Cheers! Our Guide to the Tastiest Cocktails in Orange County

Lemon drops and cosmos, your reign is over.

Today’s modern twist on cocktails has changed the landscape, and our drinking scene has never looked better. Here’s our spirited guide to the county’s best sips, trends, and bartenders. Refreshment awaits!


Original Manhattan (1870)
Spirit Room at The Cellar
One sip of this spirit‑centric drink and it’s clear that our Rising Star Rich Ohtsuka is unabashed in his respect for cocktail history. Rye whiskey, Italian vermouth, absinthe, and bitters are gently stirred with ice, then strained for a clear, silky, decidedly not sweet drink that polishes the gruff off any bad attitude. 305 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, 714‑525‑5682,


Irish Coffee
Macallans Public House
The Irish coffee at Newport Beach’s Muldoon’s got appropriate love in Orange Coast’s dining section last month, but for my money, you can’t find a more historic mugful than Macallans soul‑warming version inspired by the 1942 recipe from Ireland’s Shannon Airport. Yes, it’s the same one that made The Buena Vista in San Francisco a landmark. It’s all about the thickened cream, rich coffee, and Tullamore Dew whiskey. Only $1 during the first hour of Sunday breakfast. 330 W. Birch St., Brea, 714‑529‑1224,


All AmericanAndrei's All-American
Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine & Cocktails
From‑scratch Gala apple pie filling infuses Kentucky Maker’s Mark bourbon for two weeks before it’s mixed with El Guapo Bitters and poured over an inch‑and‑a‑half ice cube. A skewer loaded with fresh apple garnishes this pie in cocktail form. Order during happy hour and enjoy one of Irvine’s more interesting small‑plate lineups from chef Yves Fournier. 2607 Main St., Irvine, 949‑387‑8887,


The Winery
Eschewing a glass of vino in favor of a cocktail at The Winery is utterly appropriate when the drink is as refined as this vodka‑based potion with naughty and nice qualities, created with sweet, fresh strawberry puree muddled with feisty serrano chiles. It’s served on the rocks with a lemon twist. 3131 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach, 949‑999‑6622; 2647 Park Ave., Tustin, 714‑258‑7600,


Grapefruit in Bloom
Pizzeria Ortica
Joel Caruso (follow him at rightly warns that this bitter citrus drink’s complexity demands slow sipping. He calls it a “commitment.” We say it’s a journey through veils of gin, Amaro Montenegro, Massican il Vermouth di Friulano, Giffard Pomplemousse Rose, and a touch of elderflower tonic. Served in a coupe glass, garnished with grapefruit peel. 650 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, 714‑445‑4900,


Adult Hot Cocoa
Cucina Enoteca
These Irvine and Newport Beach siblings embrace winter at the bar with the county’s only Warm Hour, 4 to 10 p.m., featuring comforting nightcaps that fire up your mood. House‑made chocolate, Grand Marnier, and a cap of torched marshmallows sprinkled with nutmeg make for a potent winter classic. Find bartender Tucky Dias at the Newport location. 951 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, 949‑706‑1416; 532 Spectrum Center Drive, Irvine, 949‑861‑2222,


Antioxidant Intoxicant
The Corner 
Confession No. 1: We are not fans of flavored vodkas. Confession No. 2: This peppy cocktail earns a pass. Veev Acai blends seamlessly with fresh basil, mint, and lime for a chilly adult beverage that goes down way too easily. The name? Well, it implies neutralizing powers against chef‑owner Chris Grodach’s iconic 48hr fries. We’ll have another. 8961 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, 714‑968‑6800,


Bajan Swizzle
Tommy Bahama’s Island Grille
Combine rum, juices, and a tropical ’tude. Sounds basic, right? Hardly. This island‑inspired elixir delivers flamboyant notes and deep flavors thanks to Mount Gay Black Barrel rum from Barbados and the intriguing warm spices in falernum syrup, a favored Tiki player. Tart juices, a flash of bitters, and a good, brutal shaking with ice, and the result is an enticing foam‑topped cocktail garnished with a pineapple frond. 854 Avocado Ave., Newport Beach, 949‑760‑8686,


Phuket It’s Friday
Surf City’s flashy chic yearling boasts colorful plates by chef Charles Cho, matched by edgy cocktails like this one by GM Diego Leporini. Aged Panama rum gets frothy with Thai tea, coconut milk, and a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg. A mellow way to leave the work week behind. 8901 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, 714‑848‑1188,


Liquid Sword
Koire Rogers offers seasonal drinks for cold nights by the crackling wood oven. Dos Maderas 10‑year sherry‑aged rum, Calisaya herbal liqueur, Amaro Abano, and cinnamon essence coalesce to drive profound warmth straight to your core. Finished with a twist of lemon for a glint of brightness. SoCo Collection, 3321 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, 949‑500‑5561,


Selanne Special Reserve Sazerac
Selanne Steak Tavern
The whiskey for this Sazerac ages on site in 100 percent Kentucky oak barrels. Director of operations Leo Fenn tastes it from time to time, waiting for the spirit to become more complex, revealing new aromatics. When this happens, bar manager Neil Matchko uses it to build one of the coast’s most bewitching cocktails. Results are so delicious that bottles of barrel‑aged bourbon, tequila, and rum bearing the Selanne brand are slated for sale on site. 1464 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949‑715‑9881,


House Barrel‑Aged Manhattan
Three Seventy Common
Craft cocktails have shared the stage with chef‑owner Ryan Adams’ cuisine since opening day four years ago. Bartender John Ryan Jones batches and barrel‑ages a toasty yet balanced Manhattan that packs a punch but handily stands up to Adams’ robust and popular Short Rib Grilled Cheese. The tasty duo reflects the aesthetic here: classic, rewarding, hands‑on. 370 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach, 949‑494‑8686,


O+A Patron Mule
Aqua Lounge
With its name a nod to partner Oak Grill, this mule gets extra kick from a house custom añejo tequila, mixed with Grand Marnier, ginger beer, lime juice, and jalapeno. It’s just one of 10 copper‑mug cocktails served on Mule Monday. If tequila isn’t your thing, you can tart up your ginger beer with Hendrick’s gin, Myers’s dark rum, Jameson Irish whiskey, Ketel One vodka, or Fireball cinnamon whiskey if you’re of a mood to swallow flames. Island Hotel, 690 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, 949‑760‑4920,


The Ritz 55
The Ritz Prime Seafood
This elegant balancing act of first‑class spirits is really a luxed‑up version of the classic Old New Orleans drink, Vieux Carre. In the spirit of making the old new again, The Ritz starts with an absinthe rinse (of the glass) and serves the drink neat, with a thin petal of lemon rind. Suave. Exquisite. So Ritzy. 2801 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach, 949‑720‑1800,


The Bosscat
Bosscat Kitchen & Libations
If you don’t mind a high‑volume bar, this lively crew puts out a fine, fast drink. The shop loves bourbon, and the house drink proves they know how to finesse small‑batch spirits. Basil Hayden’s lighter‑style bourbon is buoyed by judicious mixing with fresh lemon, basil, a trace of bitters, and a scorched rosemary sprig garnish. 4647 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach, 949‑333‑0917,


The Blind Rabbit
With fewer than 20 seats, this vest‑pocket bar is for close‑contact artisan drinking. Head barman Robert Adamson names this wintery libation after the spice box aromas that characterize a Michaels craft store. Anaheim Packing House, 440 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, 657‑208‑2088,


Arc’s Liquid Sword

Little Sparrow IPA Cocktail
Little Sparrow Cafe
Low‑key Corbin Brown brings mad skills to his newish post at Sparrow’s moody bar. Taste his talent in this Buffalo Trace tipple offset with honey, lemon, grapefruit cordial, and the genius topper of IPA foam that breaks the sweet bourbon with a faintly hoppy lick of the lips. 300 N. Main St., Santa Ana, 714‑265‑7640,


Horchata Martini
Sol Cocina
Here’s delicious proof you don’t have to order one of Colin Pflugradt’s creative margaritas to make the most of this vibrant bar. Go straight‑up progressive with black tea‑infused Don Julio reposada shaken with creamy horchata from rice infused overnight with fresh vanilla beans. 251 E. Coast Highway, Newport Beach, 949‑675‑9800,


Oaxacan Sarsaparilla
Lola Gaspar
What looks like upscale lemonade tastes like renegade refreshment, thanks to the brawn of smoky mescal that pokes through the peaceable nuances of agave sweetness, lemon zing, and grapefruit bitters. The name confuses, since there’s no sassafras involved. Still, it’s smooth slurping in a dark bar on a rough day.
211 W. Second St., Santa Ana, 714‑972‑1172,


Vaca Tonic
Surprise, there’s no vodka in Gabrielle Dion’s tongue‑in‑cheek version of a gin and tonic, garnished with purple basil blossoms. This slushy of Brooklyn Gin, lime zest, and fresh lime juice tumbles into a sea of tonic and cubed ice for a libation that blurs the line between a traditional G&T and a frozen daiquiri. Never have you had a cocktail so crazy‑refreshing on every level. 695 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 714‑463‑6060,


World’s Greatest Bloody Mary
Renowned for killer brunches, both Taps venues serve mighty bloodies. They start with vodka and house bloody mix. And like flowers in a vase, lots of veggies and a crisp slice of bacon burst forth from the hurricane glass. The arrangement also includes a sidecar of their famous Cream Ale. For kicks, swap gin for the vodka. 101 E. Imperial Highway, Brea, 714‑257‑0101; 13390 Jamboree Road, Irvine, 714‑619‑0404,


865 Spritz
Brunos Trattoria
Bubbly and botanical, this refreshing libation works as an aperitif or on its own. Prosecco and Pimm’s are the base, but Campari, cucumber, and ginger bring on the party. Served on ice, in a snifter with a citrus slice. Perfect at happy hour—with a $5 salumi and fontina panino, the drink drops to $8. 210 W. Birch St., Brea, 714‑257‑1000,

Japanese Hi‑Ball No. 328
Broadway by Amar Santana
Refreshing, with a gentle honey finish, this blended whiskey cocktail with matcha green tea and persimmons has chef‑owner Santana gleefully clearing Costco shelves of coveted bottles of Hibiki Japanese Harmony whiskey. Bar aces Gabrielle Dion and Michael Rooney get credit for creating Santana’s new obsession. Served over cubed ice, in a highball glass with citrus skin garnish. 328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach, 949‑715‑8234,


Mexican Firing Squad
Juliette Kitchen & Bar
So pink, so pretty, it looks like a cloying drink, but it tastes more like a gentle margarita tinged with not‑so‑sweet house‑made grenadine and a tickle of Angostura bitters. Poured over ice into a Collins glass adorned with a lime wheel, it’s even better served straight up. 1000 Bristol St. N., Newport Beach, 949‑752‑5854,


Garden of Eden Gimlet
Every drop poured in this revered landmark is top shelf. No wonder this libation—with Prairie vodka, cucumber, fresh lime, lavender honey, and a whisper of absinthe served in a coupe— is a top seller. While you’re sipping, discreetly inquire about the Speakeasy. 3801 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar, 949‑717‑4322,


Despite the baffling name, this tall glass of icy green‑gold booze goes down easily. Bartender Sally Potter adjusts the jalapeno heat to request, so if you want a scorcher, make this clear since she leans toward safe. Still, the pineapple‑infused vodka plays nicely with the fresh lime juice, jalapeno, and Canton ginger liqueur, making this a good quencher. 1740 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949‑715‑7777,


Because I YOLO
Like most ace cocktails, this sherbet‑hued sipper tastes better than the sum of its parts: tequila, Aperol, Amargo‑Vallet, cantaloupe, citrus, celery bitters. It’s clean, bright, and smooth, with no signs of discord. Only the $12.50 price keeps us from having three more at a sitting. 512 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, 949‑642‑2425,


No Whey, Yes Whey
Boathouse Collective
Newly arrived from Playground, bar dynamo Ryan Autry acknowledges that drinkers might be confused by this crystal‑clear milk punch bursting with tropical fruit flavors and mixed with rum. The surprising and delicious old British potion takes three days and many filterings through curdled milk before it’s served over block ice cubes and garnished with a ribbon of fresh lemon rind. 1640 Pomona Ave., Costa Mesa, 949‑646‑3176,


Caballo Blanco
The Packing House’s newest sipping sanctum is welcoming and intimate. And this vibrant drink is a full gallop of racy flavors thanks to its shaken mix of rum, Aperol, pineapple syrup, and lime and lemon juices. It’s served over ice in a tall glass with a Tajin spice rim. Anaheim Packing House, 440 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, 714‑502‑0255,


Mexican Morphine
320 Main
Eight ingredients in small, precise amounts? This is why we let top bartender Jason Schiffer do the heavy lifting. Tequila, mescal, fresh juices, and coconut never taste this good mixed at our house. Served with ice and garnished with a spent lime shell containing a sugar cube soaked in high‑proof rum and set ablaze for your pyro pleasure. 320 Main St., Seal Beach, 562‑799‑6246,


Old Fashioned
Haven Gastropub
Craft has always been the overriding aesthetic at this modern classic in Old Towne Orange. Doubters will become believers with one sip of this precisely nuanced benchmark of whiskey lovers. It’s caramel‑y, but not sweet; toasty, but not woody; moody, but not severe. Served over two crystalline ice cubes in a weighty short glass. 190 S. Glassell St., Orange, 714‑221‑0680,


Call‑Your‑Own Martini
La Cave
Old‑school lairs like this are dropping like flies, so hop to if you want to drink like Grandad. Strong, you‑call‑the‑booze martinis in unapologetic portions make sense here. Be pleasant to the bartender, and keep it simple. Don’t eat the orange‑y cheese bread. Note that it’s 1963 in here, and we’re including it in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. 1695 Irvine Ave., Costa Mesa, 949‑646‑7944,


Bumble Bee
Pie Society
Avoid colliding with pizza‑enthralled kidlets by slipping into this teensy bar using the back door, behind Pitfire Artisan Pizza. Choices are deep, but for best results, stick to classics such as this gin‑honey‑lemon‑juice beauty. Happy hour all night on Monday. Heated patio for cool nights. 353 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, 949‑313‑6335,

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