In the craft cocktail world, the biggest dilemma is the fact that it is trendy to drink craft cocktails. That means that as a craft cocktail-serving establishment, your primary customer-base is much larger right now, but most of the average drinkers that will order craft cocktails choose their poison based on the way the drinks look and by the cool names they have. So, you have to create craft cocktails that are palatable for people who are not used to drinking spirit-forward subtle and nuanced cocktails that take a long time make. This is a big issue for craft cocktail connoisseurs because it means that when we drink our cocktails they are watered down, overly sweet and are often made in batches for the unexperienced cocktail-chugging masses.
The art of a craft cocktail is in the nuanced and careful balance in each concoction. A craft cocktail takes time, is infused with herbs and vapors, and has artistic and thoughtful details in its design and its presentation. There are hundreds of places in Irvine to get a drink that is labeled a “craft cocktail” but only a few that can prove that their cocktails are crafted with care and thoughtfulness, earning that title.
We spent weeks grilling local bartenders and craft cocktail connoisseurs to find out the top performers in Irvine’s craft cocktail scene, and then we tried them for ourselves. These are the winners — the bars that create art through a delicate mixture and design of obscure liquors, poisons, bitters, vapors, fresh juices and herbs. These are the bars you’ve searching for — just be warned, they’re not for the masses, they are for the select few who truly desire (and deserve) a craft cocktail experience worth remembering.
Paul Martin’s is a high-end classic American restaurant and bar with international inspiration in its cuisine. It has a decadent atmosphere and luxurious interior design. The Paul Martin’s bar, however, is even better than its $48, 12-ounce, center-cut Filet Mignon — which is saying something. With classic pre-prohibition era craft cocktails and a flare for presentation and customer service, this is our high-end favorite. Paul Martin’s bartenders are friendly and talented and will make you a custom craft cocktail of your choosing without hesitation, or will allow you to choose from one of the many classic drinks on their menu, with a brief cocktail history lesson on the side. With your choice of drinking on sofas, private high-tops, at the bar, or at one of the many communal tables, this is a bar for every kind of drinker, but with a special gift for classic craft cocktails. We recommend the Chilton, the Vesper Martini or the Manhattan.
YNK, aka You Never Know, is an eclectic micro-bar inside the lobby of the Irvine Marriott. It’s become a tourist favorite because of its quirky and clashing aesthetics of bright contemporary club-like furniture and its insider, pop-up style attitude. But, alongside its charming and quirky design, this speakeasy-inspired bar also serves delicious craft cocktails for every kind of taste. Not all their drinks are winners, but their bartenders are experienced and passionate mixologists that are not afraid to wow customers. With rotating seasonal craft cocktails and a “pick your poison” option where you get to choose every detail that goes into your cocktail — including the garnish — YNK is an intimate and enchanting little gem that will satiate your craft cocktail cravings without any fuss — as long as you know where to find it (it’s behind the bar in the lobby).
Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine and Cocktails
Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine and Cocktails is an enjoyable high-end experience in a very a strange space. A spacious second floor restaurant and bar, Andrei’s cuisine is health-conscious high-end omnivorous food, but their bar program is classically inspired by international craft cocktails and spirit-forward American tastes. Each drink is crafted with care and designed with nuanced details that light up in your mouth. The environment is relaxed and elegant with an open floor plan and central bar. The Elsa’s Revenge and Sage Advice are some of the best craft cocktails we’ve had in a long time. You can tell every drink has been designed by an expert — even if the bartenders are not those experts they take great care to create these drinkable artworks.
A surprising find in the craft cocktail search is The IRV at Whole Foods Market. This casual café and bar is always busy, covered in televisions and has become a favorite daytime spot, but if you go toward the end of the night, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the friendly service and interesting concoctions available at The IRV. Their craft cocktails are balanced, subtle and often made with organic spirits. The Carrot Top, Honey Fennel Smash and Beet Gimlet will clean your internal organs while treating your taste buds and fulfilling that deep desire for a nuanced craft cocktail. Although the parking lot can be trying, the cocktails will make you want to come back again and again.
If you love the hustle and bustle of the big city atmosphere but are currently situated in Irvine, Tokyo Table is a great spot for you. This large Japanese restaurant and bar is constantly full of loud and happy people chowing down on delicious Japanese cuisine and sipping away on unique craft cocktails. Celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, Tokyo Table offers a huge menu of cocktails including many easy-drinking Tokyo-style Mojitos, Japanese Margaritas, Geisha Saketinis, and a number of different Japanese-infused Mules. But, they also offer a handful of new classic Japanese craft cocktails that are balanced and thoughtful. Their Tokyo Old Fashioned is a perfect, spirit-forward classic cocktail with a contemporary twist, and they can also make you a custom craft cocktail with meticulous care.