Chances are if you’ve been to a convention in Anaheim, you’ve wandered into the Marriot—dogs barking and with some crazy lanyard dangling around your neck—and plopped down your creaky bones for a proper drink. If not, know that I’m the guy that actually looks forward to this time-honored tradition, sometimes ghosting friends and colleagues in the convention hall for this “hidden” gem at one of the most glaring places ever, nFuse Bar & Kitchen inside the big Marriott a few steps away.
“Got anything fun and new?” I ask Brandon, the resident craft cocktail genius behind the bustling bar. He slides a small menu my way and smiles. “Here’s my new Hush Hush Menu, something fun we’ve been working on that lets me play around a bit…you know, for our regulars and visitors in the know.” The menu has only a few options, but those listed have me salivating. A Double IPA Old Fashioned mash-up? An herbaceous Pisco sour? Adult bourbon milkshakes with house-made ice cream and coconut stout syrup? Oh man, this sounds ridiculous.
I grab a table near the pool window for some top-notch people watching, however irony sets in when I become the spectacle. The visual of Brandon delivering his first drink, Actuatly It’s An Old Fashioned, (the typo a nod to the syrup made from local brewery Bottle Logic’s Double Actuator beer), all heads in the bar swivel as he walks my way with such a lavish drink tray: a cross section of a tree with a full-on Pintrest display, complete with tap handle. I’ve never been served something so pretty. “I’ve been playing around with presentation,” he says, delivering his masterpiece. Riffing on the tropical tasting notes of the beer, the drink makes a perfect poolside old fashioned, where grapefruit and mango shine, adding to the always pleasant Weller bourbon base. It’s zippy, boozy, and goes down like a seal on a waterslide.
The food items on the Hush Hush are also not to be missed, my favorite being the Slab Cured Pork Belly, whose cubes of mouth-watering pork are glazed with honey and topped with grilled jalapeno. The balance of sweet and heat pairs beautifully with the drink. If pork belly isn’t your thing, the Sriracha Shrimp is a must with this drink. The five-hour braised short rib is also delectable if you’re in the mood for something hearty.
Craving another cocktail, I go Peruvian with You’ve Got Sol, Pepisco, a bright and citrusy Pisco sour. It’s refreshing to see Pisco, a Peruvian brandy, slowly making a resurgence in the craft cocktail scene, and I can see why. It’s got this nice rustic, fruity edge that comes off as complexity in a drink. In this Pisco Sour, which is garnished with herbs and sage, it hits like sunshine. Sage can sometimes overtake a drink, but not at all in this case.
Saving dessert for last, we try the Sweet Treat, Bourbon Milkshakes. There’s two to choose from, one coconut and one caramel, however, the coconut version launched my slip-on Vans into orbit. The ice cream is made in-house using only traditional ingredients, and the sauce, you guys, is made with Barley Forge Brewing’s The Patsy Coconut Rye Stout, reduced down into a syrup. “I want this syrup bottled and sold, PRONTO!” I yell at Brandon from afar.
Overall it’s fun to see a corporation as large as Marriott really let their bartenders bend and adapt to local trends, try new things, and stretch the boundaries of what is expected. Sure, they have that too, but it’s always fun to try something new.
nFuse Bar & Kitchen is located in the Marriott at 700 W. Convention Way, Anaheim. To get “in the know” with the secret bar program, follow Brandon on Instagram at @be_themixologist and Marriott at the nFuse homepage.