As food and beverage expert Jon Taffer helps struggling bar owners on TV, he typically brings in expert mixologists to bolster the drinks menu. That’s essential, because signature cocktails help define a saloon, speakeasy or neighborhood bar. In Orange County, the mixologists seem to work overtime creating fresh and original drinks representing a real passion for their work. The best bars couple their libations with food worthy of a gastropub or, in some interesting cases, locations just as tasty as the cocktails.
Arc Food & Libations
3321 Hyland Ave., Suite F
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
If you like the craft cocktails at Arc Food & Libations, thank Bar Chef Koire Rogers. The chef’s current creations and concoctions include ‘Gloom’ (gin, cocchi Americano, lavender, lemon), ‘Camparty With Me’ (Campari, dark run, spiced pear) and Amber Waves (brandy, Benedictine, sherry). Chef Rogers and the bar staff make all the bitters, infusions and syrups by hand — the ice is even hand-cut. Arc also sells wine by the glass and offers a fine selection of craft beers, including a beer du jour. A robust menu of classic dishes made in-house or by local artisans complements the available libations.
Bosscat Kitchen & Libations
4647 MacArthur Blvd.
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Though this Newport Beach location offers mixologist-inspired cocktails, their whiskey room with over 100 options from around the world is a big claim to fame. Chef Peter Petro, who came to Orange County by way of Boston, shows his love of Southern cooking in the food selections. Using ‘calories don’t count on Sunday” as their mantra, brunch at Bosscat features meatloaf hash, the epic Bosscat Burger as well as the “King” (blue suede pancakes, banana cream pudding, maple peanut butter and bacon). The fusion of craft cocktails and inspired cuisine helps Bosscat stand out.
The Exhibition Room
1117 E. Wardlow Road
Long Beach, CA 90807
A gathering place with cocktails as colorful as its history, the Exhibition Room is known as Long Beach’s first cocktail museum. Honoring its rogue Prohibition roots, this speakeasy remains hidden inside Roxanne’s in Long Beach, requiring patrons to get a password via text message before entering through a phone booth. No food is served, but the mixologists come up with some interesting libations (“Coffee & Cigarettes” anyone?). Reservations and proper attire (business casual) are required by the management.
Related: Best Wine Tasting In Orange County
Juliette Kitchen And Bar
1000 Bristol St. N., Suite 11
Newport Beach, CA 92660
This Newport Beach destination has a quiet charm accentuated by beautiful chandeliers over the dining area. Juliette’s mixologist has a nice sense of humor, with cocktails such as ‘Mexican Firing Squad’ and ‘Hanky Panky’ appearing on the menu. As for food options, some diners single out the roasted pork belly or French fries served with house-made ketchup as their favorites. Drink and food menus frequently change, though, depending on the seasons and availability of ingredients.
220 E. 4th St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701
As the owners of Playground Dtsa admit on their website, they spend an “embarrassing amount of time” on their artisan cocktails. Arguably, though, it is how the chefs share their love of food that makes Playground stand out. Though lunch is no longer served, the dinner menu is updated by 3 p.m. daily. Sunday Supper, a special treat, is a family-style meal served on Sunday evenings; reservations are booked a month ahead of time for this service. The owners and staff also invite select guests to their intimate Playground 2.0 location next door for a culinary theatre experience.