Coastal OC
The Sandpiper Lounge
1183 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach
(949) 949-4694
This dive on the beach side of Pacific Coast Highway has been a hippie watering hole since the 1960s. Locals call it the "Dirty Bird." Live music, plenty of beer, an occasional green (but not pine) scent floating through the air and fabulously unpretentious décor make it one of the most welcoming pubs in the county.

Best Neighborhood Bar/Long Beach
Alex's Bar
2913 E. Anaheim, Long Beach
(562) 434-8292
Small, dark and covered with pictures of naked ladies sporting Afros, Alex's Bar is totally trashy. Trashy chic, that is. You enter the bar through a door off a parking lot next to an Auto Zone, and once you pass through those portals, the distinct odor of class (you know: new shoes, champagne, cigarettes) is sure to entice even the most skittish of patrons to begin drinking heavily. The hard-pounding bass leaking from the instruments of the bar's many bands (performing everything from thrash to emo) are sure to get patrons' feet stomping and lighters blazing. Featuring a slew of tatted-up, bad-ass bitches behind the bar who serve up tall cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and whiskey shots, Alex's is a dream come true for people looking for something real. Real trashy.

Best New Bar
215 N. Broadway, Santa Ana
(714) 953-2660
As the website says, Santa Ana's Proof "marks an evolution in the Artists Village into an increasingly urbane nighttime destination." Basically, they're trying to say this ain't no dive bar, which means you might actually want to put some pants on before you head in. But it's by no means Costa Mesa-fancy: The drinks are reasonably priced, the décor is crisp and clean without feeling too uncomfortably sterile, and the staff is friendly and professional. Best of all, Proof features an eclectic selection of DJs every night of the week, so you'll have a beat to which to sway once you've had a few too many martinis.

Best Bar Game
Shuffleboard Table at Iguana Kelley's
4306 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach
(562) 434-0447
When you're drunk to the point that you can barely stand, don't you just love to sidle up to a long table and chuck a steel disk down a stretch of sandy wood? No? Oh. Well, you should, and Iguana Kelley's in Long Beach is the place to go for some old-fashioned shuffleboard. The bar is home to a 22-foot table that gleams like a miniature bowling alley, especially on $2 Tecate beer night. The pucks are free, as long as you have some sort of collateral to leave with the bartender, preferably something along the lines of a driver's license, but considering the seriousness with which some of the patrons play, they might be more apt to ask for a credit card, wedding ring, or first-born child. A quick anecdote: There is a group of players that comes in, usually on Tuesday night, that insists on wiping down the table and starting from scratch with a fresh coat of specialized silicone beads. They then test to make sure an even coat has been applied. These players flay all those in their path. An illuminated scoreboard on the wall will help your drunk ass keep score, and there are occasional shuffleboard tourneys. This ain't your granddaddy's sun-deck, Carnival Cruise game, sonny. Grab a beer (preferably a $2 model) and bring the heat.

Best Place to Stay Until Last Call
Hennessey's Grill
143 Main St., Seal Beach
(562) 598-6456
For more than 23 years, Hennessey's has been the watering hole of choice for Seal Beach locals, with its roomy bar, dark wood and forest-green décor. The salty ocean breeze is a nice touch, too, as it wafts in from the beach, a stone's throw from the front patio. In fine Irish tradition (along with the attraction to all things Guinness), Hennessey's has a knack for getting its patrons absolutely wasted, especially those night owls who like to drink until the wee hours. Should this be you, a DUI may not necessarily be in your future. Hennessey's is stumbling distance from Shore House Cafe, a quaint little noshery open 24 hours. After closing down the bar, the inebriated have a chance to sober up with some deliciously greasy food and strong coffee.

Best Place to Play Pool
Diamonds Billiards
910 E. Birch St., Brea
(714) 255-1800
With plushy booths, beige-ish desert color scheme and leopard-spotted carpet, not to mention 13 pool tables that don't show a day of wear or tear, this 14-year-old hidden treasure near the Brea Mall has a clean classiness reminiscent of Las Vegas. In fact, the Egyptian hieroglyphs and stone statues outside the shopping center that houses the club wouldn't look out of place at the iconic Luxor Resort and Casino pyramid. And the friendly staff? By the looks of the sultry vixen taking your drink order, it probably wasn't her enhanced résumé that helped her land this gig. The best part: They have to talk to you because it's their job. The place is wide-open during the day, but Thursday through Saturday nights, it's the hottest pool hall/club around. Wednesday's happy hour runs from noon until 2 a.m., with $2 domestic beers and $3 imports. On other weekdays, happy hour is 4 to 7 p.m. Unfortunately, non-happy hour prices are a forbidding $4 for domestics and $5 for imports, and no deals are granted on hard liquor.

Reader's Choice: Shark Club

Best Sports Bar
Regina's Restaurant
11025 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove
(714) 638-9595
If you haven't heard of the Goat, then you don't know shit about beer. But don't worry. Just close your eyes and point, then order confidently. This place has more than 140 of the most obscure beers you could imagine on tap, and it's doubtful that most of its patrons could tell a Rogue Brutal Bitter from a Deschutes Black Butte Porter. You can take your taste buds down a wet-and-wild ride by ordering up something different every time, and you'll never run the gamut of what's available. The place, decorated in a crazy junkyard-chic motif, is a spellbinding, visually cluttered Willy Wonka's drunk factory for locals. So you'd better be serious about your suds: Within one second of entering, you'll be gut-checked by a musty funk of urine, vomit and stale beer. You'll soon forget it under the cloud of cigarette smoke as the bar's back "porch" is integrated so well with the bar it feels just like . . . well, people smoking in a bar. Most pints go for $4.50 apiece, and pitchers usually hover near the $16 mark.

Best Signature Cocktail
The Flirtini at the Clubhouse
3333 Bristol St., Ste. 2802, Costa Mesa
(714) 708-2582
All right, fellas, the ladies and metros already know about this one. Let's see if you're man enough to handle a pink martini. Yeah? What about a pink martini with a gummy fish? We're talking about the Flirtini, a secret concoction found at the Clubhouse that's quite possibly the tastiest little drink on the planet. Just try to re-create it sometime; you may get good and plastered, but trust us, you won't succeed. Stoli Raspberry, champagne and some juices are involved. The result is a sweet-but-not-too-sweet little darling that's so smooth it's dangerous. So here's your winner, in all its pink and foofy glory—how appropriate for the land of frilly decadence.

Best Bloody Mary
The Bloody Mary Bar at Sharkeez
211 Main St., Huntington Beach
(714) 960-5282
This one is for all you people who like to think you're cocktail connoisseurs, spirits savants and masters of the mixed drink. No matter which Bloody Mary is listed here, you won't agree because you could make a better one. So, all right, hotshots, here's your chance to shine. Your blank canvas is a mini-pitcher filled with ice and a straw. The bartender provides the vodka (regular or Absolut Peppar) then you're on your own to make some art. Get ready for this: three kinds of Bloody Mary mix or regular tomato juice; about a dozen different hot sauces (including every imaginable iteration of Tabasco); the same number of such spices as garlic salt, cayenne pepper and Cajun seasoning; four kinds of stuffed olives; Worcestershire and A1 sauces; horseradish; celery stalks on ice; hot pickled green beans; baby corn; jalapeños; and lemons and limes. Overwhelmed? Don't panic, every table comes with a flier providing amateurs with step-by-step recipes for such concoctions as the Mexican Mary and the Bayou Bloody. Sharkeez hosts this spectacular on Saturdays and Sundays only, so don't try to get your Bloody boogie on on a Thursday.

Best Margarita
The El Patron at Yucatan Grill
550 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. 111, Seal Beach
(562) 430-4422
This libation is nothing fancy, just a few classic, high-quality ingredients, but that's why it gets the nod. Yucatan Grill, a tiny Caribbean restaurant tucked out of sight in Seal Beach, knows not to mess with a drink that is messed with far too often. There's no premade margarita mix, no mysterious plastic bottle filled with high-fructose corn syrup and Yellow Dye No. 7, and every El Patron is made to order. It starts with a glass full of ice, add a few shots of Patron Silver, then a healthy dose of Cointreau for sweetness. Next comes the juice—hand-squeezed from half an orange, half a lemon and a couple of lime slices. Salt, if you want it. Pure and simple. It's $10.50 a pop—a small price to pay for such unadulterated perfection.

Best Wine Bar
Bacchus' Secret Cellar
6735 Quail Hill Pkwy., Irvine
(949) 502-4600
Named after the greatest wine expert of all time, Bacchus' Secret Cellar brings the vino-sampling experience to remarkable heights. Most notable is the wine-tasting bar that, thanks to their wine-preservation system, offers more than 60 vintages at any given time. Tastings are available in four sizes: taste, half-glass, full glass and "flight." Single "tastes" range from $1 to $19, welcoming any budget. Newbies can choose from 18 preselected flights, and connoisseurs are welcome to pick their own. Decorated in an Ancient Greece theme (naturally), the space that isn't devoted to the bar holds an impressive array of bottles.

Best Place to Smoke Indoors
Christy's Ristorante
3937 E. Broadway, Long Beach
(562) 433-7133
Normally relegated to the windy tundra known as the patio—or, in some cases, the sidewalk—smokers in California are not the highest on the totem pole. Farters, nose-pickers and clubbers of baby seals are treated better than smokers. Face it: If you smoke cigarettes, you are kind of a scumbag. But wait, you say you smoke cigars? Well, then, come on inside, good citizen! Don't stand out there in the cold with those animals! Christy's is a haven for such high-culture tobacco-smokers, offering a quiet little haven to puff and still be treated like an adult. The good/expensive wine (the cheapest glass of red wine is $11), the great/really expensive food, the white tablecloths and fine stemware are all just footnotes compared to the cigar bar and classy smoking lounge. Relax in a soft leather chair, rub elbows with others who are usually asked to step outside, and bask in flavor country. Yes, it's California, and yes, you're smoking inside.

Best Hookah Bar
1948 N. Tustin Ave., Orange
(714) 282-1818
So you really like some tea and lamb tongue with your flavored smoke, eh? Then ChaiKhooneh is the place for you. It isn't your typical hookah lounge. That's mostly because of owner AliReza Mirzai's passion for Persian culture. Stepping inside ChaiKhooneh means immersing yourself in traditional Persian foods and teas, a family-owned spirit, and a haze of fine hookah smoke packed tightly inside of its cluttered walls. The atmosphere is made all the more enticing thanks to the sounds of Persian music swirling through the rugs and trinkets proudly on display inside this local gem.

Best Bartender
Rick from O'Malley's
140 Main St., Seal Beach
(562) 430-0631
Finally. A bartender you don't have to flag down when your glass is empty. In fact, you probably won't even see the bottom of your glass by the time you've got another cocktail waiting. Thank you, Rick; with you, the thirsty find solace. Charming and attentive, Rick has been working the bar scene since long before he was of legal drinking age (relax, he started out as an O'Malley's busboy), and serving parched customers has become second nature, not to mention a finely honed skill. Perhaps it's his sharp, sarcastic wit or that curiously styled mustache, but Rick shakes that mixer like nobody else.

Reader's Choice: Stephen at Avalon, Costa Mesa

Best Happy Hour
Mai Tai Bar
97 Aquarium Way, Long Beach
(562) 435-1200
Most happy hours are enjoyed only by those who have the option to sit in a bar on a Tuesday at 4 p.m. By the time we working folks schlep into our favorite saloons after a long day, happy hour is long over and done with. Why should this time of mirth not be available to the rest of us? Why should those working late hours be deprived of the happiest hour of the day? This is America, fer chrissakes! The Mai Tai Bar knows our pain. With its tropical-resort feel, this second-floor bar is far from a skeezy dive. Not only does it have an absolutely breathtaking open-air patio overlooking Rainbow Harbor, but it also hosts the Late Night Happy Hour, which goes from 8 p.m. to 11p.m.—you know, when people are actually out. The best deals are their $4 specialty drinks, the list of which includes their famous Mai Tai—go figure, it's also the best in town. If you're not up for such a sweet treat, there are also $3 well drinks and pints of beer for $2.50 (domestic) or $3 (imported). The best part? Mai Tai's Late Night Happy Hour happens every day. Yes, every day. And that should make you pretty damn happy.

Reader's Choice: Slidebar Cafe

Best Dive Bar
Paul's Cocktails
207 W. Chapman Ave., Orange
(714) 639-2480
Paul's can be many things, depending on when you go. It stays chill during the day, with just the locals and regulars watching sports and shooting pool, shooting the shit with some of the best bartenders around, drinking cocktails and Pabsts in cans. Nights are laid-back, too, but only during winter break. If you like your bars sleepy and casual, then go at these times. If you like things more lively, then keep reading. You see, Paul's is right near Chapman University, which means every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night belongs to the twentysomething crowd, and it gets absolutely packed starting around 11 p.m. This can be fun—as long as you order two drinks at a time (it can take a while to work your way back up to the bar). Plus, it has the best smoking patio in Orange County, a huge open space with ventilation fans and several places to sit. How rare to enjoy a cigarette with a cold beer these days.

Best Venue for Live Music
The Prospector
2400 E. Seventh St., Long Beach
(562) 438-3839
Long Beach doesn't have as many live-band hotspots as one would expect from a city its size. Alex's Bar has some good shows, primarily of the punk variety, and Que Sera has hosted some interesting acts. But in the past couple of years, the Prospector has become one of the most unexpectedly successful venues in town. Why unexpected? Well, frankly, the design of the bar makes it almost impossible to maneuver when it gets crowded (as it usually is during a show), the sound is no great shakes, and unless you're one of the maybe 25 people who can reasonably fit onto the main floor, you won't be seeing much of the band you came to see. But thanks to the diligence of its bookers and staff, the Prospector has managed to attract a hip roster of LA, OC and out-of-town up-and-comers to its stage, shortcomings be damned.

Reader's Choice: House of Blues, Anaheim

Best Dance Club
Club Vegas
1901 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa
(949) 548-9500
With its sweeping layout and immense dance floors, Club Vegas is the place to go to break it down on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Just don't take it too seriously: This place isn't exactly known for its tactful patrons. Think of all the over-the-top elements of the real Vegas, and you've got Club Vegas. The guys have gelled, spiky hair, and the girls wear teeny-tiny skirts and shoes that hurt—but hey, everyone's there for a good time and to hook up, if they can. Depending on your musical tastes, choose between a massive Top 40 room and a smaller-but-still-substantial house/techno room. Once you've opened a tab, a numbered disc allows you to access your account from any of the bars throughout the club, so you don't have to keep fighting the crowd at the same spot to get a cocktail. Go-go dancers do their thing once the floor gets crowded, which is generally around 11 p.m. The vibe is upscale, but not in an intimidating way, since club-goers are generally of the frat/sorority type. The dress code is strictly enforced, and the VIP lounge is awesome if you can afford to shell out the bucks— yet another way Club Vegas brings the spectacle of Sin City's glitzy outrageousness to Costa Mesa.

Reader's Choice: Sutra

Best Club DJ
Dennis Owens of Good Foot at Que Sera
1923 E. Seventh St., Long Beach
(562) 599-6170
One of the key figures in Long Beach's thriving music scene, 35-year-old Dennis Owens plays bass for the outstanding bands Free Moral Agents and BlowUpBlow. But it's his role as DJ for the long-running Good Foot night at Que Sera for which he is probably best-known and -loved. Most club nights have trouble lasting nine months; Good Foot has been enabling people's groove addictions for nine years. That sort of durability in clubdom is extremely rare. Inspired by a 1997 visit to the Santa Monica drum-and-bass night Science with his best friend Rodi Delgadillo, the duo started Good Foot the next year, after Owens' band Action League folded. Rather than spinning drum-and-bass, though, Owens opted to shod the Good Foot mainly with vintage funk and soul, music that's moved humans of many ethnicities for decades. Owens can spring some unlikely cuts on you, amid the killer tunes you've probably heard before. He has a particular knack for finding awesome Brazilian artists (Emilio Santiago, Gal Costa, Antonio Carlos E Jocafi, Gilberto Gil, etc.) and plucking obscure gems from very popular musicians (e.g., "Maria" by Michael Jackson, "The Jugglers" by Average White Band). Whether your feet be good or bad, every second Friday, Owens will treat them (and your damned ears) with expert care.

Reader's Choice: Eric Cubiche (various clubs)

Best Night Out for Anglophiles
Definitely Maybe at Memphis
Memphis Café
2920 Bristol St., Costa Mesa
(714) 432-SOUL
Where were you when we were getting high—on awesome British music? Seriously, where the hell have you been? You've been missing some incredible mixes from DJs TSC-1 (Sean Harris) and AM 180 (Darren Crandell), who've been dropping bloke-rockin' choons every Wednesday for four years at the cozy Costa Mesa Memphis Café. Attendance is way below what it ought to be. What makes Definitely Maybe interesting is that TSC-1 and AM 180 spin well-known artists such as Joy Division, Stone Roses and Morrissey, but they balance this familiarity with obscure gems by Ride, Slowdive, the Creation and other cult faves. It's refreshing to hear DJs catering to the highest uncommon denominator. Definitely Maybe's an oasis of cool sounds. Sort it out, mate.

Best Rock Club
Detroit Bar
843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa
(949) 642-0600
This Costa Mesa fixture is really three clubs in one. There's the semi-intimate main room, where rock bands rock; there's the sleek, stylish lounge area, where one can hear rock bands rocking, or listen and/or dance to DJs deejaying, and/or get one's drink on, and/or buy band merch; and, finally, there's the homey back room, where one can play tunes on the digital jukebox and watch rock bands on television screens and shoot pool, or engage in the ancient art of conversation without wrecking vocal cords as one tries to be heard over the din of rock bands rocking. Linking the main room with the lounge is a huge, crooked-horseshoe-shaped bar. From the bar, one can both watch rock bands rocking directly or on a television screen. Finally, more sofas per square foot sit in this place than in a Levitz showroom. Aside from the superlative blueprint, Detroit Bar also boasts one of the county's finest sound men, Ken Tustison. This veteran knob-twiddler is actually someone with whom you wouldn't mind sharing a drink and geeking out to music trivia.

Detroit Bar also embraces musical diversity. Every last Saturday, Abstract Workshop puts on a hip-hop seminar, with world-class talent regularly wrecking (work)shop. And every Tuesday and Wednesday, those whippersnappers with their crazy turntables and Seratos and (you're not gonna believe this) vinyl bust out the fresh dance tunes that help you to bust moves, with the Kat Step and Busy Work nights, respectively. And, if you like to laugh, you can head to the joint early on Tuesdays for We Know Funny comedy showcases. Oh, you don't like to laugh? Then hit Detroit's Sunday night karaoke shindigs. Detroit's brain trust—owners Dan Bradley, Jon Reiser, Diego Velasco, Mike Harris and Scott Hamilton, as well as talent booker Chris Fahey—has connections, see. Detroit's executives use their power for good, and OC's music scene is much richer for it.

Reader's Choice: Detroit Bar

Best All-Ages Venue You Don't Know About
The Clinic
2208 S. Lyon St., Santa Ana
Ah, the all-ages venue. You love it when you're younger, ecstatically grateful to have a place where you are able to witness your favorites perform live-and-in-person . . . or just to have a place where you don't feel too young. But as you grow older, you start hating the very thought of it—kids milling about, the idea of even more people crowding up a show for your band (you were totally listening to them, like, way back when they only played garages and basements and had a self-recorded, three-song demo) and, the absolute worst, no alcohol.

Well, there's a happy medium. Sort of. There's still no booze involved, but at least it's a place you can still snoot about to your friends. You know how it goes: You always feel cooler knowing about a place not many others do. Santa Ana's the Clinic is a venue where mostly local punk bands play. Its No. 1 agenda is supporting the local scene and showcasing bands in an environment where everyone is able to watch. Best of all, the Clinic isn't one of those cursed pay-to-play venues (LA, we're looking in your direction) where bands are required to presell a certain quota of tickets in order to perform. The Clinic's official website makes a good point about the no-alcohol-thing, anyway: "Being an all ages venue, there is a strict no alcohol policy. Drunk kids/adults cause drama; we don't like drama."

Best 24-Hour Lockout
Gemini Studios
(714) 545-2289
Let's just say—and why not?—that as younger person, you were in a seven-piece rock band: two guitars, bass, drums, vocals and a horn line, all amplified, all played at high volume. After being kicked out of every member's garage by either an angry mother, or a cop at the behest of an angry neighbor, you ended up finding a home in the garage of your drummer, where the seven of you, gear included, packed into a cluttered, cold, wet space that you shared with a washer and dryer, as well as a broken-down, rusted-out 1973 Buick. Oh, how you pined for a decent practice space.

Too bad you didn't know about Gemini Studios. It's a 24-hour lockout—musician lingo for a building where you can practice whenever the hell you want to—owned and operated by Cal State Fullerton grad Luke Allen. Musicians will need to jump through the usual rental hoops—contract, security deposit, basic rules and regs—but once the business stuff is out of the way, it's time to get down to the business of rockin' out! Three studio sizes are available: 200 square feet will cost you $595 per month (just 85 bucks apiece, if there's seven of you!), 150 square feet is $525, and 100 will cost you $445—all with AC, the freedom to decorate, insurance, free DSL and, most important, 24-hour access. Look, practicing in a leaky garage sucks, especially when it smells like laundry and motor oil. Get some money together and go legit.

Best Gay Bar
Executive Suite
3428 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach
(562) 597-3884
This place really and truly offers something for everyone, no matter the preferred lifestyle. Originally overrun by lesbians, the boys eventually took over Friday nights, now named Boy's Room. Thursdays are Latin Night, which attracts both guys and girls, but Saturdays still belong to the ladies. Downstairs is relaxed, with darts and pool tables, but upstairs is where the party's at, with DJs and dancing. With its carefree atmosphere and casual dress code, Executive Suite prompts patrons to be themselves; there's no attitude here, just a bunch of party people looking to mingle. Eager to get everyone drunk and frisky, this club is famous for its super-strong, super-cheap cocktails.

Reader's Choice: Tiajuana's

Best Biker Bar
Cook's Corner
19152 Santiago Canyon Rd., Trabuco Canyon
(949) 858-0266
If you arrive just as the sun is setting, the backcountry feel of Cook's Corner provides much-needed respite from the suburban OC sprawl that creeps dangerously close to Cleveland National Forest blossoming just beyond Cook's. As the sun drops, Harleys roar up to the low-slung yellow building at the fork in the road, and regulars pile into its sawdust-strewn interior. Many sit outside on the dozen or so picnic tables for a pint, a smoke or a snack from the menu. The mix of majestic mountains, glittering Hogs and a true biker jukebox can't be beat. Cook's reduces the biker-bar experience to its barest, purest essentials: beer, burgers and mountains—and no strip malls or highways to speak of for miles around.

Best Strip Joint
California Girls
1109 N. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana
(714) 554-0491
Strip joints (or gentlemen's clubs, for you euphemism-lovers) fall into two general categories. One is the ritzy emporium of fantasy in which 99 percent of the "exotic" dancers look like airbrushed, silicone- and collagen-enhanced Victoria's Secret models; where the cover charge is steep, the drinks are overpriced and security guards stand poised to pounce should you touch the merchandise. The other is the down-market, funkier hotbox of writhing female flesh at which the talent is not as pulchritudinous, but the dancers work harder for el dinero than their more attractive (and usually more blasé) counterparts. California Girls in Santa Ana represents the second category.

With a minimal cover charge, California Girls allows its horny male patrons to stuff more bills inside the thongs of the young, flexible women contorting erotically for their pleasure. The room is bathed in blood-red lighting that casts an aptly sleazy glow to the proceedings. (The VIP room—where lap dances go for $20 a pop, so to speak—is even darker, for obvious reasons.) The DJs spin a generally rambunctious series of mainstream hip-hop tracks, glazed with misogynistic lyrics—plenty of "bitch," "ho," "ass" and other carnal references (this is the only context in which this music sounds good)—while repeatedly cajoling you to "give it up" for Cassandra, Essence or Mandy. "If you came here with no money, you came to the wrong place, gentlemen," the DJ hectors. Such honesty is refreshing: You, dude, are basically a wallet with a hard-on. Now start peeling off those dead presidents.

The California Girls girls are mostly 6s and 7s as opposed to the 8s and 9s you might see at Fritz That's Too, but they have serious moves and can work a pole with panache. Most of 'em can't afford boob jobs yet, and believe it or not, that's a plus. These women are real (or less fake), and their sense of entitlement to your wad of cash is less obvious than it is among the near-nude staff in the swankier palaces. At California Girls, the dancers' skin is smoother than butter and they smell like lilac and the slightest hint of musk. Although the small talk will be kind of painful and awkward (face it, you're no Jon Stewart, either), the dancing is athletic, informed by a desperation to better their stations in life.

All strip joints are predicated on false assumptions and delusions, obviously, but clubs that avoid the pretension that the whole enterprise is somehow "classy" are ultimately less frustrating than the ones that come over all snooty about the debased charade of leaving libidinous men with blue balls and bluer moods.


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