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The Best Bars in Orange County (And Long Beach), 2014

During the great trek that was Best Of 2014, us Weeklings had to make regular stops at our favorite houses of libation (it was research -- and it took the edge off). Now, we present on to you, 2014's best bars, and the hazy (non)-memories we have of within their walls.

Best Day-Drinking Bar Orange County 2014 - Las Vegas Bar

You gotta love a place that slings drinks behind a 99-Cents Store. And while the nights at Las Vegas Bar feature working-class Mexicans ready to get borracho on Mexican, Salvadoran, even Guatemalan cervezas, daytime at this SanTana standard is a more languid affair, bringing in viejitos in guayaberas, union guys drinking some cold ones for lunch and plebes with nowhere to go. Best yet: The tacos served during lunch ain't half-bad for a cantina. Not Mexican? No problem--nothing says, "I come in peace and am not la migra" like buying everyone a round of Negra Modelo.

Best Street for a Bar Crawl Orange County 2014 - Fourth Street, Long Beach

Ah, Fourth Street, probably the cheapest place in all of Southern California to get drunk in public. It's practically designed for a dive-bar crawl. Start off on the west edge, and stop at V Room for a cheap boilermaker. Once your buzz is going, cross the street to the Stache for a sub-$10, organic, pretty crafty cocktail. (You must go here second; you'll enjoy it more while buzzing.) Once you're properly drunk, head east to the Red Room and Fern's, where you can spend your night playing pool, punching things you're allowed to punch and listening to music. And to end the night? Holé Molé is right there. Sure, it's not the best Mexican chain, but at 2 in the morning while drunk off your ass? Tacos from heaven.

Best Sports Bar Orange County 2014 - The Catch

Located in the shadows of Angels Stadium, this standby is better known as a place to catch your Anaheim Angels in action on one of the many flat-screen televisions. But come football time, the weekends turn into bacchanals of football fans feasting on the Catch's good pub-meets-steakhouse cuisine and stiff drinks. Best yet, the people who do come here leave rivalries at the door--yes, this is the spot where even a Cowboys fan can enjoy a drink without getting ridiculed for rooting for a team that still starts Tony Romo.

Best Gay Bar Orange County 2014 - Mine Shaft

No matter where in the gayborhood you start your pub crawl, you will end up at Mine Shaft. This bar is all things to all people, with a comforting minimum of the trappings of a post-Stonewall gay bar: There is no porn on the television, no neon penis signs, and the bartenders are dressed as bartenders. Go and challenge the butch boys at pool, dance with the drag queens and leathermen, tip the lone dancer on his platform (and debate whether his Andrew Christian underwear has been "enhanced"). Or, better yet, just sit and chat and drink while waiting for the action to pick up around 11 p.m.

Best Bar in Orange County Orange County 2014 - Anthill Pub & Grille

Admit it: You wish you went to UC Irvine. Not because of the awesome statue of Zot in the student center, not because you really want to get in on the ground floor of the law school, but because then you'd have a craft-beer pub right on campus. Talk about real-life lessons you can carry with you forever: The Anthill Pub & Grille teaches students how to drink real beer instead of whatever's the cheapest at Walmart, which deserves some real recognition.

Best Neighborhood Bar, North OC Orange County 2014 - Glo-Room

There are plenty of cool old neighborhood bars in North County, and the Glo-Room in Anaheim would be just another one, save for one thing: Those other dives don't have Kay. The bartender every local watering hole wishes they had, Kay is lively, seasoned and sassy. Lord, is she sassy. She'll serve up your drink stiff, with a side of "Shut the fuck up and drink it." Don't dare send your drink back to or sass Kay--we can't guarantee your safety if you do. But if you get on Kay's good side, you'll be rewarded with her famous "Kay Bomb" shot or some fresh fruit and veggies on the house. Her accent is heavy and a bit hard to understand at times, but one of her signature phrases breaks all language barriers: a friendly "Go fuck yourself."

It's on Long Beach, but it's amazing
It's on Long Beach, but it's amazing
Photo by Taylor Hamby

Best Neighborhood Bar, North OC Orange County 2014 - Glo-Room

There are plenty of cool old neighborhood bars in North County, and the Glo-Room in Anaheim would be just another one, save for one thing: Those other dives don't have Kay. The bartender every local watering hole wishes they had, Kay is lively, seasoned and sassy. Lord, is she sassy. She'll serve up your drink stiff, with a side of "Shut the fuck up and drink it." Don't dare send your drink back to or sass Kay--we can't guarantee your safety if you do. But if you get on Kay's good side, you'll be rewarded with her famous "Kay Bomb" shot or some fresh fruit and veggies on the house. Her accent is heavy and a bit hard to understand at times, but one of her signature phrases breaks all language barriers: a friendly "Go fuck yourself."

Best Neighborhood Bar, Coastal OC Orange County 2014 - Blackie's By the Sea

Something about hot summer days on the sand and an ice-cold beer go hand in hand. But thanks to the fun nazis up on Capitol Hill, we can't booze on the beach anymore. Thank God, then, for Blackie's By the Sea, which gives you the next closest thing. This Newport Beach dive is steps away from the sand and boasts the "Coldest Beer In Town"--there's even a temperature gauge above the door to prove it. It's more rough around the edges than most places you'll find in beachfront Newport, and that's precisely why we love it. It's cash only, the numerous photos on the wall are all faded from the Southern California sun, and by most accounts, it hasn't changed much in decades--especially the prices. Never change, Blackie's.

Best Neighborhood Bar, Central OC Orange County 2014 - The Quill

It won last year, and it just might win every year if only for the reason that this is one of the last bars in OC where you can legally smoke indoors (ask the judges and DAs who come here during lunch to explain that code for you). Next to a liquor store, the Quill is what a neighborhood bar should be, attracting regulars and newcomers of all ages, ethnicities and economic classes. This is the type of place where fiftysomething-year-old women paw at Chapman University undergrads, where grandpas offer sage advice to middle-aged men, and where the décor hasn't changed since the days Mama's Family was on the air. And don't forget the dirt-cheap prices!

Best Neighborhood Bar, South County Orange County 2014 - Doheny Saloon

The Doheny Saloon wasn't out of place when it opened, but now, tucked away on the side of a Capistrano Beach strip mall, it's one of the only places in town where you can grab a drink for $5 or less and be left the hell alone. Framed photos of days in Dana Point long since gone hang on the wall as a nostalgic reminder. The people-watching here is tops--no families, tourists or nouveau riche here. Just blue-collar workers, pool sharks and assorted questionable clientele. Best of all, there's a two-teeth minimum.

Best Neighborhood Bar, Long Beach Orange County 2014 - The Reno Room

With a laissez-faire, let-all-ye-who-pass-be-treated-equal attitude, the Reno Room may no longer host the likes of Charles Bukowski, but it continues to fill the holes in people's souls with good ol' alcohol. Funky naked-girl pinup paintings on the sparse brick-and-beam architecture is about as elaborate as it gets--except for Halloween and maybe Christmas, if anyone's feeling up to it. The Reno Room feels more like a bar in Manhattan's East Village pre-gentrification, where no label could be found to describe the patrons. Here, it's a mixed bag of nuts that make a good trail mix of drinking, whether it's 6 a.m. on a Monday or way too late on a weekday night. Note: If you seek wisdom and guidance in your life, Dave, the local at the corner of the bar, dishes out some quick wit and harsh truth that will leave you laughing, crying or both. Seekers beware.

Best Dive Bar Orange County 2014 - The Shanghai'd Room

With its cool décor, bad attitude and opium-den vibe, the Shanghai'd Room is just as alluring as its saucy social-media updates promise. Yeah, there's karaoke every night. And sure, it doesn't have a liquor license. Wanna fight about it? Thanks to potent craft brews and some creative (and actually pretty damn tasty) soju cocktails and cheap prices, you'll still get plenty hammered, if that's your bag. Static tube TVs are perched atop corner booths, signifying the First Date Booth and the Make Out Booth, and you'll never find sports on the working flat-screens--instead, you'll see kung fu flicks or vintage French sci-fi cartoons such as Fantastic Planet. If you're feeling particularly daring, try to talk the bartender into serving you a shot of Habushu, a Japanese snake wine with a baby snake stuffed inside its bottle.

Lightning's perfect
Lightning's perfect
Photo by Dave Lieberman

Best Punk Rock Bar Orange County 2014 - Johnny's Saloon

This dank corner bar in Huntington Beach is no stranger to the award of Best Punk Rock bar from your favorite infernal rag, but in recent years, the award has grown to mean something different. Before, Johnny's Saloon was punk rock because of its analog jukebox noticeably devoid of Top 40 hits, which can be heard ad nauseam at other bars. Because it sold PBR by the truckload before the brand's hipster resurrection. Because the patrons and booze-slingers who didn't have tattoos, piercings and Crayola-colored hair were the ones who stood out. But now more than a decade old, the saloon has evolved not unlike an aging punk rocker: Its defining punkness has grown from these superficial signs of punk to being all about its DIY attitude. Led by owner Johnny Kresimir's behemoth social-media following and the bar's die-hard regulars, patrons flock to the bar not only to drink from the 100 craft whiskeys and beers offered, but also to donate money, clothes, time and goods to members of the community who need it most. The bartenders drive around the streets with warm socks and toiletries to hand out to the homeless. Toy and canned-food drives aren't just for Christmas and Thanksgiving--these punks are running charity drives on a near-weekly basis. Whether you want to show your support to pets, vets, homeless, women's shelters or small local businesses, Johnny's Saloon has multiple opportunities to help you help them. The fact that you can drink while doing good is just a punk-as-fuck bonus.

Best Bikini Bar Orange County 2014 - Beach Girls Bar

Oogling and hitting on beach honeys in bikinis is all fun and games until you're smacked with a restraining order. Luckily, there's Beach Girls, where you can mingle with friendly lasses in bikinis from noon to 2 a.m. daily. It's a straight shot down Beach Boulevard from Huntington Beach, and you're sure to see much finer ladies here than the kind you'd normally meet on the infamous street come nightfall. There's a decent selection of booze and beer on tap, free popcorn, sports on the tube, and plenty of pool tables, plus it's clean and the women are devoid of bullet holes and C-section scars. What more could you ask for in a bikini bar? It's like an episode of Poorman's Bikini Beach--live!

Best Wine Bar Orange County 2014 - Orange Coast Winery

Sitting on an unassuming industrial strip, Orange Coast Winery in Newport Beach is one of the most Temecula-like experiences you'll get this side of, well, Temecula. The tasting menu allows you to choose among red, white, rosé, champagne, sweet, dry, whatever you want. Orange Coast Winery produces its own lot of wines from grapes grown in Temecula and Lodi. You can pair your sips with tasty nibbles of flat bread and cheese and nuts. And with certain packages, you can take home a souvenir wine glass stamped with the company's logo. There are no chairs, so lean against the bar and chat up your servers; they've got enough vino knowledge to keep up with any wine snob. Head over for Wine Down, its version of Happy Hour, on Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 6 p.m. And with a new location in Corona Del Mar (featuring seated luxury tastings!), Orange Coast Winery is one step closer to bringing a little bit of wine country to OC.

Best Happy Hour Orange County 2014 - The Boulevard

Cocktails at the Boulevard, located directly across from the Triangle in Costa Mesa, are inexpensive at the outset, with most drinks costing less than $8. But on weekdays, from 3 to 6 p.m., all cocktails and wine are BOGO, meaning you can share the fun or throw yourself a personal celebration. Cocktails include its considerable selection of house drinks, such as the light and tart lychee martini or a pineapple-infused take on a greyhound called the Hudson, as well as the classics. Its one (fortunate) distinction from other upscale cocktail bars is a lack of pretentiousness, true of both the bartenders and the patrons. The laid-back bar is not without its quirks, including an inexplicable lounge setup composed of office chairs, and a porthole view of the adjoining vintage car museum, open to the public on weekends--a callback to the Helm, the legendary bar that preceded it.

Best Place to Have Your First Legal Drink Orange County 2014 - Anthill Pub & Grille

Barely legal bar virgins have an excited, befuddled air about them; now that they've reached the golden age, they want to explore alcohol's possibilities beyond mixing vodka with Powerade. Many bars turn up their noses at the uninitiated, but UC Irvine's Anthill Pub & Grille is happy to guide newbies with a considerable selection of affordable craft beers. UCI students get a free pint on their 21st birthday, but it's worth a trip as a non-student, too. From rich coffee-ground porters to crisp amber ales, drinks are rarely more than $5. The bar is partially manned by students and patronized almost wholly by students, but it's a craft-beer pub--safe to say, there won't be any college ragers happening. They do have board games, though, so watch out.

Best Lounge Orange County 2014 - Kitsch Bar

Kitsch Bar isn't actually all that kitschy. There are no knickknacks, no relics, no oddities. The weirdest thing about it is probably that its bathrooms are lit in red. But despite the little misnomer, Kitsch really is the perfect lounge. The drinks are cheap and poured strong. The location is far enough away from most hot spots that obnoxious people won't be bothering you. And the atmosphere? Comfortable. Welcoming. Warm. Really, why would you ever want to leave?

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