Reader's Poll 2011 - Arts, Entertainment, Nightlife
Arts, Entertainment, Nightlife - Best Of Monterey County 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
For a lower-case band, honeymoon peels off some capital-letter Harmonies. But while the fullness of the Best Local Band’s four female voices is formidable, their lyrics penetrating and their instrumentation, from banjo to piano, soul-rending, there’s one thing that differentiates them even further: their unmistakeable love for what they do. That almost palpable passion has to be felt to be understood – and serves as the most crucial, if elusive, quality required to stay on top. You can see it on Sly’s dancefloor, taste it in the River Inn’s Bloody Mary, hear it in Hanif Wondir’s beats and read about it here (click here to browse these and all the other "Best of Monterey County" categories even easier):
Best Local Artist
You may know that painter Dick Crispo helped found Art Live on Dolores in Carmel. You might know that his “Trees in the Night,” which mixed natural and man-made forms against a black backdrop and showed at Carmel Art Association, was vivid like the stained glass of a cathedral. But maybe you didn’t know that the artist who describes himself as an “abstract journalist of the landscape… the plastics, the decorative, the horrible and the serene” has 34 permanent public collections at places like Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, works in 300 private collections, and, according to his bio, “69 One Man Shows, 31 awards, including a gold medal for his body of work at the Italian Academy of Works of Art.” Now you know.
Best Photo Gallery
Sixth and Dolores, Carmel
Lovingly printed and framed silver gelatin black and white photographs – with some punctuations of rich color – line the entire space, fill drawers and stack up against walls. Numerous books augment the displays. Through family machinations, the gallery doesn’t carry the work of living family legacy Kim Weston, but it seems to show everyone else of renown – Edward and Brett Weston, Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Chip Hooper, Yousuf Karsh, Paul Strand, and newer names like Robert Weingarten, Ryuijie, Jeffrey Becom and Yoshimitsu Nagasaka. The latest is Michael Kenna of the Huangshan Mountains of China. This place is the best – again – because it’s always worth a deep, lasting look.
Best Local Theater Company
Pacific Repertory Theatre
Golden Bough Theatre, Monte Verde between Eighth and Ninth
Circle Theatre, Casanova between Eighth and Ninth, Carmel
Any single theater company that can cycle between Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and High School Musical, Pericles Redux and All Shook Up, Laughter on the 23rd Floor and Crime and Punishment is in possession of a range that is special, straddling the commercial moneymakers to finance the more risky artistic ventures. Sometimes it even juggles two productions during the same stretch, which sounds schizophrenic, but the company holds it together like few do. Its members are proud of the fact that it’s the county’s only Equity company, employing and bringing out union pros, and that they haven’t stopped performing during a long-awaited renovation of dual theater spaces. It was recently awarded the Indoor Forest Theatre space for its SoDA performance training classes and productions, and is working out arrangements to stage productions on other stages.
Best Performing Arts Venue
San Carlos at Ninth, Carmel
Sunset Center consistently provides a mecca for diverse and quality entertainment in Monterey County. The 700-seat theater fills up quickly with acts like banjo extraordinaire Béla Fleck, ’60s icons Country Joe McDonald with Big Brother and the Holding Co., and an evening with the multi-talented performer Rita Moreno. Every year, the Carmel venue continues to step it up and put on some of the best shows in the area.
Best Art Gallery
Carmel Art Association
Dolores between Fifth and Sixth, Carmel
This organization celebrates its 84th birthday this year, and is as strong and vibrant as ever. Boasting more than 100 artist members, the Best Art Gallery isn’t averse to sharing the spotlight with its smaller neighbors, as demonstrated by participation in the multi-gallery Art Live on Dolores. It absolutely fills four gallery spaces (and an unofficial but accessible “storage” space) and clears them out every month for each successive wave of shows. It is an institution but doesn’t act like one, putting artists in front of aficionados regularly for talks and demonstrations. It’s been dubbed the “mighty CAA” within these pages. Weekly readers have dubbed it the best around.
Best Club DJ
Mundaka, Cannery Row Brewing Company
How’s this for a Wondir of the world: A Bengali-Pinoy-American with a by-the-bootstraps ability to dovetail the White Stripes and the Black Keys, James Brown and Richard Cheese, The Beatles and The Roots, Cee-Lo and Mos Def, even clean Chromeo and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Before Wondir started spinning, Carmel was more Asleep by the Sea than anything else, and CRBC wasn’t nearly as live; now H Dub rocks the Daka every Thursday and CRBC has found its own fly sound come Saturday. If you’re not dancing to this, you’re dying on the sidelines.
Best Place for Karaoke
444 Alvarado St., Monterey
Only a stage where a trio of blond CSUMB co-eds are comfortable singing Barry White’s “Walrus of Love” and “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” and a petite middle-aged man can improvise his own – dirtier – version of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” can be labeled the best. Bobby Vegas, the Brit’s 10-year-veteran MC, offers a vast variety of songs to choose from Mondays, Tuesdays and Sundays, some 5,000 all told, covering everything from Earth Wind & Fire to Third Eye Blind. Important note: That index also includes Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
Best Bar for Folks Over 50
26270 Dolores St., Carmel
Sure, folks under 50 can enjoy sipping a Manhattan while listening to American standards (or Billy Joel tunes) from the piano bar. They can also enjoy a jazz buffet brunch on Sundays from the comfort of the Mission Ranch’s heated patio, with views of sheep grazing in the meadow, the Santa Lucias and Point Lobos. But, as with most of the finer things in life, all of these improve with age.
Best Club For Rock
Jose’s Lounge Underground
638 Wave St., Monterey
It’s a hard-knock life for an up-and-coming rock band in this area, given the short list of venues to roll through. Most of those few, meanwhile, turn away high-volume troupes dabbling in heavy metal or hardcore sounds. Not Jose’s. Here an active dance floor, cheap beer and throbbing jams are all included. What used to be a dingy downstairs basement attached to a tasty Mexican food joint is now a definitive destination for touring rockers. The sound system and lighting accommodate all strains of head-bangers, setting dim for local metal men Razorhoof, and strobes and white/red rays for the techno-core of Boyz IV Men. Not that the lounge won’t go easy – it’s also recently hosted soft-rock acoustic strummers like Richard McLaughlin, a Castroville singer/songwriter fond of Lyle Lovett, and John Michael of Bog Iron and Mercy.
Best Club For Blues
700 Cannery Row #A, Monterey
The other day I found a beat-up 45 record on a sidewalk in Cannery Row. I put it on my turntable and heard a dejected blues singer sing: “I’ve got the blues/ Sly McFly’s just rules/ I got my own spot/ But they always take the Weekly’s Best Blues Club slot/ I got Typhoid Terry onstage with Sloppy P/ But they rock all night with J.C. Smith and Willie G/ And they get to host that after-blues-fest thing/ While my money is lost and my pride does sting/ I hate to lose/ I’ve got the blues.”
Best Club for Jazz
301 Alvarado St., Monterey
Cozy booths, a colorful bar and an intimate dance floor deliver three avenues to absorb the sophisticated excellence of groups like pop funksters The Element or the soulful powerhouse Pam Hawkins. While these performers jazz up big weekends, it’s steady local standouts – key charismatic regulars like Joe Lucido, Brandon Gilbert and Matt Masih and the Messengers – that ensure a magnetic sound will beckon you down Alvarado with the steady dependability of the nearby tides.
Best Dance Club
Hippodrome Nightclub and Lounge
321 Alvarado St., Monterey
At least four DJs, from familiar local acts to big national names like YG and Snoop Dogg’s Dogg Pound, grace this 12,000-square-foot megaclub’s four dance floors nightly. Arrive prior to 10pm (before the go-go cages start raging) and you’re in time for $2 drafts and $3 wells – at no cover charge. Thanks to its vastness, The ’Drome houses 13 bar stations: That means if the stamina for the dance floor fades, it’s easy to track down a cocktail to enjoy the outdoor patio with a view of the bay.
Best Local Musician
John Sherry spends up to 60 hours a week doing something related to music. It might be teaching guitar to beginners, working on composing orchestral scores for film projects or laying down guitar riffs with popular local cover band Cheeky Spanks. In addition to playing music, Sherry is also a producer on Cheeky Spanks’ new CD Under the Covers, which will feature a rockabilly medley of The Beatles’ “Love Me Do” and “I Saw Her Standing There.”
Best Local Band
The powerhouse supergroup honeymoon is made up of four ladies – Lauren Shera, Andrea Blunt, Christina Bailey and Sara Bollwinkel – talented enough to carry an evening of entertainment individually. After debuting this year, they’ve quickly made waves locally with intoxicating harmonies and free-flowing melodies – and earned the accolades of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, Jackie Greene and Mary Chapin Carpenter along the way. Check out their cover of Nick Drake’s “Black Eyed Dog” to understand why.
Best Happy Hour
Peter B’s Brewpub
2 Portola Plaza, Monterey
Peter B’s already had a happy hour that puts its stingy peers to shame – it was longer than average (4-7pm), happened seven days a week, presented serviceable food at half price, poured dollar-off pints, $5 Long Islands and $3 margaritas and welcomed folks to a nice gardenside patio with a waterfall or a bar and lounge areas stocked with banks of flat-screens. Now neighboring Jacks Restaurant Chef Jason Giles has come in to consult on the menu, adding things like ale-steamed clams and dry-cracked ribs, and a newly re-galvanized beer team led by Andrew Wyer has revisited the house brews, raising the flavor on the pilsners and pale ales admirably. If you’re not happy here, it’s you.
Crown & Anchor
150 W. Franklin St., Monterey
A good pub is a place where you’ll only be a stranger once. It’s also a place where the beer is always the right temperature, the booze flows steadily and the food clogs arteries as it satisfies. The longtime Franklin Street institution meets each and every one of these criteria and then some – the classic-but-clever pub decor and always-popular patio also rank high among the bar’s qualities. Stop in on a brisk afternoon for a helping of corned beef and cabbage, a pint of Irish stout and a shot of bourbon, and the next thing you know, it will be last call.
701 Wave St., Monterey
Atop the steep staircase overlooking iconic Cannery Row is where now-iconic “Big Mike” and the rest of the Sardine Factory bar staff conjure and deposit the multi-colored magic in generously sized, cone-shaped stemware, some frosted with the finest-grained sugar, others garnished simply with a slice of lemon. The barkeeps lovingly offer up ’tinis – sour, sweet, creamy or neat – with titles like Misty’s Kiss, Chambord French and Key Lime Pie (which is an original recipe, by the way, and does its namesake proud). Having been in business some 43 years, it’s no wonder co-founder Bert Cutino and his staff have this staple cocktail’s details locked down, but the convivial manner in which they ply their trade is what really lights the lamp.
Best Bloody Mary
Big Sur River Inn
Highway 1 at Pheneger Creek, Big Sur
With their Bloody Marys, the bartenders at Big Sur River Inn’s Restaurant bring the heat. Their pint glass full of fire erupts when their house-made mix, which includes Pepper Plant sauce, meets up with shots of hotter-than-Hades chipotle-flavored vodka. If you break into a serious sweat, ask for a 16-ounce plastic cup and take your fiery cocktail to the River Inn’s lawn – or the adjacent river – for a cool-down sip.
7166 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley
With some 70 tequilas, many available in silver, reposado and añejo, and eight Margies on the menu – try the Organic Partida, with Partida silver and organic agave nectar, or the Ultimat Racing fuel, an Ultimat vodka margarita with apple pucker, melon liquor, sweet and sour and Red Bull – Baja Cantina’s got a potion to bring out the inner Coyote Ugly bartender/bar dancer in everyone.
Best Neighborhood Bar
223 Reindollar Ave., Marina
English Ales, the unassuming, beloved brewpub tucked into the rolling dunes of Marina’s business district, once again takes home honors as Best Neighborhood Bar – a fact that ought to make the tightknit regulars there fairly pickled with justified pride. This is a true pub, with comfortable atmosphere, a ceiling covered in hundreds of personalized, numbered mugs, a welcoming bar, great service, a totally underrated, delicious and hearty menu of British grub and always interesting local beer-lovers on hand to entertain. Hard liquor is not an option, which never seems to matter with upwards of 10 hand-crafted brews to study.
Best Drink With A View
Schooners Bistro on the Bay
400 Cannery Row, Monterey
From its perch over the water, both the heated outdoor deck and generously windowed interior give Schooners enough crashing waves to inspire a sailor’s appetite for food and drink. This is as close as it gets to drinking on the sea while on land, which is convenient, considering how easy it is to keep sipping classic cocktails, at which point balance skills are well served by soil and cement. And don’t disregard the simple and appropriately seafood-dense menu – bring on the crispy tuna rolls, garlic scampi, oysters on the half shell and steamed clams.
Best Selection of Wines by the Glass
701 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove
Buying wine by the bottle can be tacky. After all, very few diners order the same dish, and a compromise wine is just a nice way to say, “That dum-dum at our table ruined our pairing.” Solution: Head to Passionfish to ask the insanely knowledgeable staff what to pair with whatever food you order. If your server has passion, he’ll pour half glasses and encourage folks to taste several wines rather than force a single bottle – wine director/manager/muse Jannae Lizza trains her staff well. They hand-sell exotic wines by the glass with class, and more importantly, originality.
Best Selection of Beers
Cannery Row Brewing Company
95 Prescott Ave., Monterey
An authentic old submarine door marks the gateway to a keg-packed freezer of no fewer than 76 beers, while a colorful array of beer taps align the fully stocked bar – Belgium brews and house-made signature brands like Prescott Porter, Tipsy Seagull, Lucky Sailor and Madame Flora’s “Red Light Special.” Beer flights come categorized by IPA, Belgium and signature styles; beyond the stouts and pilsners there’s even a gluten-free beer, a $15, 25-ounce Estrella Damm “Inedit” (reminiscent of sweet spices and a fresh, creamy aftertaste), the St. Louis peach and raspberry Lambics and $3 cans of PBR or Milwaukee’s Best.
Best Place to Shoot Pool
Blue Fin Billiards
685 Cannery Row, Monterey
To talk to a man who has played pool across seven decades is to get what a good, old-school pool hall should have. We rang the man they call Lucky Chuckie. “Plenty of working room around the table,” he grumbled. “Hot waitresses would be very nice. Beer and all the liquor you can think of. And a snooker table and a three-cushion billiards with no pockets.” The Blue Fin has it all, minus the exotic tables, plus a full rack of elements that Ol’ Chuck didn’t even bring to the table: sturdy pub grub, a full-blown concert hall in the back, oceanview balconies and strategic positioning in the heart of Cannery Row. Chalk your cue, Chuck.
Best Bar for Darts
Bulldog British Pub
611 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey
For years now, Central Coast dart buffs have flocked to the Bulldog for sharply played matches, and little wonder why. The pub has fostered a passionate community of cricket-chuckers by providing a bloody charming atmosphere (not to mention imbibement) and by hosting semi-monthly, 2-on-2 tournaments that have been dominated by a small, cagey band of legends. But most times the stately board is open to seasoned hustlers and gapers alike on a drop-in basis. A well-peppered American Dart Company board awaits your steady (or not) hand, and fronts a wall chock-full of bulldog-themed paraphernalia from around the globe. The “oche,” or official throwing line, is well-marked on the ornately woven carpet by the copious beers – and tears – spilled there during many a spirited game.
Best Sports Bar
Knuckles Sports Bar
1 Old Golf Course Road, Monterey
Beyond the 25 flat-screen TVs, beyond the lineup of virtually every Sierra Nevada brew in existence (not to mention a healthy selection of other beers and spirits), beyond the pool tables and video games, Knuckles delivers details that only further elevate its game. Note the ridiculously easy video matrix switcher and individual speakers for both audio and video enjoyment, the new menu from a kitchen that just so happens to be nestled in a four-star hotel (delivering food that goes above and beyond your typical pub fare), the discounts for golfers coming off Old Del Monte, the in-table taps in the corner booth, the daily deals and the freshly remodeled layout. This is a perennial winner because it’s a sports bar built the way sports bars were meant to be. And then some.
Best Singles Bar
474 Alvarado St., Monterey
Sparks fly and flirtation ensues while mingling mates sip on martinis such as the S&M (strawberry martini – what were you thinking?) or the delicious Bad Appletini. Sex and the City Cosmo lovers will swoon over the Purple Headed Dragon, similar to the traditional cosmo with an added touch of raspberry liqueur; bros can get a quick fix with the Mail Order Bride, a tasty sensation by Hypnotiq, or the mouth-melting dark chocolate Humdinger. Large, cushy booths make for easy canoodling, and an outdoor patio leads to easy initiations and smooth conversation. New and local faces along with stiff cocktails attract singles and minglers to Lallapalooza any day of the week.
414 Calle Principal, Monterey
You’ll recognize Anthony Vitacca. He’s the one behind the bar who shakes like crazy with his hands over his head every few minutes to make sure a drink is well blended. He adores classic cocktails and also invents new drinks. How passionate is Vitacca? He makes 40 pounds of maraschino fruit every summer from fresh cherries, he makes chartreuse foam, bitters, infusions and traditional shrubs (a vinegar-based syrup with fruit, herbs or spices). He’s into molecular mixology, a scientific approach, and one result is caviar – small pearls of fruit liqueur that float in a drink and burst in the mouth with flavor. Vitacca loves the history and trivia of cocktails. He’s on the Internet reading, researching, hunting down ingredients. “I get inspired by my guests,” he says. “And making people happy. Hopefully.”
East Village Coffee Lounge
498 Washington St., Monterey
East Village does Wi-Fi and caffeine that much better, boasting a huge patio out front, as well as two separate lounges indoors. There is art from locals to be enjoyed (or even purchased), impressive musical events, and an open mic night every week. The signature snacks from Dory Ford’s kitchen present the persuasive power to return, not unlike the drink menu: The cappuccino is rich, aromatic and poured into a form of art; a worldly tea list ranges from Earl Grey to jasmine oolong; wine, beer and recently, local suds, are all available on tap. The service staff is never shy of a welcoming smile, and all walks of life mingle about.
Best Movie Theater
350 Alvarado St., Monterey
Nestled in the majestic architecture of downtown Monterey lies a hidden treasure for indie and foreign film enthusiasts. Unlike larger multiplex theaters, Osio Cinemas offers an intimate viewing of select independent and foreign films, often unavailable elsewhere on the Peninsula. Discounts are available for all military and students with valid I.D. With a smiling staff, tasty fresh popcorn and cheap tickets, the theater also shares space with Café Lumiere. Sipping on a non-fat double cappuccino during the opening scene is kosher, since all café purchases are welcome in the cinema.
Best Hangout After the Movie
1415 Del Monte Center, Monterey
Its lit-up wall of liquor is visible before you even exit the Century Cinemas, so imagine what follows. Here’s a little taste: 10 varieties of mojitos, 17 varieties of martinis and nine margarita options. And that’s just some of what Lalla’s offers to wet after-movie whistles. It also satisfies any late-night snack cravings with faves like the Mexican Street Tacos (with house-made tortillas and black beans) and Thai Chicken Lollipops marinated in spices and served with orange marmalade sauce.