Our Best of OC Issue just came out yesterday! No doubt you've been waiting to study the entire thing word for word. But for those who may just wanna know where to go to take in a punk band, a DJ night or a drag show…here's a shortcut we figured you'd appreciate.
See also: Best OC Musicians By Genre
Best Venue for Live Music
The Galaxy Concert Theater was an infamously run-down venue; remember that brief moment when it was supposed to be a club that changed themes every couple of months? We don't, either. Then Jon Reiser, former co-owner and talent booker at the Detroit Bar (where Foster the People had a residency during his tenure), bought it and made it amazing with the help of business partner Courtney Michaelis and a silent co-owner. They revamped the website into something clean and simple, split the venue into two rooms with their own stages, and renamed the place, christening the bigger venue the Observatory, and the more intimate stage the Constellation Room. Now, it's a must-stop for all up-and-coming bands and DJs making their way through Southern California, from remix artists and indie poppers to Compton rappers and Sub Pop dream musicians. Just look at the lineup for the next few months: Toro Y Moi, Youth Lagoon, Flux Pavilion, GWAR, Phantogram, Tyga, RAC, Misfits–damn.
Readers Choice: House of Blues
Best Alternative Venue for Live Music
The Santora Building
The Santa Ana art walk has a vibrant scene every first Saturday night of the month, boasting an eclectic range of art next to an even-livelier nightclub and music scene. But wander down the stairs of the Santora Building and check out what sorts of music/art happenings are going on there. While you peruse the artist studios and art showcases, you'll always be in range to hear whatever band is playing, and with the absence of a stage, you're close enough to the talent to watch the beads of sweat running down their faces as they belt out a bluesy tune or jam with frenetic passion. Just one of the things that makes downtown SanTana feel like home to its artistic dwellers.
See also: The 50 Worst Things About the OC Music Scene
Best Rock Club
With its low lighting, red booths, lowbrow band artwork, tiny dance floor, smoking patio squished onto the front sidewalk and tiny stage, this battle axe doesn't seem the kind of place that would have a good sound–but given its size and C-shaped layout, it's pretty great. Chris the Sound Guy is there most nights and knows when to keep the sound to a background buzz or move the dial to 11. Did we mention you can also get a great pizza?
Reader's Coice: House of Blues
BEST DRAG SHOW
We've long-documented how great VLVT Lounge's drag-show scene is. No matter where you're sitting, you'll always have a good view, thanks to both the monitor screens and the queens (and sometimes drag kings) walking around the room and performing right in your face their superb, choreographed moves or telling their dark jokes. Everybody here is a star, especially the reality stars, including RuPaul's Drag Race contestants Chad Michaels (winner of RuPaul's All-Star Drag Race), Shannel and Madame LaQueer, all of whom have hosted or performed here at one point or another, making this tiny downtown SanTana club one of the biggest in the SoCal drag scene. Now if they can only manage to get RuPaul herself down here sometime. . . .
Best Karaoke Spot
To some people, the idea of good karaoke is being able to hop onto a stage, loom over a crowd and live out your American Idol fantasy (which can actually feel real after a few shots of Jameson). Karaoke regulars at the Prospector follow a different philosophy. These people don't give a shit about a stage. Sure, they have one (sort of), but at this beloved Long Beach haunt, it's about getting in the crowd, getting beer spilled on you, and at some point sharing the mic with whoever is as drunk and as terrible a singer as you. It's about family. After all, the place touts itself as a family restaurant during the day, so why shouldn't a little of that sentiment spill over into the wee hours of a Wednesday or Friday night? Whether you're in the mood to spout out Iron Maiden or Madonna, trust that there's a friendly local who is ready to stumble through the lyrics right along with you.
Best Venue for Live Comedy
Irvine and Brea Improvs
About a decade ago, comedy clubs were on the way out, relegated to the trash heap of suburbia alongside Hot Topic and frozen-yogurt shops. But our two Im-provs, located in perhaps the unfunniest cities in OC, nevertheless stayed strong, hosting not only big names, but also up-and-comers. Nowadays? America is in the middle of a comedy renaissance, and the Improvs remain the leaders of the scene, now with wildly popular podcasts from the likes of Adam Carolla, Patton Oswalt and more.
Reader's Choice: Irvine Improv
Best Live Residency
Whoever has been booking the bands lately at Detroit Bar is way ahead of the music scene than even Pitchfork's collection of idiots. Each month, Detroit Bar welcomes a new residency on Mondays, bringing in buzz bands from LA and Orange County to start a ruckus within its walls. Bands in the key of punk rock, psych and garage such as Santoros, Levitation Room and Gardener's Logic have been steadily rising in popularity and have graciously freaked out for our dancing and listening pleasure. More names? L.A. Witch, Drinking Flowers, Dirt Dress. It's a great way to start the workweek.