Take a peek behind the hidden doors of Orange County’s modern speakeasies
The modern speakeasy has little in common with the illicit watering holes of prohibition. Characterized by sub-standard booze and constant threat of enforcement raids, those bygone establishments thrived on secrecy and the thrill of adventure. Today’s speakeasies, on the other hand, pride themselves on their quality of libations and guarantees of uninterrupted enjoyment. Yet they still manage to deliver on an air of secrecy and the thrill of a unique experience. In the age of the internet, nothing is truly secret for long, but some places are still hard to find and sometimes even harder to get into. So if you’re looking for something out-of-the-ordinary, slip into one of Orange County’s speakeasies.
These updated takes on the theme are all squirreled away inside something more prosaic, diminutive and cozy. While the thought of a speakeasy might conjure up images of malcontents throwing back shots, here you’ll find sophisticated cocktails alongside diverse and interesting menus. You might not need a password, but you will still need your spirit of adventure. Keeping in this spirit of adventure, you won’t find too many details here, just enough to whet your appetite. Find them, if you can.
Elegance and exclusivity are the hallmarks of Orange County’s newest members-only speakeasy. Attention to detail and a hand-crafted experience is the order of the day. From the carefully curated decor to the fantastic food menu on to the masterfully mixed cocktails, The Guild is the quintessential destination for those seeking a unique experience. Wife and husband team Marin and Noah have created a hidden hideaway tucked inside Restaurant Marin in OC’s Mix Costa Mesa. Live music from a band on the upper loft adds to the exquisite atmosphere. Open only to members, admission is definitely a matter of “who you know.” Once you’ve managed to secure membership (by referral from an existing member) you’ll get a black keycard that will get you past the door. Even within these secret walls, there’s still some secrets not on the menu.
You Never Know
Deceptively hidden behind the hotel bar in the Irvine Marriott, YNK serves up hand-crafted cocktails that would easily go unappreciated by the jaded business traveller. Setting up shop in a converted private meeting room, YNK has constantly changing themes from around the world. Cocktails are ordered up from a hand-drawn leather journal or through bartender suggestion. Comfy chairs and sofas give ample seating to enjoy the libations and view the video walls showing clips from the current theme’s locale. While the space itself is small, it spills into the hotel lobby and onto the outdoor patio. Food can be ordered from the hotel, and various seating and fire pit areas are accessible on the hotel grounds. Travelers and locals alike find their way through the sliding doors into, well, you never know.
Slide through the cargo doors on the back of Costa Mesa’s Mansion night club and fall down the rabbit hole. Fully embracing the Alice in Wonderland theme, Ms. Alice is a trip fantastic next to the chaos that is the Mansion night club. Featuring menu and drink items inspired by Alice’s adventures, guests are sure to find their own adventures awaiting them. Whether it is watching Alice projected onto the wall or playing oversized chess, it’s easy to feel transported through the looking glass. Having no restrooms of its own, guests are escorted through the bump and lights of Mansion before returning to their own alternate reality. Be aware of pitfalls and traps. While you enjoy your personal tea party inside, outside can get furry. Park wisely.
This speakeasy doesn’t offer any food (aside from the self-serve popcorn machine and candy bowl), but Fullerton’s 888 has a unique draw. A members-only cigar lounge hidden within a cigar humidor, 888 boasts leather recliners for watching TV, a separate pool room, and a selection of Japanese whiskies. While it is a membership lounge, non-members are allowed trial visits to check things out. In a twist on the concept, this speakeasy is generous in size, much larger than its cigar-shop front. So pick up a few choice sticks and casually mention you would really like to find a spot to light up and enjoy a cocktail. You might just get buzzed in to Fullerton’s best-kept secret.
Perhaps the most intentional speakeasy in OC, the Blind Rabbit has taken the spirit of the speakeasy to heart. Reservations are a must on most nights, and they have channeled the grand daddy of speakeasies Milk & Honey with their list of rules. Dress codes, time limits, and a code of conduct are all enforced (no flash photos and keep it quiet). A full menu is also on hand if you’re feeling hungry. If you’re looking for a raucous night out, skip this dimly lit warren. If, however, you want finely crafted cocktails in a low-key environment with an occasional serenade of live music, find the Rabbit in Anaheim’s Packing House. Be warned, they like to play with fire.
Hidden behind Costa Mesa’s Pitfire Pizza, Pie Society doesn’t require a password, or even reservations. Sharing a kitchen with its host, Pie Society offers a full menu alongside their ample cocktails, just don’t expect to find them all listed on a menu. If you’ve gotten adventurous enough to find your way here, continue in that vein and ask for something off-menu. The best way to spend an evening at Pie Society is to order up a custom cocktail and challenge your friends to a spirited game of Jenga.
Originally slated as a game room for Saint Marc in Huntington Beach, this little piggy found unexpected life behind an unobtrusive bookcase. The smallest space in OC, this destination does require reservations. Proving the point that you can’t always trust what you read on the internet, the menu here is quite robust, and, unlike your email box, has no Spam. It does, however, have a full page of bacon choices. A rarity in the OC speakeasy scene, this Pig also offers a bottle locker program. If you choose to go for a mixing spirit, all your cocktails are included in the price of the bottle with no extra locker fees. Be careful when setting your navigation, there’s another Blind Pig out there that could send you on a wild pig chase.
Reservations needed? Check. Escorted through another restaurant? Check. Small, craft-cocktail and chef-driven menu oriented? Check. Just don’t call this a speakeasy. LSXO (Little Sister eXtraOrdinaire) doesn’t like to be called a speakeasy, eschewing the stuffy stereotype of passwords and exclusivity. But it certainly feels like one—in all the good ways. Featuring a South Asian cuisine, LSXO considers themselves a unique restaurant concept, hidden behind closed doors in the back of Bluegold restaurant in Huntington Beach. Totally not a speakeasy. Hosting just under 30 seats (four at the bar) LSXO is surprisingly spacious. With one full wall a window looking past PCH and over the ocean, this is the most scenic not-a-speakeasy in OC.