The Best Bars in Orange County, 2015 Edition
Photo by Jennifer Fedrizzi
Hello, you lushes! This list, our last from this year's Best Of, is just for you. Tired of your old watering hole? Need somewhere else to get sauced up? Here's our picks for 2015's best bars, whether you're looking for a low-light dive or some fancy pants wine place. Give it a look and less us know what we're missing. Then, once you're done with that, check out our lists of best things to eat and best restaurants, 'cause you'll probably have the drunchies after this list.
Best Punk-Rock Bar Orange County 2015 - Johnny's Saloon
Photo by John Gilhooley
There ain't a hell of a lot of punk bars in OC, but it so happens that Johnny's Saloon is about as good as any punk-rock bar you'll find elsewhere. The iconic Huntington Beach establishment also supports more causes than most charities, from puppies to veterans to those with huge medical bills. If you're more concerned with the booze and bar life than altruism, Johnny's offers a tremendous selection of whiskeys, brews and all the bar activities you can handle, from shuffleboard and pool to trivia and facial-hair competitions. Oh, and the music rocks, regardless of date and time.
17428 Beach Blvd. Huntington Beach, CA 92647. 714-848-0676. http://www.johnnyssaloon.com/
Best Rock Club Orange County 2015 - Johnny's Saloon We don't even need a reason to justify our championing this place for the fourth, fifth or sixth year in a row. Nor do we have to justify giving Johnny's Saloon this award and Best Punk-Rock Bar. You mad, haters? Then up your game.
17428 Beach Blvd. Huntington Beach, CA 92647. 714-848-0676. http://www.johnnyssaloon.com/
Best Day-Drinking Bar Orange County 2015 - Balboa Peninsula As with any great day-drinking location, there are enough bars within stumbling distance of one another on the Balboa Peninsula that you'll never have to spend an entire afternoon at one spot. Are you a rowdy sorority girl? Baja Sharkeez. Sea dog? Blackie's By the Sea or Balboa Saloon. Or try Cassidy's or Muldoon's—go to them all. And if you get tired of the bar scene, there's always the beach. Where better to throw on a tank top and frat it up all afternoon?
Best Pub Orange County 2015 - Anthill Pub
Photo by Charles Lam
Chapman might have the hotter coeds, and Cal State Fullerton may have the tougher edge. But anyone who thinks UC Irvine is a bunch of nerds should head to the campus' Anthill Pub come 11 a.m. and see science majors make like lushes.
4200 Campus Dr. Irvine, CA 92612. 949-824-3050. http://www.facebook.com/anthillpub
Best Neighborhood Bar, South OC Orange County 2015 - Sky Ranch Saloon This outdoor, second-floor bar surrounds you in year-round coziness with cushiony couches and chairs, fireplaces, and heaters. The best time to imbibe is from sunset to dark so you can watch the light change against the mountains to the east even while you are in the midst of all kinds of action down below: from the train depot around the corner to the madness going on at the Swallow's Inn—which will be your next stop after scarfing down some crench fries at the Ruby's Diner attached to the saloon. Giddy-up and go.
31781 Camino Capistrano. San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675. 949-496-7829 http://https//www.facebook.com/SkyRanchSaloon Best Neighborhood Bar, North OC Orange County 2015 - Kelly's Korner Tavern Epic trivia nights on Thursdays, fabulous weekend brunches, a Taco Tuesday (more on that in our Best Taco Tuesday entry), a pool table, darts and enough televisions to light the Texas Panhandle at night? Kelly's offers all of this, along with the benefit of being a bona-fide neighborhood bar: in addition to college kids and jaded graduates of Servite, Rosary, Esperanza, Placentia and El Dorado high schools, the bar attracts a crowd of middle-aged men and women who happily stumble to their homes just up the street every night.
909 E. Yorba Linda Blvd. Placentia, CA 92870. 714-961-9396. http://www.kellyskornertavern.com/
Best Neighborhood Bar, Central OC Orange County 2015 - The Quill
A bar with one of the oldest liquor licenses in Orange County can't be faulting too hard. There's a reason lushes have haunted the place since before JFK took office and a reason they've recruited a new crop of regulars as each generation turns the big 2-1. The Quill is much more than the place where you used to be able to smoke inside. There's nothing special about this little bar on the surface: Cheap basic beers and two-ingredient cocktails make up the lifeblood of this bar. But it's the bartenders, the clientele, the history and how they bring that glory into today that keeps them relevant. And oh, those crowds: Chapman kids who've strayed from the Circle, blue-collar men and women just off work, Latinos and gabachos, and elderly patrons who have been drinking here faithfully since before you were born all blend together better than a fancy-ass cocktail stirred just up the road in the trendy-ass DTSA.
1630 Mabury St. Santa Ana, CA 92701. 714-558-2744 Best Neighborhood Bar, Coastal OC Orange County 2015 - Balboa Saloon You gotta love a place that has a drink called the Balboa Sunday, which is little more than a bunch of domestic beers thrown together in a pitcher.
700 E. Bay Ave. Balboa, CA 92661. 949-673-9783.
Best Bikini Bar Orange County 2015 - Distractions Lounge Huntington Beach is the Yellowstone of bikini bars in Orange County, a badlands that also serves as one of the last refuges for this endangered species of tits and taps. And you'll get your Old Faithful on by just looking at the girls at Distractions Lounge. But this place is more than just ogling; there's a good selection of beer and fine food, as well as multiple televisions to act as cover while you keep ogling some more. Don't worry—that's why everyone's here.
16612 Beach Blvd. Huntington Beach, CA 92647. 586-565-2089. http://www.facebook.com/distractionslounge
Best Bar In Long Beach Orange County 2015 - The Blind Donkey If you just randomly woke up inside the Blind Donkey in Long Beach's East Village, you'd figure that someone dropped your besotted ass in a swanky LA bar surrounded by financial buildings. Climb up the set of stairs that connect the basement bar to street level, however, and you'll find yourself in one of the most culture-dense (and mildly affordable) neighborhoods in Southern California. With its leather couches, arcade machines, shuffleboard, photo booth and awesome collection of whiskeys, the Donkey feels like a destination, but for thousands of people, it's their local. And it's open every day of the week, has a killer $4 happy hour (every day!), and employs some of the friendliest bar staff around. You all have fun stumbling home now, ya hear?
149 Linden Ave. Long Beach, CA 90802. 562-247-1511. http://longbeach.theblinddonkey.com/
Best Lounge Orange County 2015 - The Fling Cocktail Lounge
Photo by Taylor Hamby
A good lounge can surround you with beautiful women and handsome men, ripe for the picking. It can offer you the best craft cocktails, served by the county's best mixologists—drinks filled with the finest top-shelf spirits and hand-muddled ingredients. The Fling Cocktail Lounge promises you none of these airs—just a damn good time. That is, a damn good time delivered in a dark bar with the classiest features that teeter on this side of dive bar: blood-red brocade wallpaper, velvet nude-lady paintings, classic leather booths and nightly live entertainment. The entertainment is what you choose, whether it's the band, the wisecracking bartender Ace or sassy cocktail waitress Carrie, or the well-lubricated clientele. And on every Thursday and Friday, drinkers get treated to the sinful sounds of OC's best lounge singer: Mr. Eddie Day, OC's version of Tony Clifton. Tip him well, and he may even play you "Volare"—whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa!
2370 N. Tustin Ave. Santa Ana, CA 92705. 714-547-8972. http://www.flingcocktaillounge.com/
Best Street for a Pub Crawl Orange County 2015 - Avenida del Mar, San Clemente Start slowly on the south end of Avenida del Mar, with a glass of wine at Café Mimosa, then move uphill: a martini at Nick's, a cocktail at Beachfire, something to eat and a little more wine at Village Mediterranean Rim. Make a small turn at the top of the hill and sample one of each margarita at South of Nick's, and then finish the night just a block farther with craft beer at Pizza Port. Remember: It's safer to stumble uphill than downhill. And no matter how much the jarheads ask you to sneak into Pendleton with them, don't.
Best Sports Bar Orange County 2015 - Campus Billiards & Sports Bar Great off-campus hangouts aren't just for universities—community colleges have them, too! Case in point: Campus Billiards & Sports Bar, across the street from Cypress College. It's everything a man cave could ever wish to be. There's a long bar that keeps 24 beers on tap served at a frosty 29 degrees. Plenty of quality pool tables fit within its spacious quarters. Numerous sleek dartboards step the game up from its dive-bar counterparts. Huge screens show all the sports of the season, with comfy couches to relax on. Campus Billiards is the kind of sports bar so good at what it does that it'll make students think twice about transferring.
9111 Valley View St. Cypress, CA 90630. 714-952-2731. http://www.campus-billiards.com/
Best Brewery Orange County 2015 - Barley Forge
Photo by Dave Lieberman
Tucked away in the back of an industrial complex, just as are so many other breweries in Orange County, Barley Forge offers a surprisingly beautiful brewery and tasting room, with a kitchen (and full menu) featuring happy, engaging bartenders and brewers. Though barely a year old, its beers are quickly becoming permanent taps at other bars—try the Don Perfecto, its horchata witbier.
2957 Randolph Ave. Costa Mesa, CA 92626. 714-641-2084. http://barleyforge.com/
Best Bartender Orange County 2015 - Joel Anthony Caruso
Photo by The Mexican
Drinking with Joel Caruso behind the stick at Pizzeria Ortica means you'll be learning a lot, whether it's California or Italian wine or any of a dozen or more amari, the postprandial Italian digestifs that somehow lessen the effect of a carbohydrate-heavy Italian meal. He is the MacGyver of Italian alcohols, a man who makes his own amari for fun, who takes whatever Orange County's famously fertile ground will give him and turns it into everything from nocino (walnut liqueur) to limoncello.
650 Anton Blvd. Costa Mesa, CA 92626. 714-445-4900. http://www.pizzeriaortica.com/
Best Beer Selection Orange County 2015 - Hollingshead's Deli Got a better choice than this legend? Prove it. We'll wait . . . yep, thought so!
368 S. Main St. Orange, CA 92868. 714-978-9467. http://www.hollingsheadsdeli.com/
Best Gay Bar Orange County 2015 - VLVT Velvet Lounge The only drag brunch in the county happens on VLVT Velvet Lounge's runways on Sunday mornings. There's a weekly Taco Tuesday, as well as regular karaoke—with people who can sing! There are bear nights and dance nights and theme nights, and while it's possible to meet the man or woman of your dreams at Velvet, it's much less a meat market and more a community center for SanTana's gay community. And the drinks are—yep—faaaaabulous.
416 W. Fourth St. Santa Ana, CA 92701. 714-664-0663. http://www.velvetoc.com/
Best Dive Bar Orange County 2015 - Garf's Earlier this year, we asked a bunch of people in the hospitality industry what their favorite dive bar to escape to after a shift was, and the Quill Lounge in Santa Ana, Garf's Sports Lounge in Costa Mesa and the Huddle in Costa Mesa all came out on top in a three-way tie. They're all great places to hide away from the daylight, but the reason Garf's gets the nod over the other two this year is because not only is the bar wonderfully dive-y (all manners of bar games, cheap drinks, etc. etc.), but its website is, too. For chrissakes, there's a MapQuest embed—MapQuest!
3046 Bristol St. Costa Mesa, CA 92626. 714-435-4070. http://www.garfsbar.com/
Best Wine Bar Orange County 2015 - Old Vine Café
Photo by The Mexican
This venerable Italian-Spanish-fusion gem isn't a wine bar per se, but the proof is in the vino. There are flights, bottles for sale, a bar that looks out into the CAMP and sommeliers who know everything you need for the evening. All great fuel for the wonderful meals created by Mark McDonald.
2937 Bristol St. Costa Mesa, CA 92626. 714-545-1411. http://www.oldvinecafe.com/
Best Bar for Dancing Orange County 2015 - Rancho de Mendoza Downstairs, Rancho de Mendoza offers so-so Mexican food and a lively karaoke scene; upstairs, you're transported to a Mexico City dance party, complete with cumbias, sonideros, guarachas and even the occasional chilena. Find your 5-foot poblano to give you a spin, and get at it.
104 E. 4th St. Santa Ana, CA 92701. 714-547-0345
Best Martini Orange County 2015 - 320 Main
Photo by Dave Lieberman
This Hall of Famer can make any drink in Bacchus' realm, but ask the bar to make you a classic martini. Drink it, and your resulting verve makes James Bond seem as suave as Fat Bastard.
320 Main St. Seal Beach, CA 90740. 562-799-6246. http://www.320mainsealbeach.com/
Best Bar In Orange County Orange County 2015 - Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar
Photo by Justin Shandy
The choice of your favorite bar is as subjective as whether you prefer deciduous or evergreen trees. But we've yet to find anyone who doesn't love Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar. Sure, it's totally Disney, but that also means it's totally magical. At Trader Sam's, no decorating expense is spared, and the bar has its own climate. You can order a stiff drink with five liquors, or a showboat cocktail as large as your head that comes with its whole show. Bar lighting is also important, and Trader Sam's keeps it low and moody on the inside with tiki torches and blazing fires on the outside, plus faux-Hawaiian instrumentals of the Eagles on the soundtrack. We recommend visiting on a weekday, as the wait during the weekends easily tops an hour. And if you're ever feeling down, order the Uh-Oh, and the entire place will come alive as though it's your birthday.
1150 Magic Way. Anaheim, CA 92802. 714-778-6600. http://disneyland.disney.go.com/disneyland-hotel/trader-sams/
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