Getting sloshed is fun any time of year, but it's especially nice in the summer. The heat makes you thirsty, the bikinis make you randy, and there’s no place better to satisfy both urges than a beach bar. But forget seaside pickup joints serving overpriced pineapple cocktails to drunken stockbrokers in starched Hawaiian shirts. Nothing kills a midsummer buzz faster. Herewith, for your imbibing pleasure, a selection of dive bars, where the bad attitude comes cheap, and the ocean view is free.
Chez Jay (1657 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica; 310-395-1741) Park by the giant white clamshell and enter this small room barely lighted by multicolored Christmas lights and Italian-bistro candles. The black-jacketed crowd of Third Street Promenade rejects, hanging out in booths flanked with thick nautical rope, ranges from 20-somethings sucking on Rolling Rocks to sexagenarians downing vino. Warning: The men‘s-room urinal is mounted steeply, so if you’re under 5-foot-9, aim high! The sights: framed movie posters and a grimacing Frank Sinatra. The sounds: from Abba to Fiona Apple. The specials: Cajun yellowtail with lemon butter sauce for $18.75 (ouch!).
Hermosa Beach Yacht Club (66 Hermosa Ave.; 310-376-6767) Just look for the “HBYC” on the awning outside — that‘s code for Hermosa Beach Yacht Club, but don’t expect to see Young Republicans eating from silver spoons here. This isn‘t really a yacht club; it’s all baseball caps, flip-flops, and a bare-midriffed barmaid sporting Britney Spears ponytails serving to a boisterous crowd of regulars. The sights: framed photo collages of wasted patrons and posing bikini girls; a video-poker machine offering peeks at topless models; and multiple warnings on proper Yacht Club conduct (“Any persons using, soliciting or purchasing drugs will be prosecuted,” “To change TV or radio stations, please ask lovely server,” and on the ladies‘-room door: “No men allowed in this restroom! You will be 86’d!” — the men‘s room is hidden off the back patio). The sounds: from Creedence Clearwater Revival to ACDC. The specials: a king-size goblet of Sierra Nevada for $6.75.
Naja’s (154 International Boardwalk, Redondo Beach; 310-376-9951) You won‘t smell the chemicals belching from factory smokestacks down the road from the Redondo Beach Pier, because here it’s all about fish. Tanks of live lobsters and crabs provide ambiance for the strolling tourists, and the smell is, well, memorable. But it‘s at the north end of the pier, away from the balloon-toting, churro-eating children, where you can unwind with a draft beer in an amazingly tall glass. The sights: fishing boats (looking straight outta Gilligan’s Island) moored just beyond Naja‘s windows, which are kept wide-open to facilitate both the view and the barfly’s need to sneak outside and smoke while still chatting with friends on their window-side barstools. The sounds: from Billy Squier to Steely Dan. The specials: Armenian pizza, kabob plate, corn dog.
On the Waterfront Cafe (205 Ocean Front Walk, Venice Beach; 310-392-0322) The view from this Venice Boardwalk spot is a parking lot and a playground — perfect for keeping an eye on your car and your kid while you get really wasted. At a table on the patio out front, you can breathe in salty ocean air, chug down a Bitburger (“Bitte ein bit” s‘il vous plait!), and try to keep your French fries safe from brazen sea gulls and pigeons. The sights: the usual Venice Beach assortment of henna-inked teens, ultrafit in-line skaters, Hemingway look-alikes walking miniature collies, and, of course, that roller-skating Harry Perry on guitar. The sounds: international banter, great for eavesdropping — if you’re bilingual, that is. The specials: Swiss fondue.
The Poop Deck (1272 The Strand, Hermosa Beach; 310-376-3223) This anti–Aloha Sharkeez doesn‘t host a “Best Legs” contest, but it is home to the Uni-Cig, a single-cigarette dispensing machine mounted near a sign stating “Smoking Permitted on Back Patio,” and apparently the definition of “patio” is left up to the patron’s discretion. The sights: huge fish in a tank behind the bar, peering out at local lushes drinking, chatting, and playing pool and video games (Golden Tee ‘98 and ’99 — plus a vintage Asteroids machine!). The sounds: from David Bowie to the Rolling Stones. The specials: $1 pitchers on Fridays (“until the first keg blows”).
The Town House (52 Windward Ave., Venice Beach; 310-392-4040) A red-lettered electric sign offering “Cocktails” is your invitation to enter this 85-year-old drinking establishment. Inside, the dimly lit, narrow room stretches the length of the wood-and-brick bar, with just enough space at the far end for pinball machines and a racing-car chandelier overhanging the pool table. The friendly barkeep isn‘t afraid to kick out loudmouth drunks, so if that’s you, watch it! The sights: cigarette machines, veterans‘ memorabilia (“Remember our veterans, buy a buddy poppy”). The sounds: the old-timey ring of a push-button cash register. The specials: two condoms for $1 in the ladies’ room, 50 cents apiece in the men‘s room.
Venice Bistro (323 Ocean Front Walk, Venice Beach; 310-392-3997) Welcome to “Tequila Alley,” where you can choose from nearly 50 brands of tequila, collected in a mind-bending assortment of bottles of all shapes and sizes on four shelves behind the bar. After all the drinking, go relieve yourself in the restroom and check out the hand soap conveniently provided in a condiment squeeze bottle. The sights: palm trees, sand and a small patio area just outside the door, and, over the bar, the ubiquitous TV soundlessly broadcasting sports games, ignored by all. The sounds: from Madonna to Aerosmith. The specials: Jagermeister on tap.