Five Classic Cocktails and Where to Get Them in O.C.

There’s something magical about getting an exquisite classic cocktail at the top of its game. These five O.C. places have taken age-old recipes and injected new life into each drink with quality ingredients, expert technique, and respect for the tried and true. Salud!

Bello’s Negroni. photo Greg Nagel
The Negroni: Bello By Sandro Nardone

Sometimes, classic cocktails taste best at restaurants that represent the cuisine they were born from, and nothing could be tastier than an Italian bitter cocktail at Newport Beach’s Bello. Sure the Negroni is an easy three-ingredient drink boasting (usually) Campari, gin, and sweet Vermouth, but there is beauty in the details. Bello’s secret lies in its ice: a different crush with various shapes and sizes ensures the drink dilutes properly from start to finish. Smaller chunks melt when the drink is delivered, larger chunks keep the drink cold until the last drop … ah, who are we kidding … until your next Negroni. 1200 Bison Ave., Newport Beach

Old Fashioned: The Cellar

If you thought ambiance couldn’t make a drink taste better, you’d be wrong. I dare you to get a happy hour Old-Fashioned at the Cellar (a mere $9), perch up to the dimly lit historic bar, and listen to fun stories from regulars over crackly record, big band music softly playing in the background. It truly is the next best thing to time travel. 305 N Harbor Blvd., Fullerton

Purista Margarita at Gracias Madre, photo via facebook
Purista Margarita: Gracias Madre

I didn’t know diffuser-free Tequila was a thing until Gracias Madre, but a blind taste test doesn’t lie: Tequilas produced from a diffuser strip out natural flavors and aromas like a buzzsaw, which opens the door for distillers to sneak in fake additives. The Purista margarita raises a fist in the air to big distillers and produces a Margarita that’s a simple marriage of agave and lime, where once you have one, you’ll never go back to the cheap stuff. 1617 Westcliff Drive, Newport Beach

Japan-inspired Gin Tonic at Vaca, photo Greg Nagel
Gin Tonic: Vaca

Next to sangria, the refreshing Gin Tonic is Spain’s national beverage, but they’re not like the kind you used to drink in red plastic cups in college; they’ve managed to take a simple two-ingredient drink and crank it to 11 with botanicals. Vaca has four “Con Tonic” selections on its rotating cocktail menu that pay homage to various corners of Earth by using vastly different gins, tonics, and glass botanicals. Which one will you choose? 695 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Blinking Owl’s Martini, photo Greg Nagel
Dirty Bird Martini: Blinking Owl

When I order a martini, I usually sound like a health nut ordering at Starbucks. But I put trust in Blinking Owl recently and ordered the Dirty Bird Martini without any modifications off the menu. To my surprise, it’s exactly how I like them at home: cold, dry, and a little bit dirty. There truly is a precise science when concocting this classic drink, everything from the golden ratio of shake time, glass chill, and the ideal temperature of service (sub-20°F serving temp is ideal). When the bartender adds the harmonic addition of dry vermouth and a dash of brine, it will have you squawkin’ in the Santa Ana night. 802 E. Washington Ave., Santa Ana

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