- DESIGN BY ALEX ZUNIGA
- BEST PLACE TO DANCE: THE GRADUATE: The Graduate in SLO is known for country dancing, line dancing, salsa dancing, swing dancing, Latin dancing, DJ dancing, dancing to the oldies dancing, and any other dancing you could think of. It’s been that way since William Everett opened the place in 1975, and it’s been family-run since the beginning. Now managed by Everett’s granddaughter Brittany Sons, the place is slowly getting spruced up—but that gigantic dance floor isn’t changing. The Grad’s won Best Dance Floor or Best Place to Dance for 23 of the last 30 years.
BEST NORTH COUNTY BAR (San Miguel, Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, Santa Margarita)
Pappy McGregor’s Irish Pub & Restaurant
1122 Pine St., Paso Robles
Pappy McGregor’s has held out as a neighborhood bar among a land flush with wine bars and fine dining. That doesn’t mean that they don’t bring a bit of class—they’ve got a great drink menu and pub food with a fancy flair. But it’s a place to be yourself at, a place in which to feel comfortable easing (or speeding) your way toward debauchery with the locals. They’ve got dancing. They’ve got karaoke. They’ve got trivia, to boot.
Runner up: Pine Street Saloon
BEST NORTH COAST BAR (Cambria, Cayucos, Los Osos, Baywood Park, Morro Bay)
The Libertine Pub
801 Embarcadero, Morro Bay
While cruising the Embarcadero in Morro Bay, you mind find it hard to get away from the nautical-themed seafood restaurants. If seafaring isn’t your thing, you can find a slice of brewpub heaven in the middle of it all—and they’ve got 48 beers on tap. You can sip a cold froth while listening to records in the front or you can catch a rad local band like The Turkey Buzzards or The Earthtones in the back. “We are so happy to be the greatest of all time,” said Tyler Clark, owner of Libertine Brewing Company.
Runner up: Schooner’s Restaurant and Bar
BEST SAN LUIS OBISPO BAR
Black Sheep Bar & Grill
1117 Chorro St., SLO
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Sheep continues to be a local favorite because, like the regulars who go there, it just keeps being itself and nothing else. The bar draws a steady stream of local happy-hour regulars and then transitions into a favorite hangout for the local nightlife. Perhaps it’s the friendly staff, strong drinks, hearty food, allegiance to the San Francisco Giants (it’s an even year), or the vine-covered enclosed patio. Or perhaps it’s all of the above.
Runner up: McCarthy’s Irish Pub
BEST SOUTH COUNTY BAR (Arroyo Grande, Nipomo)
307 West Branch St., Arroyo Grande
Bar manager Benny Regan was honored to learn that readers chose the new bar for this top prize. The bar opened in April of last year, and things are going well—they’re already in the process of expanding into the space next door. They have 25 beers on tap and can wet your whistle with an incredible selection of high-end whiskeys and other spirits, plus plus barrel-aged cocktails. “We make these big, bold cocktails, but on an individual level,” he said. “It’s the locals that come in on a daily basis that make our bar run.”
Runner up: Bill’s Place
BEST SOUTH COAST BAR (Avila Beach, Grover Beach, Pismo Beach, Oceano, Shell Beach)
404 Front St., Avila Beach
Let’s be real: There’s nothing better than a nice cold beer and chicken strips after a day of frolicking in the ocean and tanning. Located on the strand in Avila Beach, Mr. Rick’s has been a fixture for years and continues to be then place you want to be after a day in the sun. With an open-front style bar, it’s like you never left the beach, and you can even enjoy a game or two of pool if you want to. They also frequently showcase local bands and DJs to entertain its diehard patrons.
Runner up: Harry’s Night Club & Beach Bar
BEST PLACE TO DANCE
990 Industrial Way, SLO
Grab those man-stomping, horse-riding, shit-kickers and head to The Grad to get your line dance on. “It’s what we’re known for,” said manager Brittany Sons, who credits their spacious wooden dance floor. That’s pretty much been The Grad way since it opened in 1975, Sons said. But you can also snap on a mini skirt, red heels, and slinky top to shake your booty to some Latin grooves; rock out to some oldies but goodies; and move your feet to some salsa. Plus they host fundraisers, events, and serve food every day from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Runner up: Mother’s Tavern
BEST CLUB TO CATCH A BAND
SLO Brewing Company
Previously located at 1119 Garden St., SLO; moving to 855 Aerovista Place, SLO
Even though the beloved downtown music venue was shuttered in December, you, the readers, still showed your love. The spot was just funky and intimate enough, and there’s been too many memorable shows to count. Now SLO Brew is coming through with their promise to relocate and open a new venue. Music fans can soon attend weekend shows at The Rock, in the Aerovista Business Park by the airport. SLO Brew owner Hamish Marshall said he’s looking forward to hosting y’all again: “We’re looking forward to getting reopened here in June and bringing that back to the town.”
Runner up: Frog & Peach Pub
BEST PLACE TO GO ON A FIRST DATE
726 Higuera St., SLO
It’s a no-brainer why Novo has held the title for best first-date location for quite some time. As it turns out, sitting across from a new date on the outside patio beneath twinkling tree lights along a babbling brook has proven effective. Even if you’ve got no game, Novo’s got your back. The glow of candlelight, enchanting ambiance, delicious food, and craft cocktails could lead to a confirmed second date. “Time and time again we hear about first dates turning into engagements and couples return to Novo to celebrate their successful relationships,” said Logan Maher, director of operations. “There must be some magic on our patio.”
Runner up: Luna Red
The Tipsy Gypsies
The Tipsy Gypsies have gone from playing speakeasy-style gypsy jazz to a full-blown ensemble that can play any stage they end up on. The group is made up of five talented and seasoned musicians who have developed a unique sound that now takes them through genres like pop, blues, or their old standby, jazz. They’re looking forward to returning to Concerts in the Plaza this summer, as well as gigs throughout the county, and stay tuned—they’re recording a new album with a special singer and songwriter who’s recently joined their group. That’s expected to drop sometime this year.
Runner up: Bear Market Riot
BEST PLACE FOR A BEER
BarrelHouse Brewing Company
1033 Chorro St., SLO; 3055 Limestone Way, Paso Robles
What’s cooler than sipping a delicious beer at your average brewery? Sipping a delicious beer at an underground speakeasy of course. Between its brewery and beer gardens in Paso Robles and its combo barbershop and speakeasy in downtown SLO, it’s no wonder that BarrelHouse Brewery is considered the best place around to drink a cold one. “Our brewers make unique beers and we always have something new on tap,” said Jason Carvalho, owner and CEO. “Our staff knows more about beer than your average bartender.”
Runner up: Spike’s Pub
BEST FANCY COCKTAIL
Sidecar Cocktail Co.
1127 Broad St., SLO
Everyone knows that if you want a Sidecar cocktail, then that’s where you start your night, when you’re still sober enough to savor every delicious sip. At Sidecar, just watching the bartenders work is an experience; they take their craft from muddling to mixing seriously. “We have a philosophy that we like to carry good, lesser-known craft spirits,” owner Josh Christensen said. “We piggyback on that foundation by having fun with the cocktails we make.” Popular drinks include the Happy Tackle, Horse + Donkey, and the Good Gent.
Runner up: Koberl at Blue
Pepe Delgado’s Mexican Restaurant
1601 Monterey St., SLO
Tequila, Grand Marnier, salt, and lime. Who knew four simple ingredients could make such an amazing beverage! Pepe Delgado’s has been a SLO fixture for decades, taking the top spot for Best Margarita many times in those years. Located just outside downtown, Pepe Delgado’s margaritas pack a punch—after two of those bad boys, you’re set for the rest of the night. If you’re looking for a really good time I would recommend the Cadillac on the rocks—you just can’t go wrong. It’s a party with a salted rim.
Runner up: Fish Gaucho
BEST BLOODY MARY
Sidecar Cocktail Co.
1127 Broad St., SLO
Since winning this category last year, Sidecar has changed its bloody mix twice. Sure, it was good, but they wanted something better. Bartender Sean Carroll took the lead in dialing their mix into something outstanding that you’ll want to drink all morning before switching to their refreshingly proper afternoon concoctions. Owner Josh Christensen said that’s the spirit that makes his spot unique: Bartenders are free to create their own. All their cocktails are built from bottom up. Take the bloody: “A lot of garnishes are great, but it doesn’t matter unless the mix is awesome.”
Runner up: McCarthy’s Irish Pub
BEST HAPPY HOUR
1210 Higuera St., SLO
A good happy hour is hard to come by; luckily for SLO we have Petra! Not only do they have multiple local beers available by the bottle, they increased their number of taps from six to 16 while also bringing prices down. With happy hour going from 3 to 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to closing Monday to Saturday, you just can’t pass it up. On Sundays, it’s happy hour all day! “I think we beat out the competition because we supply something that people want/need,” co-owner Rammy Aburashed “I’m glad the SLOcals appreciate it, and we look forward to having the best happy hour for many years to come.”
Runner up: Luna Red
BEST SPORTS BAR
1001 Higuera St., SLO
Every morning, the second I open my car door in the New Times parking lot, I smell Worcestershire sauce—mixed with other marinating type things—being oak-fire barbecued into beef. Firestone Grill, you make me hungry, and I do not mind sitting at the bar after work to catch a game. There, the TVs surround you, and you can watch almost every game that’s playing at the same time, if you just swivel your head around. The beer prices are good. Even the salads are filling (I’m talking ’bout you, tri-tip cobb). And let’s not forget about those freakin’ fries. Addicting.
Runner up: Laguna Grill
BEST WINERY FOR RED WINE
Tolosa Winery & Vineyards
4910 Edna Road, SLO
Pinot noir. That’s all you need to know about Tolosa’s reds. Well, OK, not all. There are others, too: syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and various blends. But a quick glance at the reds on Tolosa’s tasting list shows off six pinots, each seductive in its own way, balanced, and sustainably grown. Tolosa is a slow winemaker, gently nurturing wines to completion, according to the website. “We allow nature to determine the character of each vintage. This is the way California’s winemaking heritage first began, and this is the way it will always be at Tolosa.”
Runner up: Talley Vineyards
BEST WINERY FOR WHITE WINE
5828 Orcutt Road, SLO
The Edna Valley is this beautiful mix of cool ocean breeze, salty fog, and days that are neither too hot nor too cold. Karl Boone, who manages Baileyana’s tasting room and wine club, said it’s the coolest growing region in California. “White grapes love that,” he said. Baileyana’s 1,100 acres of vineyards in Edna mother 700 to 800 acres of eight white varieties for 15 white wines—seven of which are chardonnay—including some that tasters don’t usually get to sample in this county, like the grüner veltliner, a dry, slightly peppery, citrus bomb usually grown in Austria. “It’s that diversity” that sets Baileyana apart, Boone said.
Runner up: Edna Valley Vineyard
BEST WINERY FOR SPARKLING WINE
Laetitia Vineyard & Winery
453 Laetitia Vineyard Drive, Arroyo Grande
Expanding in every direction from your view at Laetitia’s outdoor bar are the grapes responsible for what’s in your glass. This winery on a hill between Nipomo and Arroyo Grande is famous for its bubbles (the pinot’s good, too!). Laetitia’s sparkling-wine maker Dave Hickey, trained in the methode champenoise and has been with the vineyard since 1985. “The reputations of the wine and wine companies in this area is rising, so being recognized for these wines is just fantastic,” he said. I say give me some of that pink Laetitia brut rosé. My tongue needs a little sparkle.
Runner up: Tobin James Cellars
Firestone Walker Brewing Company
1400 Ramada Drive, Paso Robles
If 80 percent of the beer you sell is consumed within 200 miles of where it’s brewed and you’re in the top 10 largest craft breweries in California, then you’re doing as well as Firestone Walker is. “Internally, we are focused on what’s inside the bottle, and it’s been that way since day one,” owner Adam Firestone said. “The beer speaks for itself, better than we ever have.” The beer maker’s latest offering, Luponic Distortion, is no different, and it’s constantly evolving, much like the brewery it comes from. “Every 90 days, we change the hop recipe,” Firestone said.
Runner up: SLO Brewing Company
BEST TASTING ROOM NORTH COUNTY(above the Cuesta Grade)
DAOU Vineyards & Winery
2777 Hidden Mountain Road, Paso Robles
It might be a stretch to say you don’t even need to drink DAOU’s wine to know how good it is, but I’ve already said it. All you have to do is look out the window. Undulating hills. Oak trees. Gnarled grapevines. It’s pure grace. Much like the trek that got you there, winding up a road to 2,200 feet above the Templeton Gap. What they strive to do here is make cabernet sauvignon that rivals the best. Are you ready to try the wine? The Daou brothers, Georges and Daniel, welcome you to their 212-acre slice of paradise—and it includes what’s in the bottle.
Runner up: Firestone Walker Brewing Company
BEST TASTING ROOM SOUTH COUNTY (below the Cuesta Grade)
Edna Valley Vineyard
2585 Biddle Ranch Road, SLO
In order to perfectly conjure an image of where some locally made adult grape juice could be best enjoyed while ogling the most majestic views south of SLO proper, one only needs to visit Edna Valley Vineyard. Upon entering, your view lands on the giant windows that frame nearly all of the seven sisters. The rows of grapevines that lead perfectly away from the tasting room invite frolicking, if you have really good eyesight. The fact that the wine is likewise really excellent is just a bonus.
Runner up: Tolosa Winery & Vineyards
BEST WINE BAR
Luis Wine Bar
1021 Higuera St., SLO
Tucked away behind a massive tree and the smell of Firestone, Luis’ atmosphere instantly invites its patrons to relax and explore one’s individual palate. Pictures of album covers, and wine and beer labels adorn the wall, creating a classy and cozy vibe that goes so nicely with a domestic red. With a wine menu that changes every month and an even larger craft beer bottle list, patrons can rest assured that there is something for everyone. Where else can one taste their way through a different featured region each month while enjoying a warm cookie? Go find out.
Runner up: The Wine Shed
BEST WINERY OR BREWERY TASTING TRANSPORTATION (TIE)
Hop On Beer Tours
Sick of being a wino? Stick to beer. You’re head will thank you tomorrow. Helping you explore beer is what Hop On Beer Tours does, and with 15 breweries to visit between Solvang and Paso, there’s a lot to drink. For $424, you can book a North County Tour or a SLO Tour for two to 15 guests, and Hop On will be your guide. Or you can ask for the custom tour and pick your own three breweries. Hop On also hosts something called a Social Tour—open to the public at $30 a ticket, twice a month—and they’ll be your guide.
SLO Safe Ride
You ride. They drive. But, calling SLO Safe Ride doesn’t have to be a middle-of-the-night type thing. They do wine/brewery tours, weddings, event shuttling, and other chartered transportation. “With a focus on responsible living and customer service, SLO Safe Ride prioritizes getting every aspect of the job done right, which has led to a loyal following in a town that values its local enterprises,” said owner and co-founder Mike Linn. Your ride is just a click away on the SLO Safe Ride App, or you can plan in advance! Either way, it’s your call.
Runner up: Breakaway Tours & Event Planning
BEST DRINK WITH A VIEW
2575 Price St., Pismo Beach
Book a date with the Pacific Ocean and grab a cocktail at the Ventana Grill. General Manager Josh Whipkey recommended spending a relaxing weekend morning with a customized drink, looking out at the restaurant’s unbeatable ocean views. As far as the cocktail selection, Whipkey said that “one of the biggest draws is the fact that we have a bloody mary in addition to mimosas.” You can get personal with your bloody at the bar with a plethora of tasty supplements. Or ditch her, and go with the jalapeño-infused margarita, coconut mojito, or Mexican chocolate martini.
Runner up: Marisol at The Cliffs Resort
BEST BEVERAGE SLINGER
Nicole Sigman, Black Sheep Bar & Grill
1117 Chorro St., SLO
Nicole Sigman knows that a bar is more than a bar, and a beer among friends is more than a mere beer. These are the threads that form the fabric of a community. And if that all sounds too lofty, then perhaps you’ve been drinking in the wrong pub. Sigman’s been pouring drinks at Black Sheep for more than nine years, almost as long as they’ve been in business. Sigman can mix a mean cocktail, but that’s not what she’s all about. On a Friday afternoon she sat at a table and gestured expansively across the bar. “I know the name of every person in here,” she said without boasting. “It’s not just making drinks. I see these people every day. It’s like a community.”
Runner up: Josh Christenson, Sidecar
BEST COFFEE SHOP
Scout Coffee Co.
1130 Garden St., SLO
Stepping into Scout Coffee Co. feels like a warm hug and looks like a Pinterest dream with tree-stump seats. Coffee lovers are drawn to brewed coffee and cappuccinos, but Scout also serves up something extra special: the honey tea bowl, which is tea steeped in house-made almond milk and honey, topped with soy foam. “We focus on friendly service and a great atmosphere,” owner Sara Peterson said. “We’re using the best coffee and we roast it ourselves.” Look for a second location to open on Foothill Boulevard in the University Square Plaza this summer.
Runner up: Blackhorse Espresso & Bakery
BEST COFFEE ROASTER
Coastal Peaks Coffee
3566 S. Higuera St., suite 100, SLO
Where would we all be without coffee? Best Coffee Roaster is an important and competitive category for SLO’s caffeine enthusiasts and bean connoisseurs (count me in), and Coastal Peaks Coffee produces some great coffee, owner Michael Knight told us. “We do all roast levels, and we’re a little bit different than everyone else.” Coastal Peaks combines coffee beans from all corners of the world into more than 35 unique blends for the community to enjoy. Buy a pound or two of Coastal Peaks’ Coffee of the Month or popular varieties, and you’ll see what the fuss is all about.
Runner up: SLO Roasted Coffee
indicates a category created by reader request!