By Gustavo Arellano, LP Hastings, Charles Lam and Dave Lieberman
With breweries opening up at a rapid rate, distilleries getting ready to debut later this year, bartenders upping their games, and dive bars remaining a place for comfort, we live in a golden age of OC drinking. With that in mind, behold a list of our finest booze barns, from Korean and Mexican bars to cocktail lounges, beer-tasting rooms, Long Beach dives and more. Enjoy, and let the second-guessing come with last call, cabrones!
38. STEAMERS Jazz, great drinks, downtown Fullerton--and it's close to the Magoski Arts Colony. Music, art, drinks and sexytimes: OC drinking in one stumble! 138 W. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-8800; www.steamersjazz.com.
37. THE V ROOM Everyone needs to have the kind of place you can just wander into at 10 p.m. on a Wednesday (or 7 a.m. on a Tuesday), order a few drinks and not talk to anyone. And there is no place better for that than Long Beach's V Room, the anchor that keeps the city's Fourth Street bar crawl so cheap. It's open until 2 a.m. every day of the year, and the booze is cheap enough to preserve yourself in. Try its list of froufrou-ish cocktails if you like, but what you really want is the Boilermaker (a domestic beer and two generous fingers of name-brand whiskey) for only $6. Just don't get nailed by any flying rocks glasses--which, if you think about it, is a good philosophy for life itself. 918 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 437-4396.
36. NATIVE SON ALEHOUSE It easily has downtown SanTana's largest selection of craft beer, and Native Son Alehouse is arguably the most comfortable place in which to drink beer in the area (though the Copper Door has better music, and the Good Beer Co.'s tasting room looks a lot fancier). The main reason Native Son is on this list, though, is it's one of the only places in OC where you can take a beer tour of Orange County/Southern California without renting a party bus. Brewery tasting rooms are wonderful, but some days, you don't want to take a break from drinking while you're driven from place to place. For those times, make it Native Son time. 305 E. Fourth St., Ste. 200, Santa Ana, (714) 204-0337; nativesonale.com.
35. KELLY'S KORNER TAVERN Where El Dorado and Servite High grads come to meet up and see who fucked which Rosary High girls over the years. Good MILF crowd, great beers, and one of the better nachos plates you can find--in Placentia, no less! 909 E. Yorba Linda Blvd., Placentia, (714) 961-9396; kellyskornertavern.com.
34. STARRY NIGHT What? A Korean bar that serves more than just flavored soju and overcarbonated Hite and OB? Star BBQ in Garden Grove's Little Seoul district opened an upstairs lounge in which it serves actual drinks and craft brews. There are no signs to point the way to Starry Night, save for a directional sign once you enter the restaurant. Just walk upstairs, and be warned: It's very popular, so if you're going with a group, call to reserve tables in advance. 8295 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 823-7669.
33. TAKE 5 The quintessential neighborhood dive, Take 5 occupies a little space in a strip mall in a forgotten part of West Anaheim. The drinks are plain, the bartender is outspoken, and it's as close as OC gets to Cheers--everybody knows everybody else. As with most dives, though, it has several personalities: lively and booming on weekend nights, with music escaping into the parking lot every time the door opens; friendly and chatty on Taco Tuesdays; and quiet with a few die-hards watching game shows on Mondays. 10570 Magnolia Ave., Anaheim, (714) 761-4910.
32. BOSSCAT KITCHEN AND LIBATIONS The next time you're stuck at John Wayne, cab it down the street to Bosscat Kitchen, Newport Beach's new bar and grill. Besides having bar food worthy of the name (mmm, Kentucky Hot Brown), there are good cocktails made the right way (no neon mixers!). Head into the whiskey room in the back, where you'll find scores of bottles that'll make you forget how much Delta Airlines sucks. It may be a hassle to get back through security, but you'll still be money--and bourbon--ahead. 4647 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 333-0917; www.bosscatkitchen.com.
31. THE CELLAR As you walk in to this dark storefront in downtown San Clemente, you'll notice the cheese case--and the wine barrels. Walk toward the back, and belly up in front of all the bottles. Don't worry if you don't know anything about wine; we're total wine frauds, and someone always guides us well. Sip. Snack. Repeat. Stagger out. If you're an accomplished day drinker, you can chase your hangover away with a cup of coffee from the Bear Coast Coffee pop-up by ex-Portola guy Jeff Clinard, which closes at 4 p.m. 156 Avenida del Mar, San Clemente, (949) 492-3663; thecellarsite.com.
30. BARLEY FORGE Part of the second wave of breweries to put down roots in Orange County, Barley Forge opened to great fanfare in Costa Mesa this year. The beers are already outstanding, and the large tasting room fills up quickly. Unlike just about every other brewery in the county, though, Barley Forge doesn't rely on food trucks to feed the beer drinkers; it has a kitchen that uses local meats and produce. 2957-B Randolph Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 641-2084; barleyforge.com.
29. MINESHAFT What would a list of local bars be without a gay bar on it? The Mineshaft (get it? my shaft?) is not only the most popular, but also arguably the best of the rainbow bars that line East Broadway. Good music, good and cheap drink selection, and a minimum of people walking around with fluorescent vodka concoctions. Long Beach's gay bars haven't specialized like the bars in LA, so this is an all-inclusive place: femmy queens, drag queens, bears, lumbersexual hipsters pretending to be bears, etc. And as with everything else in the Gayborhood, good luck parking. 1720 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 436-2433; www.mineshaftbar.com.
28. HARLOW'S San Juan Capistrano isn't a place people think of when they're looking for a night out, and Bonnie Harlow Kingston wanted to change that. So she built a large, clubby restaurant with an enormous bar and bartenders who aren't afraid to do things such as set drinks on fire if it'll make them taste good. Harlow's barrel-ages cocktails, and it makes its own limoncello; how many bars can say that? If you like the straight and narrow, though, the Old Fashioned is one of the best in the county. 31111 Rancho Viejo Rd., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 240-8100; www.harlowscuisine.com.
27. POSSE BAR Police and fire patches above the bar, dozens of bottles of whiskey, beers both watery and fancy, country and rock on the jukebox (except when an important sports game is on--turn up the music at your own risk), and people just having a good time. If Posse Bar isn't the archetypal American bar, we don't know what is. Check the blackboard for specials, and go on Sundays, when it's happy hour all day. 13093 Springdale St., Westminster, (714) 894-1212; www.possebar.com.
26. VALIANT BREWERY Breweries tend to be located in depressing, butt-ugly industrial parks because that way no NIMBYs can get in the way of their conditional-use permits. And so it is with Valiant Brewery, which opened two years ago in a little cluster of low-slung buildings just over the border from Anaheim. It took a little while for it to find its groove, but find it Valiant has; both ales and lagers. Go easy, though; it's fond of high-ABV applications. 2294-C N. Batavia St., Orange, (714) 204-0080; www.valiantbrewing.com.
25. JULIETTE KITCHEN Fancy cocktails imbibed by younger MILFs--what's not to love? 1000 Bristol St. N., Ste. 11, Newport Beach, (949) 752-5854; www.juliettenb.com.
24. THE GLOBE If historic downtown Garden Grove ever becomes hip--and with new, young mayor Bao Nguyen at the helm, its chances have risen dramatically--you can credit this gastropub with sparking the trend. It's most famous for its Chimay challenge, so get your photo on the wall by finishing one in an hour. Then go through the cocktail list and imagine the next SanTana springing up here. . . . Get on it, Bao! 12926 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 537-7471; www.theglobeoc.com.
23. THE QUILL One of the last places where you can legally smoke is packed with middle-aged men and women, plus the hipsters who quizzically look at them, terrified of the future. There are darts, too! 1630 Mabury St., Santa Ana, (714) 558-2744.
22. LAS VEGAS BAR You gotta love a place that slings drinks behind a 99 Cents Only 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. 2339 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 546-3035.
21. FIDDLER'S GREEN You don't come here for the cocktails (which don't veer much further than margaritas) or even the booze on hand (fanciest thing in stock: Fireball); you come here to pay respect to the last military bar in OC, where you can hang out with the men and women defending our liberty. Don't be a commie for once, and buy any service member in the bar a drink or 30. But don't you dare leave after having one too many: You have to present your ID to even get on the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, and damn straight they'll send a Chinook on ya if you drive drunk. 4745 Yorktown Ave., Bldg. 19, Los Alamitos, (562) 795-2168.
20. THE BLIND DONKEY It's not hard to be skeptical of a whiskey bar that has just opened in the basement of a brick building in a hip neighborhood in Long Beach, especially when it has the word blind and a beast of burden in its name. But don't worry: The Blind Donkey isn't some kind of obnoxious hipster haven (though there are a lot of them there). It's a very good whiskey bar, with just enough beers to keep your friends from complaining. Take a seat, and have some Green Spot (or Yellow Spot, if the bar has it). It's whiskey time, and no hipster or beer-gutted friend will be bothering you. 149 Linden Ave., Long Beach, (562) 247-1511; www.theblinddonkey.com.
19. GOAT HILL TAVERN The Goat has a little reputation for being a cluster. The décor, a mishmash of swap-meet chic, is a cluster. The beers, a gargantuan 140-tap list ranging from Bud to Belgium, is a cluster. The floor, a mix of peanut shells and . . . stuff, is a cluster. The bathrooms, a definite cluster. But it's a legendary cluster, and it attracts the best kind of cluster: people. On any given Friday, you can find every type of person here, from surfer bros to punks to hipsters and chipsters. And that's why you should go--because you're welcome. Just like everyone else is. 1830 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 548-8428; www.goathilltavern.com.
18. C4 DELI Beer and sandwiches--what more can you ask for? This offshoot of Chapter One features in-house charcuterie and sausages paired with craft beer and cocktails made with wine (try the "Manhattan"). It's in downtown SanTana, so of course it's usually overrun with people, but never more so than Tuesdays, when OC Pop Quiz runs a trivia challenge at 7:30 p.m. (Full disclosure: some of the Weeklings have so dominated that trivia that we had to go elsewhere. That said, we reserve the right to return at our own leisure just to keep everyone honest.) 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 263-1555; www.c4deli.com.
17. MEMPHIS CAFE This stalwart arguably taught OC how to drink again, both at the original Costa Mesa spot and the much-missed Santora Building location. Memphis Cafe's arsenal of bartenders over the years reads like the '27 Yankees of local boozehounds: Johnny Sampson, Ricky Yarnall, our own Dave Mau, Jefferson van Billiard, and so many more. And at the Costa Mesa mothership, the drinks continue to flow--beers, yes, but also many proud whiskeys. Swing by during the day, and the whiskey tasters just might offer you a sip. 2920 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-7685; memphiscafe.com.
16. CISMONTANE BREWING Though craft breweries spread north from San Diego, they skipped much of south OC, which is where Cismontane Brewing stepped in. It was a popular choice; so popular, in fact, that the Rancho Santa Margarita tasting room was always overrun. It responded by opening a much larger place in eastern Santa Ana, behind a Pep Boys auto store. While its Holy Jim Falls extra pale ale is the most popular choice, the right choice for a hot day is the Citizen, a we-can't-call-it-steam-beer-thanks-Anchor California Common. 29851-D Aventura, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 888-BREW; also at 1409-C E. Warner Ave., Santa Ana; www.cismontanebrewing.com. 15. ALEX'S BAR It'd be accurate to describe Alex's Bar as a cavernous dive. It'd also be accurate to say it's a live-music venue with surprisingly good drinks. It's also just a neighborhood place where people know the bartenders. But if you want to see what Long Beach does on a school night, head to Alex's on a Tuesday or Wednesday at 9 p.m. for live-band '80s karaoke by Mr. Mister Miyagi. That's right: You can be the lead singer of the world's least likely band. 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292; www.alexsbar.com.
14. BEACH BALL Many a night in Newport have ended badly, but none of them has been because of the Beach Ball, one of Newps' best beachside bars. There, the drinks are strong, the crowd is friendly, and the bar is relaxed. Stop by, take a few photos in the photo booth, and stay out of trouble--'cause once you head out its doors for your next hop, who knows what's going to happen. . . . 2116 W. Oceanfront, Newport Beach, (949) 675-8041; www.beachballbar.com.
13. ANTHILL PUB What can we say about the Anthill that we haven't already said? The brews are cheap, coming in at about $4 per pint (with tip!) during happy hour. The selection is great (the Anthill is one of Orange County's most consistent Pliny servers), the conversation is interesting, the people are pretty, and the wine exists. Anteaters are spoiled beer snobs, and most of them don't even realize it. 215-C Student Center, Irvine, (949) 824-3050.
12. JOHNNY'S SALOON It used to be the place where you went when you were tired of the cookie-cutter white-flight culture that permeates so much of OC. It was a place where you'd belly up to the bar next to someone with more tattoos than dollars in their pocket, clink glasses and listen to non-shitty music. It's still that, but Johnny's Saloon has become a center of philanthropy in Huntington Beach. Punks doing good things? We're in. So bring money--there's always a cause to donate to, then drink whiskey and sing along. 17428 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 848-0676; www.johnnyssaloon.com.
11. NORTH LEFT Aron Habiger's manly meals are matched by drinks oozing with whiskey, Scotch and other arbiters of testosterone, none more brilliant than the Leatherman. North Left general manager Andy Markuson (that nice guy with the beard out of the Pike Expedition) whispers of bourbon and Scotch and barrel-aged. The Leatherman's as strong a drink as you'll have in OC, yet it's imbued with honor--Lee Marvin in a glass. 400 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 543-3543; thenorthleft.com.
10. THREE SEVENTY COMMON Three Seventy Common took seriously the new permission from the California ABC for bars to infuse alcohol. From whiskey aged in barrels with espresso beans to chiles soaking in tequila, much of its core menu revolves around spirits that have been tinkered with, and the results are good. It has even found a way to make vodka cocktails taste good without resorting to candy-like concoctions. Now that's an accomplishment. 370 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8686; www.370common.com.
9. PAST MEMORIES Not enough people in Orange County drink yoju, the viciously tasty mix of soju and probiotic yogurt that's popular with some of the hip young-Asian-professionals-to-be at OC's college campuses. The best place to take the mix is at Past Memories in Garden Grove, located in the plaza that also houses OC stalwart Cham Sut Gol. There, the yoju flows, and you can drink as much of the sweet, creamy cocktail as the Korean grandmothers will serve you. If you're not a fan of yogurt, you can try some of the other fruited or plain sojus or some Korean beer. But whatever you do, get some food. Not only will it save you from a yogurt-flavored death, but Past Memories' panchan is also the perfect drinking snack. 9252 Garden Grove Blvd., Ste. 29, Garden Grove, (714) 638-7818.
8. ANEPALCO'S AT THE AYRES If Anepalco's were to serve a slab of drywall, the team here would somehow turn it into something better-tasting than the offerings of most OC eateries. Complementing the food are the creations of bartender Cesar Cerrudo, who has taken the Mex-French ethos of jefe Danny Godinez to heart while crafting cocktails that easily bounce from Europe to the U.S. to Latin America and beyond. Consider the Vida: Casa Noble blanco, Del Maguey mezcal, Dickel rye and Peychaud's--a masterpiece of mestizaje, as well as one hell of a punch. 3737 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 456-9642; www.anepalcoscafe.com.
7. LOLA GASPAR Many Weeklings lost their favorite watering hole when Memphis At the Santora closed in 2014, but Lola Gaspar, the little restaurant next door with an electric-powered kitchen and no exterior signage, is making up for the closure with one of the best bar programs in Orange County. Jefferson van Billiard and crew do a little bit of everything, from the wonderfully tart- and shrub-heavy cocktails on the summer menu to the current collection of smoke-braced winter drinks. And if you're not down for the booze on paper, just let the bartenders know: They'll whip you up something real nice. And if you're not feeling fancy? You can get a shot and a beer for dirt-cheap during happy hour. 211 W. Second St., Santa Ana, (714) 972-1172; lolagaspar.com.
6. NOBLE ALE WORKS When Noble Ale Works opened in the first flurry of Orange County craft-brewery openings, the beer wasn't very good. Evan Price was lured from TAPS to take over brewing operations, and Anaheim was back on the beer map, one of the first steps toward becoming Munich-By-the-Maus. On days when the Ducks or Angels are playing, you'll have trouble moving in the tasting room; parking in its lot is allowed as long as you enjoy one of its beers. Given that it's $20 to park at the Pond and a Noble beer is $5, that's one hell of a deal. 1621-B S. Sinclair St., Anaheim, (714) 634-BREW; www.noblealeworks.com.
5. PIZZERIA ORTICA Under the stewardship of Joel Caruso and his right-hand man, the awesomely named Aristotle Alstaetter, Pizzeria Ortica has evolved from a great rustic Italian spot into a serious bar with hard-to-find amaros, digestifs and liqueurs. Then come the cocktails, best of them the Adriatic Coast: gin, ginger liqueur, lemon, lime, Angostura and a dash of St.-Germain. The result is a gorgeous, tart sea of swell befitting its name. 650 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 445-4900; www.pizzeriaortica.com.
4. BROADWAY BY AMAR SANTANA Tan, buff titans of industry and the bombshells they married; grizzled surfers who clean up well and want a cocktail; first dates and Dear John dates . . . Laguna Beach has a lot of bars, but somehow, everyone ends up fighting for one of the dozen seats at Broadway By Amar Santana, where they can knock elbows at the closely spaced tables, then negotiate and pitch woo and fight over well-crafted cocktails and the best small plates in the city. 328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach, (949) 715-8234; www.broadwaybyamarsantana.com.
3. THE BRUERY The Bruery's tasting room in Placentia is a wonderful place where you can get wonderful beers. The mood is constantly buoyed by the reserve members in attendance, and the things you taste, from the complicated stouts and porters to the tart sours, leave you stupefied. The flights are the best, either curated for specific tastes by the Bruery itself or made by you because you think you know best. Is the tasting room in the middle of nowhere? Yes. Do you have to order food from whatever food truck is out front? Yes. But the beer and its fans are magical. Now to wait for Terreux to open. . . 715 Dunn Way, Placentia, (714) 996-6258; www.thebruery.com.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
2. PLAYGROUND When quaffmaster Jarred Dooley announced that Playground, famed since its opening day for serving wine in a porrón (a Catalonian jug meant to pour wine directly into your mouth) and a rotating cast of local craft beers at 5 bucks per glass, would be expanding to cocktails, we rolled our eyes. There wasn't room, we said. Well, we were wrong. Former Little Sparrow bar manager Joe Valdovinos was hired, and suddenly, the back bar bloomed with bottles both common and unusual. The hardest part about drinking here is actually getting a seat at the bar. (We suggest vulturing.) 220 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 560-4444; playgrounddtsa.com.
1. 320 MAIN The original dive-turned-cocktail-haven, 320 Main was at the forefront of OC's cocktail revolution, teaching our beach-going "martini" slurpers how to drink real cocktails for the past five years. If you're still stuck on vodka, it has fantastic Moscow Mules--copper mugs and all--but branch out and ask the county's most knowledgeable bartending team for a new recommendation. Even the tried-and-true classics, such as Old Fashioneds and Bloody Marys, take on new life here. And yes, you can have a martini if you really want one--but it's made with gin, and you'll fall in love with the drink all over again. 320 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 799-6246; www.320mainsealbeach.com.