Dive In!

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NB’s best bar may just be the Beach Ball, because it’s always 6AM somewhere.– By Kedric Francis | Photos By Jody Tiongco

It’s 6AM on a Tuesday, and your buddy wants a drink. Who you gonna call? The Beach Ball, of course. No matter how early you get there, you won’t be the first. No matter what your story, they’ve heard it before. It’s open on Christmas. It’s open on Thanksgiving. In fact, it’s rarely shut at all, as evidenced by the iconic sign in front: Closed 2:00-6:00.

There are a lot of good-to-great dive bars in O.C., like the Fling, the Sandpiper and the Swallows, but despite (or perhaps because of?) the city’s clampdown on bars and nightclubs, Newport Beach has more than its fair share. And the Beach Ball is the best.

One point should be made clear: We mean dive neither as condemnation nor mere classification, but as a commendation. There’s a time and a place for VIP rooms, bottle service and “are you on the list?” bars and clubs. But there are other times when nothing but a dive will do: an unpretentious place with no cover, no line and no telling who you’ll be sitting next to when you order a strong pour or a cold beer. Could be a retired CEO, an itinerant surfer or the subject of a documentary on alcoholism (though you’ll be more likely to run into him outside these days).

The first-timer may not be wowed by the place on a first viewing. But take time for the decades of decadence and good times to seep into your system—along with a stiff cocktail or three.

Regulars, some who really need that 6AM shot, mix with bar-hoppers, pub-crawlers and party kids from the peninsula. Others are refugees from the vast inland tracts of SoCal homogeneity, come to the shore for some soul-succoring salt air and Salty Dogs.

We have semi-strict criteria for what makes a great dive bar: old guys with sad stories; bartenders with sharp tongues; loud, lushy ladies who think they know you; a jukebox with Johnny Cash, Social D and that one stupid song that can still make you cry; one or more pool tables; one or more guys or gals you really shouldn’t play pool with; beer posters, mirrors and neon at least a decade out of date; and a dark interior so you can forget you’re day-drinking or how many hours you’ve been there.

The one classic dive-demerit against the Beach Ball is the ocean view out the front window. But that exception to the rule may be what makes the place great—that and the fact you can escape the light in the room down below, where the pool tables are.

The best dives are often found in decaying downtowns. In SoCal, though, some of the finest are in nondescript strip malls in seedy suburbs and towns with names you know but where you rarely go like Pomona, Fontana and Hemet. So having a classic almost on the sand is a gift from, well, if not god, then perhaps a minor deity like Dionysius (though even he’d need an ID to get in).

Yes, we need dives like the Beach Ball; there should be a place in every town that some of its finest citizens would never enter, often because their spouses have such stories to tell about their adventures there as a wilder, pre-civilized version of themselves.

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