A while back, we received instructions from the suits to put together a set of lists of the ten best in several categories. As Gustavo explained, this is meant to make our already awesome Best Of applications even more awesome...er.
One of the categories was gay bars, and we all stood around scratching our heads. Gay bars? All six of us are in long-term relationships of the "opposite" sort. Absent any actual experience of gay bars in Orange County, we consulted the experts--blowing our entire 2012 budget on gay bar research in the process--and today we're proud to welcome Greg Barnes of Laguna Niguel as a guest writer. Greg, take it away!
2011 has been a year all about the percents. Whether you're the 99% or the 1%, you're probably sick of hearing about it when you turn on the TV or your computer. One percentage group not yet well represented on this blog, however, is the "10%."--that is, gay people. This changes today, as I give you my top 10 gay bars of OC and Long Beach. Gay bars down here in the LBC and OC are quite a bit friendlier and more welcoming than their counterparts up in LA, whether you're gay or just a casual drinker looking for a local tipple. Less attitude and more smiles are to be found down here. Now, let's begin the countdown.
I only recently learned of this bar located smack dab in the middle of Huntington Beach, hidden in the corner of a strip mall. It's no wonder this is the least well-known gay bar in Orange County. Once you discover it though, you'll find experienced bartenders, a good-sized dance floor, pool tables, and cheap but tasty drinks. It sometimes takes a while for this otherwise dark and quiet place to pick up, but true to its locale, this casual HB hangout never fails to put a smile on your face. 18528 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 963-7744; www.ibizabarhb.com.
Leather and Denim and Bears, Oh My!
This bar was a complete surprise to me when I first visited it only recently. I never knew we had an establishment around here specifically for the bears and the leather-clad gays of the community. I thought surely only in LA could I find a place like that. When you first walk in, you think you've come a long way for a truly "interesting" (read: a little bit scary) evening, but the bartender, a charming bearish type in leather short shorts, pours drinks for anyone to enjoy. Make sure to venture through the door on the other end of this small indoor bar. There is a fantastic covered patio out there, full of folk mingling and carousing. Out here, they're known to have BBQ parties on Sundays and movie nights on Wednesdays. This first-timer is definitely going back to Pistons. 2020 E. Artesia Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 422-1928; www.pistonsbar.com.
8. Paradise Piano Bar & Restaurant
Paradise is not only a great bar full attractive cool gay professionals and hipsters, but also a great place to take a date for a fantastic dinner. The vibe in early evening is of a reasonably priced, upscale bistro, live piano, and good food, and the waitstaff are all hot and engaging. On weekends, the go-go dancers and Jello shots come out for a truly fun and unforgettable evening--which you might even remember the next morning. 1800 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 590-8773; www.paradisepianobar.com.
7. The Falcon
Long Beach's Tin Lizzie
This really does seem to be the Long Beach sister bar to the Tin Lizzie. Small, polished, hip, and friendly, but with a strong local vibe, this bar really delivers. When it's full, this small place is hopping with both lesbians and gays, in their 30s, 40s, and older. This bar resembles a cleaned-up beach house where tiki is thrown out for a more subdued hipster chic with video screens galore. 1435 E Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 432-4146; www.thefalcon.us.
A Western Saloon with a Modern Twist
This is laid-back dive bar with a "festive" western theme. The décor has some modern elements but also has a strong stagecoach / mining town theme which reminds me of the Goldmine ride at Knott's or Disney's Big Thunder Mountain, but add a couple pool tables. Think cool/rustic. The bartenders make stiff and cheap drinks, which makes this bar fill up early in the evening; come anytime. 1201 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 432-7044.
5. Frat House Bar & Night Club
The Local Dive-bar and More
I'm a fan of dive bars, and this one delivers with flair. This is one of the last gay bars in the Garden Grove area (which once hosted a scene more hopping than West Hollywood), and it seems only the immediate locals, a number of handsome Latinos, and some truly fabulous drag queens know about it. They offer dancing, drag shows, games of pool, go-go boys and a standard fare of bar selections. This place does the job if you're looking for something different off the beaten path. You have to wait till 11 before things really start to happen here though. 8112 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 373-3728; www.frathouseonline.com.
The Local Favorite
Bounce is the last remaining gay bar in a changing Laguna Beach, once the proud out refuge for the county's LGBT community (a quick toast to the dearly departed Boom Boom Room). Bounce, also known as the Main St. Bar, attracts a diverse crowd: younger and older, gay and lesbian. This no-frills bar features a friendly Laguna crowd, strong drinks, and small dance floor which can be picked up just by one or two patrons deciding to let the music and libations take them away. This is a fun bar to go to early or late in the evening. 1460 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach; (949) 494-0056.
3. The Brit
Where the Gentlemen Roam
The Brit is a fun bar filled with some very friendly, good-looking, and charming gentlemen (read: men in their late 30s and up) and some local ladies as well. The bar, like its name, conjures up images of a classic London bar, complete with old world décor, a traditional British phone booth, and a roaring fireplace to keep you warm on those cold SoCal nights. This place exudes an inviting nature as the staff is accommodating, the crowd is engaging, the shots are flying, and a good time is had by all. Come for a beer or a game of pool, but beware: this bar is cash only. 744 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 432-9742.
1. (TIE) Tin Lizzie
Small But Mighty
This bar was the first gay bar I ever visited, many years ago. It had first been a local watering hole for a clientele in their late 40s on up to their 70s, a happy group of gentlemen (and one dog) that kept a warm, yet dated, establishment complete with framed sketches of 1980's underwear beefcake, old cracked stools, and a huge monstrosity of an ice machine that rose to the ceiling. Fast forward 10 years, a serious facelift, and massive word of mouth, and this place has turned into the most consistently crowded and energized bar for nightlife in the OC area. Friendly bartenders, plush leather booths, and a younger crowd in their late 20's on up, Tin Lizzie always delivers a fun evening as it brings in people from all over the county. This is a great bar to go with groups large or small for good drinks and good conversation. Be prepared to talk over the loud din of the crowd and blaring music. 752 St Clair St., Costa Mesa, (714) 966-2029; www.tinlizziesaloon.com.
1. (TIE) Velvet Lounge
The Shiny New Star
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This bar has only been open for a couple of months, but it's already quite popular and I expect great things from it. They feature delicious signature cocktails, many of which I've tried, including the Red Velvet Martini and the French Kiss. Both of these are deliciously flavorful and refreshing without being too sweet, frou-frou or fakey. I find that signature cocktail lists typically contain assorted drinks that are like jellybeans set to alcohol, but the masterful bartenders at Velvet hit the mark--ask for Adam or any of the others there. Velvet Lounge is divided into two sections: the bar, and a very generously sized dance floor complete with an overhead DJ booth presiding over the whole affair. The place looks great, and you're sure to have a good time here; get your dance on. Enjoy this bar which I hope becomes a long-standing fixture here in Orange County. 416 W. 4th St, Santa Ana; (714) 232-8727; www.velvetoc.com.