Over the past few months, we've dropped into the smallest, darkest corners of local nightlife to bring you a list of the best dive bars OC has to offer. It hasn't always been pretty. But our search brought us in contact with plenty of stiff drinks, salty drunks and crazy stories. Whether you're looking for the comfort of your own neighborhood version of Cheers or you're just looking for a place to get shitfaced in Santa Ana, there's something for everyone on our list of the the Top 15 Orange County Dive Bars!
15. Blackie's by the Sea (Newport Beach)
Noted for their prime location across the street from Newport Pier, (a surf spot is named after the bar), this dive's local claim to fame is serving the coldest beer on tap in Newport, with prices ranging between $3 and $7. No really, they have a temperature gauge that hangs above the door and it usually teeters between 27 and 28 degrees. This feature isn't the only thing that makes their decor, The unique. A 10-foot, 50 year-old Hammerhead Shark along with old license plates, 15 flat screen televisions and even an old PGA golf bag with clubs intact decorate the walls. This bar's small but mighty character shows that, yes, even in Newport, you can get shit-faced for a decent price.
Ladies Beware: Salty old men and longboarders.
14. Turk's Bar (Dana Point)
Walking around Dana Point Harbor, you might blink and miss the tiny crevice that is Turk's. During the day, this small bar serves up pub-style food and showcases a plethora of cheap drinks and beer. It's surrounded by the obvious nautical themed decor. Marines, fisherman, and dirty sailors tend to gravitate to this hole-in-the-wall after a long day out at sea while a steady crop of South County hipsters practice standing around in dark glasses and skinny jeans looking salted and weathered like the rest of them.
Ladies Beware: Salty seamen with no concept of personal space.
13. Goat Hill Tavern (Costa Mesa)
Located across the street from the ever-trendy (and under construction) Triangle Square inCosta Mesa, your feet will crunch beneath the carpet of peanut shells the minute you walk into the Goat Hill Tavern. A typical stop on the list for the younger dive bar crowd, this dive seems to be as trendy as the lights are bright. Drinks range in the $3 to $7 range and most people have smiles on their faces as they sway and crunch their way to the bar to order, well most likely, a beer. Noted for having 140 beers on tap, this place blasts The Cure and other Euro classics over their jukebox relentlessly.
Ladies Beware: Apparently, this is the stop for the Hash runner crowd. Male participants will try to convince you it's a good idea to run from bar to bar in flip flops after downing pitchers of beer. Do it.
See Also: Top Five Dive Bars in North Orange County
12.The Salty Dawg (Orange)
A glorified man cave that occasionally lets the cool women into the club. The small joint features nine flat screens all showcasing much-needed testosterone activities like sports and MMA, the cook can bust out a mean burger and beer and the girls, well, the girls can just stand there and look pretty …wearing next to nothing. It is a bikini bar, so unless you are planning on an evening loosely based around "The Graduate" date scene, don't bring your lady. Although there is no live music here, the food and booze have a right to claim this hole in the wall as a mini-Cheers. Everyone did know my name by the time I left and there wasn't a bad vibe about the place, despite the fact it's behind warehouses and seedy-looking auto shops. Give it a shot!
Ladies Beware: If you bring your man, cute bartenders…wearing almost nothing.
11.Sunset Lounge (Fullerton)
In need of a less-than-fancy karaoke fix? This is your spot. Though the crowd of buzzed regulars probably won't intimidate you, their song selection might. Sunset Lounge offers a humongous selection of tracks you didn't even know could be karaoked.This divey tradition usually kicks off at the Lounge Wednesdays through Sundays starting at 9:30 p.m. If you chose the classic 'Don't Stop Believin,' you might be boo-ed.
"We maintain a good crowd, it's an eclectic crowd," said Bartender Jennifer Keefer. "It's the customers that make this bar." Hats off to the dude who had the guts to mimic Robert Plant's vocals in "Whole Lotta Love." You nailed it!
Ladies Beware: Drunk hobos lurking in the alleyway, college kids' left-over liquid courage as they excitedly get behind the wheel.
10.Ole's Tavern (San Clemente)
By reputation the great city of San Clemente seems to dominate south county's dive bar scene raking in several fine options, Ole's Tavern being one. Perhaps one of the smallest bars located around the infamous "triangle" area off south El Camino Real, Ole's dark interiors are pretty simple: pool, T.V., jukebox with over a million over-played songs and cheap-ass drinks served up by hot girls in tight black tanks and, of course, the regulars who meander or march in to knock one back. For all of you Texan transplants, yes they have Shiner Bock.
Ladies Beware: Drunk and horny Marines
See Also: The Top Five Dive Bars in Central Orange County
9. The Sand Piper (Laguna Beach)
Also known by many as "the Dirty Bird," this Laguna Beach bar's small but mighty stage hosts a number of local reggae and cover bands like local faves Rebel Rockers and World Anthem. Infamous for their reggae Wednesdays and Thursdays, a small, $5 cover gets you through the doors and surrounded by dreads, cheap rum and cokes and tons of colorful boardshorts.
Ladies Beware: Drunk/stoned and horny surfers attempting every cheesy pick-up line in the book.
8.Juke Joint (Anaheim)
Like the grungy, punk and rockabilly scene? Are you a Texas-transplant and want to feel at home? Try this beloved punk/rockabilly bar out. Although we are kind of biased, as we voted this bar the #1 punk bar in OC in 2011, we stand by our word and will tack on another label as one of the best dive bars in North Orange County.
"It's the place in Anaheim you feel at home no matter who you are," said Bartender Kenny Cloutier. "Bands like Cashed Out, Chop Tops, Agent Orange and Three Bad Jacks play here." If whiffs of beer and weed don't smack your nasal cavities the second you walk through the doors and you're not immediately bombarded with posters of Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly and Elvis, then you're in the wrong spot.
Ladies Beware: Greaser hairdos, punkers, rockabilly/ psychobilly folk and cute bartenders offering free shots (it's a trap!
7.Swallow's Inn (San Juan Capistrano)
If you're in the mood for leather jackets and ten-gallon hats, visit Swallow's Inn. Located in the heart of San Juan Capistrano, this bar hosts dance space aplenty for the line dancin' folk where you can boot-scoot-n' boogie your drunk ass all the way to the X-rated bathroom for a much needed piss. There, you will be welcomed by one of the most famous assets of the bar: large amounts of porn cut-outs pasted scrap-book style all over the bathroom walls. Plenty of "for a good time, call" numbers also decorate the inside of the bathroom as well. It's definitely the kind of place that makes you want to open the door with a paper towel.
Ladies Beware: Drunk cowboys who forgot to get off their high horses.
See Also: Top Five Dive Bars in South Orange County
6. Johnny's Saloon (Huntington Beach)
Perhaps one of the darkest spots on the border of Central and North Orange County, your nose should immediately pick up a whiskey and B.O. scent as you cross the threshold of the infamous punk bar. Bras of all color, shape and size deck the bar, leather couches don tears made by studded jeans. The jukebox blares only punk, punk and the occasional rockabilly track through speakers loud enough to make your ear drums bleed. This, my friends, is a dive with a clear and present message: Drown all sorrows in whiskey and deafness to all who enter here. I swear I didn't drink, but somehow when I left, I had a splitting headache and smelled like whiskey.
Ladies Beware: You know that wide variety of Bath and Body Works lotion in the ladies bathroom? If a guy smells like anything sugary or floral, run. Oh yeah…and the free Jameson shots. They are a no-no.
5. Cassidy's (Newport Beach)
Ah yes, if you have partied anywhere near central Orange County/Newport in the past decade, you have been to Cassidy's. You might not remember, but you've been there. The overwhelming smell of tequila and lime that smacks you in the nostrils, the skateboard decks nailed to the walls and girls who are way too pretty to be sitting at the bar by themselves greet patrons who file away into Newport's most infamous dive.
Ladies Beware: Spoiled Newport brats who have been replacing their blood with alcohol relentlessly.
4. The Quill
A glorified portable located behind a shopping center in Santa Ana, The Quill has been around for decades and so have the locals. They might not have the smooth moves of a Newport bachelor on the prowl, but if you're a decent looking lady, someone is going to toss a few cheese ball lines your way like "If I dated you, I would need an inhaler because you would take my breath away." (So says the crazy guy who claims to be bi-sexual). The only lady in the joint is a classy gal named Peggy who laughs at the cheesy one-liners and tells all the guys to "go f$#@ yourself" to which they happily reply "Thank you."
Ladies Beware: You want names? Ask Peggy.
3.Tropics Lounge (Fullerton)
Built on two double-wide trailers, Tropics Lounge is the second oldest bar in Fullerton, next to the Continental Room. The small but mighty scene for seedy-types to lurk, drink and even take in some tunes on their microscopic stage.
"A lot of bands have played here," said Bartender Deeanna Tafolla. "Sublime did a surprise show here back in the day." If you're looking to absorb the ultimate north OC dive bar experience in one foul swoop, Tropics Lounge is the spot. Dark interiors, a single pool table and bathrooms with toilets you want to use your foot to flush with is a great place to watch local bands rock the trailers, mingle with the locals and wet your whistle. If you get bored at the bar, you'll notice the ceiling is decorated with beer bottle caps in the shape of random pictures. Skateboards, cats, initials and other random shit are ingrained to the red stucco along with loads of skate decks from the local skate shop across the street.
Ladies Beware:Besides an unsteady floor (I don't recommend heels), skater boys and hipsters who smoke too much.
Open from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m. everyday, The Fling has two simple rules: 1.) Don't be evil 2.) Drink more. Maybe by the time you get through rule two, you realize despite it's seedy disposition, The Fling's bark is worse than it's bite. The walls are lined with plush red velvet wall paper while random "body part" Halloween decorations hang among the antique chandeliers. If you told me the place was haunted, I might believe you. Whispers of gambling winnings, scratch-off tickets and bet losses are barely audible above the Hank Williams tunes and whatever football game is on T.V. A guy with an eye patch and scraggly grey beard sloshes back a whiskey shot and while his one good peeper does some people watching. A gal known as "Bird Lady" kindly asks what I'm "scribblin' on that paper." This is a legit dive bar. There is live music every night starting at 9 p.m. featuring bands like Citizen O'Kane and one-man band show-stopper, Eddy Day. If up-close-and-personal coupled with low lit settings are what you're after, check out this spot. Just know that the immediate feeling of regret upon entering the joint washes away easy with a Jack and Coke.
Ladies Beware: Faces hidden by low-lit settings and free drinks.
1.Knuckleheads (San Clemente)
When a bar's staple saying is "Sorry, we are open!" at first you might reconsider, but if there ever was a "Cheers" for south Orange County, Knuckle Heads would be the call. If you're not a north San Clemente local or just a plain old alchy, everybody knows it the minute you walk through the doors. Two stages are hosts to local band favorite like rockers SixStepand rockabilly band Mad Dog and The Smokin' J's. There's almost no need to buy drinks because the alcohol smell and friendly demeanor seem to intoxicate you where ever you decide to park it. But just for good humor, you might as well purchase one of their cheap drinks and, hell, why not a burger to go with it? Famous for their sliders for only $5.50, their burgers are fresh ground chuck on sweet Hawaiian buns with a special ketchup that's as spicy as the crowd. Eventually you learn there are no strangers at this most awesome dive. Yes, by time you leave everybody will know your name.
Ladies Beware: Everyone