“You’re Now in the Back of the House”: An Intimate Time at The ButcherShop
“Hi, where can I find The ButcherShop?”
The concierge of the Irvine Marriott got up from his desk and headed in the direction of the main bar. I followed, and eventually I saw him look in the direction of a kitchen door nestled in the back of the bar. A man stood next to the doorway, and he nodded to us. My escort up to this point told me to meet with this new mystery figure, so I walked over to him.
“Right this way, sir.”
We walked into the kitchen.
“I should let you know at this point that you’re now in the back of the house, so mind the people that’ll be walking around.” We made our way around a wide assortment of workers, and I noticed an unlit neon sign that simply read “Bar.” I turned around, a plastic curtain was brought to the side for me, and I learned the sign spoke truthfully: I had arrived at a bar.
Although the lighting was low-profile, the wallpaper was certainly not. To the left, I was welcomed by a muscular tattooed anthropomorphic pig with wings and a chef’s outfit. In front of me, I saw a blown-up stock image of a cleaned up “back of the house,” displayed in all its shiny chrome glory. While the first only made me feel insecure in my masculinity, the latter confounded me beyond measure, so I decided to ignore it completely.
However, there was one thing couldn’t ignore: I was the only one there. I wondered whether this was just an appointment-type thing, where I’d be the only one since I made a reservation for one, but he reminded me that most people head to the bar later than 8:00 p.m. Makes sense.
So it was just me and Wes (which I found out was his name upon reading his prominently displayed name tag), and I figured if there was no one else ordering drinks, I might as well make my decision now. I scanned the list of enticingly-named cocktails and had Wes point me in the direction of choices with a more citrusy edge.
He first suggested the Jet Pilot, which combines aged, blended black rum with some cinnamon syrup — something they refer to as “herbstura” — grapefruit and lime. He also noted Da Canon, which contains vodka, blood orange, mint, egg white and lime, as a balanced and refreshing option. I, however, landed on his third suggestion, the Daisy Santiago. It’s a simple combo of rum, yellow chartreuse, demerara syrup, and lime, yet, when I tasted the slushy concoction, it seemed like there was a world of subtlety in what was going on inside.
As I slowly sipped, I figured I’d talk with Wes and get to know him and my surroundings. As he tells it, the people working at the hotel had the idea two years ago, when the space was a spare room that was occasionally used for storage and dishwashing. A bar supervisor named Aaron began pushing for it to become reality, and it came into existence soon after. The name was conceived around that time as well; someone noted that the area was so cold that it felt like a meat locker, and I guess they decided The MeatLocker would be better suited for a gym than a secret bar.
He’s found that a good chunk of the clientele could be described as “millennials” or “hipsters,” and I can’t say I’m too surprised (we are talking about a speakeasy, remember). However, he also noted that older businessmen and other random locals will appear quite often as well.
I also wondered if he’d ever had any interesting customers, and he happened to have one in mind, specifically a friend of someone he knows over at Blind Rabbit (another speakeasy in Anaheim). The guy didn’t want anything on the menu, but he was a nice guy, so they decided to come up with something together. He told Wes the flavors and spirit he wanted, Wes whipped something up, and it became Da Canon, which you might remember from earlier as being a current option on the menu.
This talk of drinks made me want another, and this time around I went for the Mezca-Cillen, which offers a combination of mezcal, bourbon, lemon, honey syrup, ginger syrup, laphroaig mist (Isn’t that a Dungeons & Dragons spell?), and some candied ginger.
He prepared the drink swiftly yet carefully, topping it off with a sliced piece of candied ginger. I popped it in my mouth, and the waves of ginger flavor combined with the sweetness to make an excellent introduction for this drink. After I swallowed the candy, Wes let me know that the candy was actually made in-house, along with all the syrups used in the drinks. In fact, the same gingers that were used for the candies were the ones used in making the syrup in my beverage.
Overall, freshness and quality are the priority at The ButcherShop, and that only became clearer as I took my first sip of the Mezca-Cillen. I’m not usually a fan of bourbon, but the way it was combined with everything else in this beverage made me forget about the bitter notes that I take issue with in that spirit. Along with that, the smokiness of the mezcal, combined with the lemon, honey and ginger, made for a refreshing experience that had me taking bigger sips each time.
I scanned the menu to see if there was anything else that caught my eye. Each drink costs $16, with the exception of two costing $18.50, so I wanted to make my choice carefully. The first of the premium choices is called the Butcher’s Cut, which is made with house-made fat washed bourbon (bourbon infused with bacon fat, for clarity), bitters, azucar and smoke. This seemed like a fine choice by any standard, but my eye was really caught by the Tiki God.
The first ingredient listed is “FIRE!!!” (written exactly like that), and the others are “rum, rum, rum” (light, dark and spiced, it turns out), pineapple, banana, ginger, and something called “Coco Lopez.” I didn’t want to order the full drink, but Wes offered to set up a demonstration out of the kindness of his heart (without alcohol & other expensive ingredients of course.)
He crushed ice, filled a glass, hollowed out a half lime, poured some liquor in, poured a flammable liquid around the glass, and set it all ablaze for my amusement, even sprinkling cinnamon onto the flame to create bold sparks that shot to the ceiling. As he did that, he also shouted “Shark! Bait! Ooh Ha Ha!”, which warmed my heart beyond measure and reminded me I needed to rewatch Finding Nemo.
That, I think, was an accurate physical representation of what I experienced that night. The environment was calm, yes, but I was in constant amazement of the drinks and spectacles he was able to craft for me. I felt more like a person than a customer, and that’s the exact feeling I search for in any dining or drinking experience. I barely drink, for crying out loud, but I’d absolutely come back and bring friends after payday.
You can learn more and make your reservation by visiting their website.