“Try this whiskey and tell me what you think,” says the bright-eyed, redheaded bartender Lucie Wood at the Anaheim Packing House’s central Hammer Workshop & Bar. Admittedly, Hammer is walkable from my house, but I’ve somehow managed to avoid it since its opening. Perhaps there’s something about drinking in a wide-open fishbowl, where the thought of my neighbors seeing me might invoke shenanigans. There’s no doubt extra drinks would churn up a wild plot to start the Ford tractor that harnesses the bar and take it for spin around downtown. My neighbors are troublemakers like that.
Besides the tractor, the bar itself is full of blue-collar kitch juxtaposed with white-collar cocktails. Rakes hold dangling glass and barware, and vintage thermoses line the countertop. The only thing missing is a saggy pair of truck nuts and a vintage jukebox playing Merle Haggard (RIP Okie from Muskogee). What Hammer does have is some level-ten people watching with some really good drinks. “It’s kind of like an airport bar,” says Lucie, and I agree. “Ironically, most of the regulars are out-of-towners…we have a group of Australian pilots that fly into John Wayne and head here for food and drinks.” On my Wednesday night visit, the bar is bustling with conversation, and some pretty good live acoustic classic rock playing on the deck below.
What’s interesting about the space are the unique bar jail rules, where any drink with hard alcohol must be consumed within the small pokey. Beer and wine can be dispensed into plastic cups for further Packinghouse debauchery, as most folks do. “It’s difficult to explain to someone who wants a margarita and to join their family five feet away at a communal table,” says Lucie. No booze can leave the bar area, and only 21-and-over can be inside.
With so many choices crammed into the House, one would think competition would be fierce. “It’s quite the opposite actually, all of the bar workers in the Packing House are a tight-knit group that looks out for each other…it’s honestly something I didn’t expect to happen.” Other notable bars offer totally different experiences, and a bar crawl is totally possible without leaving the building.
The whiskey she slid me, by the way, is outstanding. Tyrconnell Single Malt finished in sherry casks in Ireland is aged only 10 years, and didn’t need a second longer. I noted strong honeysuckle, golden raisins, and grain on the nose, followed by apple pie…crust, cinnamon, vanilla, and everything! Sherry drives the taste, something other sherry cask-finished Scotch puts in the boot. “This is the trail mix of whiskey,” says Lucie with a grin. It’s one of those things that when stated, totally pops, even to the point of picking out notes of trail mix M&M’s. The power of suggestion with tasting is funny like that.
The next time you’re done working in the orange groves, stop in for cocktail, a proper pint, or a shot of whiskey. You deserve it!