La Paz, Sharkeez, 12th Street, Harry O’s, Tequila Willies & Shellback Top List
Manhattan Beach, despite its super upscale “Beverly Hills at the beach” appearance of today, has a long history of lively nightlife.
There was a time it was the premier singles spot in the entire South Bay – far outpacing even what Hermosa Beach currently offers – and in fact in all of Los Angeles.
That is why PubClub.com is acknowledging the past, as well as giving a nod to the present, with this list of the 10 best bars of all time in Manhattan Beach. It is a follow-up to another story on the 10 Best South Bay Bars Of All Time.
The Top 10 Manhattan Beach Bars List
1.) La Paz
There was no wilder, crazier, be-there-or-else bar in this history of Manhattan Beach than LaPaz. Sitting up from the pier across from Shellback (where the upscale Strand House is now located). La Paz was a dark bar frequented by bikers six days a week but oh on that seventh, every single person in the South Bay flocked to it for crazy Sunday afternoons on its packed upstairs patio. The good-looking blonde bartender with the great legs filled up cups of draft beer as fast as she could pour them and the fun flowed until after dark.
2.) The Original Sharkeez
In the early 90s, a yellow building with a thatched roof bar, a menu on a big wooden board in the shape of a fish and potent drinks in big buckets served with large straws opened in El Porto. It didn’t take long for Sharkeez to be the top bar in the South Bay for singles, sports, hanging out, dinners, drinks and every other imaginable going-out activity. It reached its peak in the mid 90s thru early 2000s when it was packed with fun-loving locals, surfers and singles.
3.) 12th Street
The party void on Sundays when La Paz closed was filled when 12th Street opened at 12th and Highland. Immediately, they drew crowds when they jammed in Joe’s Band playing tunes such as “Hot, Hot, Hot,” and things were indeed hot. PubClub gives 12th Street credit for creating the “Surfers On Acid” shot (Jagermeister) and for getting us and several other people pretty drunk on Sunday nights. Later, 12th Street was the opening act to the Sunday night party, which involved starting there then walking across the alley to H2O.
4.) Tequila Willies
The ultimate Friday Happy Hour bar, Tequila Willies was where every South Bay single went to start the weekend party. From 5-8ish, they would gather by the hundreds at this bar in the Manhattan Village Mall for beers, margaritas and mingling. This is where everyone checked on where the best house parties were for Saturday (or later on Friday night), whom they were going to make a move on that weekend or simply to meet up with friends to go out later on Friday. Today, there is no good Friday Happy Hour bar in the South Bay and Tequila Willies is missed even more because of it.
5.) Harry O’s
Bands, beers, babes, athletes, celebrities, Jill’s shots at the back bar and the big bar in the front loaded with loaded South Bay locals, Harry O’s had it all on Highland. It was where MB Sharkeez is now located and in the 90s it was the nighttime hotspot the “club” you went to after the original Sharkeez. If you somehow emerged alone from Harry O’s, then you staggered up to the street to the tiny dive, the Hole In The Wall.
6.) Shellback Tavern
The beachy legend is still around and still thrives today. This is where beach volleyball players – from pros to recreational to the summer league players – come in to quench their thirst with the coldest beer in town. Shellback is a place to start with Bloody Marys on a weekend, to have some afternoon beers off the beach and to be your party place at night. It’s hanging on as a casual dive bar in the middle of the high-class and high-priced restaurants and shops that are now populating downtown Manhattan Beach.
After it was LaPaz, the same owners opened a nicer, cleaner bar and named it several things, among them Beaches then Sunsets. It was a good bar, casual and often very lively, particularly during the heyday of the Manhattan Beach Open AVP. The beach bar routine was to bounce between here and Shellback to see which place had the best party (read singles) scene. It didn’t take long to get to know and become friends with all the bartenders and waitresses.
This rockin’ rock ‘n roll cantina sits on top of a Mexican restaurant. The bar area is tiny but it packs in people on Friday and Saturday nights to hear Day of Daze, a collection of former and current rock touring musicians led by Coco on bass (Fleetwood Mac, among many others) and Big Jim Wheeler on sax (Kenny Loggins). For a long time, its the home bar of Carey Carloff, an energetic musician who played 80s rock covers on a little piano, lit the keyboard on fire, swung over the crowd on a rope hanging from the ceiling and put on red shoes when he really lit up the room. Carey passed away in October of 2015 and you can still feel his pulse and energy in Pancho’s.
Another downtown dive bar still around today, Ercoles is the oldest bar in Manhattan Beach. Judging by the photos, it was once a fairly nice place – linen table cloths! – but today it’s like an old ski lodge in the Alps. With a beach crowd. Old wooden booths and picnic tables with dated cushions provide the seating and the crowd remains the same as it has for years – singles of all ages who go in to slam beers, cocktails and mingle with other singles.
10.) Australia Bistro
This probably would rank higher had it lasted longer. It was run by a pair of Aussie blokes who stood by the door and handed you a large oil can-sized Fosters when you walked inside the place. It had tiny tables and people would jump up on them and dance; this place was a hold-nothing-back party spot, MB’s version of being in Paradise Beach in the Greek Islands. They had $1 beers until the first person – a guy or gal – had to use the bathroom. People would actually line up and block the bathroom door! Of course such fun can’t last in largely nightlife conservative California and after several battles with the city – and some pretty clever solutions to getting around the rules – the brothers eventually high-tailed is back to Australia.
Honorable Mention: First National Food & Beverage, Hennessey’s $1 Beer Thursdays, Hole in the Wall, Orville & Wilbur’s, Player’s.