From my cozy cubicle in Park Place, Irvine, I’ve watched the AC Hotel get built from the ground up. The year-long grind of construction, followed by a daily parade of cement trucks is now almost complete, and my excitement to see what the bar is like inside is reminiscent of my kid’s Sunday morning Easter-bunny freakout. This week after work, I skipped over, hoping to see what it had to offer. I wasn’t alone.
This boutique hotel has a Euro-minimal urban feel, and so does the lounge menu. Bar-curious neighbors from nearby condos pop in for a few cans of Four Sons Coconut Amber, smiling and happy to find a new spot. Huddled around the long, plugged-in tables, a few headphoned guys marinate in fast wifi and California wine offered on tap. I order one of the two gin & tonics offered, which my barman builds in meticulous layers in a short-stemmed bowl glass; two cucumber slices and lemon peel jingling with the ice cubes.
“This reminds me quite a bit of Ravin’s gin & tonic over at Irvine Marriott speakeasy, YNK,” I mention to Luis, AC|Lounge’s bartender, who wears a tidy sweater vest and name badge. “He actually helped train us here,” Luis says. Small world, and quite a bit smaller seeing locally-made vodka and aquavit from Santa Ana’s Blinking Owl distillery. The menu’s Swedish Fish cocktail is something that I’ve had at the nearby hooch factory with a festive Luxardo buoy piercing an IKEA-fresh Swedish Fish on the bottom. Such a fun cocktail and the aquavit plays homage to the hotel’s European roots.
Although there are only five cocktails on the menu, Luis says, “this is just the starting point until we get the feel for what the clientele wants.” Noting the bar’s smoke infuser, I ask which of the menu items utilize the device. He pushes his thick-rimmed glasses back on his nose, counts how many people are at the bar, then loads the hookinator-looking gun with applewood chips to make a small taste for everyone there. As smoke fills up his vintage canteen, I note that once someone orders a smoked cocktail, everyone at the bar wants one as well. Behind us, I hear a couple say, “Ooh, I want one of those.” See?
Although the hotel and lounge are technically open, the official grand opening will happen sometime in late May. Until then, you may find me plunking away at my artisanal Apple Macbook Air with a gin drink and a few tapas to pair. Puesto is set to open in the front of the hotel sometime this summer.
AC Hotel Irvine is at 3309 Michelson Drive, Irvine // marriott.com/hotels/travel/snaai-ac-hotel-irvine