BEST CRAFT COCKTAILS
Pizzeria Ortica has always attracted eaters for its great pizzas, but the entrance of Joel Caruso and his man Friday, Aristotle Alstaetter, transformed the place into Orange County's ultimate booze factory. Caruso is a Caravaggio of cocktails, each sip detailed, dramatic, dark, thoughtful and brilliant. Alstaetter, meanwhile, is already at top-rate bartender status with creations more playful, lighter, yet just as genius—let's call him Pizzeria Ortica's Rossini. Are we done with the Italian metaphors? No. Together, the two are the young DeNiro and Pacino of OC bartending, wowing with every appearance.
Readers’ Choice: SOCIAL Costa Mesa
BEST SPORTS BAR
Kelly's Korner Tavern
Not only is Kelly's Korner Tavern the epitome of a neighborhood bar—stumble up McCormack Lane for a minute, and you're in the middle of a nice suburban tract—serving some of the best bar food around (and suds FOR DAYS), but the Placentia favorite also has enough flat-screens to illuminate the Carlsbad Caverns. Nearly all of them are set to different games, ensuring that on any given night this fall, you saw the Angels losing, the Dodgers winning, the Lakers struggling, the Galaxy hustling, the Ducks underachieving, the Kings rebuilding and Sportscenter morons braying—and that's just one wall.
Readers’ Choice: Tilted Kilt
BEST BIKINI BAR
Green Girl Saloon
You've seen Green Girl's epic ads in our dead-tree edition, marveled at how the Westminster institution is to hot bartenders what Nick Saban is to national championships. Ogle away—then go visit in the flesh, and you'll realize Green Girl is more than just #chichischrist and #nalgamedios. The servers are friendly, the beers top-notch, and the food fine. But it's the no-attitude atmosphere that will make a regular out of you. Now, keep looking at that Green Girl ad—we'll wait. . . .
Readers’ Choice: Green Girl Saloon
BEST HAPPY HOUR
The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar
Yvone Goetz's restaurant is old-school French, the kind of place you typically save for that promotion or milestone anniversary. But its remarkable Crush Hour makes a weekly visit to the restaurant a must. For prices that won't get you a burger elsewhere, Goetz puts out the most thoughtful and elaborate happy hour food in Orange County. Don't expect Buffalo wings or plain sliders. Instead, feast on the casual cassoulet that's his pork belly lollipops on white beans or the honest-to-goodness steak-and-potatoes meal in his beef tenderloin bites. On top of that, there are substantial discounts on the wine.
Readers’ Choice: Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen
BEST PLACE FOR A ONE-NIGHT STAND
There's a reason its nickname is DTF—just sayin'!
Readers’ Choice: Sharkeez
Bottle Logic Brewing
Located in the Anaheim Canyon industrial area, far from any residential neighbors, Bottle Logic Brewing gets better and better. Its Double Actuator, a double IPA with just 80 IBU points, is exactly what a West Coast IPA should be: long on hops flavor, short on overextracted tannic bitterness. But it also makes an East Coast-style IPA called HazeShift, which is meant to be cloudy in the glass and strong on the tongue. It even made a Japanese rice lager that imitates Kirin, except 10 times more satisfying than Japan's national beer-flavored soda. When Anaheim's mayor said he was throwing the gates open to breweries, Bottle Logic is just what Tom Tait must have been hoping for.
Readers’ Choice: Bootlegger’s Brewery
BEST BAR IN ORANGE COUNTY
The best bar in Orange County isn't even really a bar; it's a restaurant with an absolutely astounding bar program. When Playground opened in the Fiesta Marketplace (now called the East End), it was renowned for its beer selection, which was always $5 per pour; how strong the beer was determined the pour size. Years later, it's still $5 per pour, there's a small but extremely well-curated wine list, and now it's added a full spirits program to the mix, with extremely talented bartenders who create innovative cocktails that nearly always work. But as with everything Playground, the cocktail and beer menus change on a whim, so order a second round while you can.
Readers’ Choice: Bosscat Kitchen & Libations
The bar manager at Anepalco on Chapman and the new El Mercado next to the Yost Theater in Santa Ana doesn't say a lot. Cesar Cerrudo doesn't need to; his drinks speak for themselves. Just as the food at Anepalco is somehow both inventive and respectful of its roots, so are the cocktails. Cerrudo loves to play with textures and layers; an Old Fashioned might be whiskey and bitters sipped through a piloncillo foam, mixing behind your teeth, or he might create a gin drink balanced with unexpected Mexican flavors. Cerrudo is Peruvian, and his love for Pisco results in the best Pisco cocktails in all of Greater Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.
Readers’ Choice: Chatterbox (Bosscat Kitchen & Libations)
BEST GAY BAR
VLVT Velvet Lounge
OC's gay community rallies around VLVT Velvet Lounge. During Pride, it's jammed full of people. It was where LGBT naranjeros went after the Pulse shooting in Orlando to be with their own and mourn. It's where everyone goes for a hell of a brunch featuring drag queens marching down the tables. The bar staff is friendly, the drinks are fast and strong, and you can safely hit on that cutie in the corner without getting side-eye from anyone except his boyfriend.
Readers’ Choice: VLVT Velvet Lounge
BEST PUNK-ROCK BAR
We've said it before, and we'll say it again. When it comes to OC punk-rock bars, you can't fuck with Johnny's Saloon. It's not just about the whiskey, the jukebox or the preponderance of badasses old and new who stick to this place like barnacles on the side of the SS Minnow. It's the spirit of the place that starts with owner Johnny Kresmir, who, in addition to his dedication to the bar's extensive whiskey list, is down to support any worthy cause. Then, of course, there's the interior of the place, littered with punk-rock posters, memorabilia and discarded bras that always make for a great photo backdrop. There's no way to come here and not be part of a good time, even if you're just sitting on a barstool watching the show.
Readers’ Choice: Alex’s Bar
BEST STREET FOR A BAR CRAWL
Start out the night at Baja Sharkeez, with some Mexican food and a jalapeño cucumber margarita. Take a trip across the parking lot to Stag Bar + Kitchen, and grab a peach mule and a gluten-free pizza to make room for all the gluten in the beer and alcohol. Play pool, shoot some darts, and then bounce down a couple blocks to Mutt Lynch's. Finish up the night with a walk over to American Junkie, strictly for booze, babes and boogieing. Most of the dancing happens on the second floor, so be careful with the stairs. It's half a mile from the beach, but, men, no tank tops. Stumble home to some one-nighter's apartment. Repeat the following day.
BEST WINE BAR
Five Vines Wine Bar
At Five Vines Wine Bar, the staff is friendly and the customers aren't drowning in a whirlpool of elitism. This is a wine bar for anti-wine-bar folk who want to revel in Dionysian desires without diving into a world of snoot. Not only does it offer quality wines from all the major regions, but it also has a secret wine cellar list—much like the way In-N-Out has a secret menu, only light years classier. And for those who prefer barley or hops to fermented grapes, the craft-beer selection is fabulous.
Readers’ Choice: SeaLegs Wine Bar
Watering holes continued on page 2..
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR, SOUTH OC
Neighborhood bars in South Orange County can be scarce, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in old-school charm (look to Mugs Away's Mooning of the Amtrak and the porn-tastic bathroom at Swallow's Inn to see what we mean). OG spots such as the Dirty Bird and the Marine Room Tavern have been saucing up South County for decades, but none can boast the seaside charm of Turk's Restaurant. The bar feels like an extension of the dock, and it's easy to forget you're not on an old ship somewhere out at sea thanks to the ocean view, ropes and buoys between booths and sometimes potent wafts of fish and sea air. The Harbor House-esque décor of old movie stills and posters have faded with sun and time. There's even a Phil Shane CD on the analog jukebox—how's that for old-school OC?
Readers’ Choice: Marine Room
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR, CENTRAL OC
Las Vegas Bar
It ain't what you think: This SanTana dive doesn't bother with Sin City emulation, or even with trying to get a cool crowd. It's puro pinche pari here: working-class Mexicans who come in and out of the dank bar from morning to late night to play some pool, watch a soccer match and get borracho on beer. But pop a top before the hipsters discover it. . . . Wait, Las Vegas now stocks Blue Moon? Uh-oh . . .
Readers’ Choice: Haven Gastropub
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR, NORTH OC
Brian's Beer & Billiards
Brian Fairley has served up beer and good times since his Off Campus Pub days. Since its opening in 1981, his Brian's Beer & Billiards has been the choice gathering spot of Cal State Fullerton students and locals alike. He sold Off Campus in 2007 to focus solely on Brian's and Big B's Barbecue (directly next door to the bar, which we're also praising this year). Walk in for an ice-cold schooner, play a game of shuffleboard, and get down on Fairley's famous Louisiana-style baby-back ribs, and you'll see why the regulars haven't left since graduating back when the Titans still had a football team.
Readers’ Choice: Surf Dogs Sports Grill
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR, COASTAL OC
This Hobbit house by the sea stands just steps from the Pacific Ocean, but with its ivy-covered exterior, this quaint sea shanty looks as if it's straight outta the Shire. Though it boasts a PCH address, it's more shabby than chic (and we mean that in the best possible way); it's quaint and rustic enough to remind you of Bilbo's house, but there's enough cheap alcohol to satiate even Merry and Pippin.
Readers’ Choice: SideDoor
BEST WHISKEY BAR
Bosscat Kitchen & Libations
Work your way through a list of heavy hitters from Bosscat's library of more than 100 whiskeys, and enjoy some Southern-inspired dishes while you're at it. If you think of yourself as a true connoisseur of the spirit, ask to see the 18-plus-year whiskey-room offerings—full of vintage and premium finds. Cheers, and no, you can't take the Pappy Van Winkle home with you.
Readers’ Choice: Bosscat Kitchen & Libations
BEST DAY-DRINKING BAR
Dagger Bar at Don the Beachcomber
Not all of us can afford a trip to an exotic tiki oasis at the drop of a Panama hat, but at least we have the Dagger Bar at Don the Beachcomber. The alcove within the Bali Hai bunker that is Don the Beachcomber serves as a great substitute for an island escape. Mai tais, puupuus and pretty servers with hibiscus flowers in their hair—there's almost enough liquid aloha in the potent signature cocktails here to make you believe you're on the islands . . . until you cross PCH and see the nasty-ass water. We're not in Kihei anymore, Toto.
Readers’ Choice: The Rooftop Bar
BEST BEER SELECTION
Chapter One: the modern local
Chapter One was one of the first bars to bring craft beer to SanTana, tapping rare, exclusive and just plain delicious brews. It may not have the largest beer selection, not even on that block, but week after week, it continues to dazzle with its selects. And on the off-chance you aren't impressed, you can walk across the street to its sister bar at C4 Deli for another stellar tap list.
Readers’ Choice: The Yard House
Observation Bar & Art Deco Lounge
Long Beach is a living museum when it comes to Art Deco architecture and design, so it's no surprise that one of Southern California's best lounges for Deco delights is located in the waters by Queens Highway. The Observation Bar & Art Deco Lounge aboard the Queen Mary calls back all the vintage glamour of when the ship initially sailed in 1936. It's located on the upper decks of the bow, with a beautiful view outside the large windows and resplendent in original Art Deco paintings, shiny chrome and etched glass, so you can imbibe on the atmosphere as much as the alcohol. And it used to be the First Class Lounge, so even if you're not a blue blood, you can still pretend. Pinky up, dahling!
Readers’ Choice: The Bungalow Huntington Beach
BEST DIVE BAR
The Fling Cocktail Lounge
The Fling is celebrating its 40th year of serving rowdy septuagenarians, sauced-up writers such as ourselves, Phil Shane fans and everyone in between. Enter in through the heavy wooden door and be transported from a Stater Brothers-anchored shopping plaza into a dank bar decked out with all the classic cool touches: blood-red velvet damask wallpaper, faux-crystal chandeliers, retro nude-lady paintings—atmosphere, baby, is the key here, and the Fling has it in spades. And though it may look like many newfangled lounges popping up here in town, the Fling has been doing it right from the start. Pair that with greaser bartender Ace and legendary lounge lizard Eddie Day, who appears weekly on Thursday and Friday evenings, ready to sex you into the weekend, and you've got a winning combination. Oooh, baby, oooh, baby!
Readers’ Choice: Goat Hill Tavern
BEST BAR TO DANCE AT
Totally 80's Bar & Grille
Advertised as Orange County's only '80s-themed bar and grill, Totally 80's looks as if it could've been a Mexican restaurant in its past life. Yet don't let its odd exterior throw you off, for the bar thrives as a cool, retro club that pops off just as much, if not more, than the nightlife found in the nearby streets of downtown Fullerton. Inside this club, which sits off Orangethorpe Avenue near the 91 freeway, hits from the 1980s are spun and the joint transforms into a foggy and sweaty Generation X dance party—get your Duckie Dale kicks ready!
Readers’ Choice: The Copper Door
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BEST BAR IN LONG BEACH
Belmont Brewing Co.
The oldest brewpub in Long Beach (25 years and going!), the Belmont Brewing Co. wins with quality brews, tasty eats and a beautiful oceanfront view. Make sure to try the Beer of the Month or the popular strawberry blonde. For the indecisive drinker, get the beer sampler, which includes six mini-beers for $7. Happy drinkin'!
Readers’ Choice: The Federal Bar
Silky Sullivan's Restaurant & Irish Pub
What makes a pub great isn't so much the exceptional quality and variety of the booze—as long as it doesn't run out—but rather the food and, more important, the atmosphere. As with Costa Mesa's Durty Nelly's, Silky Sullivan's is an old-school Irish pub that caters to a loyal, multigenerational clientele. In some ways, it's like any other pub: waitresses in kilts and knee-high sports socks, lots of flat-screen televisions tuned to ESPN and Fox Sports West, lots of live music. The service isn't just capable, but it's also exceptionally warm. The food is its secret weapon, though: Hearty Irish soups and traditional meals compete with surprisingly well-conceived sandwiches, steaks and burgers. Ith, Ól agus Bí sásta!
Readers’ Choice: Macallans Public House