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Photo by Tenaya Hills "Remove the planes, and airports are just malls," a frienddeclared, wondering why anyone would ever voluntarily hang out in an airport—much less go to one for a drink. But another friend, this one a few years older, countered, remembering that back before Sept. 11—you know, the salad days, when knitting needles were legal and tennis shoes weren't a threat to national security?—John Wayne's food court, located deep inside the terminal, was a viable dining option. "One time, some friends and I couldn't agree on a place to eat," he explained, "so we went to the airport. Everybody got food they wanted, and then we watched the planes take off."
Of course, this was also back when carb-friendly food courts were considered fun, so more than just Sept. 11 is to blame. Still, outside of, say, packing a picnic basket and climbing atop the airport parking garage across from the Casbah in San Diego—which is totally not legal, we'd imagine, and something we'd never do—there aren't many places aerophiles can go to get their kicks. And thirsty aerophiles? Doubly screwed.
Not that we didn't try. From what little information we could glean from John Wayne's website, it appears there are a couple of bars in the airport terminal, including the Orange Grill and the Sports Page Pub. But as these watering holes are stationed past the metal detectors, only ticketed passengers—no matter how badly your mom might need a drink—can get to them. The media, as an airport spokesperson kindly told us, is no exception.
Bottom line, unless you feel like paying John Wayne's cover charge with a cheap Southwest ticket to San Francisco—bearing in mind, of course, the "two-week advance purchase required" clause—your best option is curling up with a bottle of Maker's Mark, George Kennedy and an old copy of The Concorde: Airport '79.
Or you could just walk across the street: the bar at Gulliver's, located across MacArthur within walking distance of John Wayne, is as close as you'll get these days to an airport bar—and surprisingly enough, an excellent English tavern. After first making a pit stop at the altogether-too-empty Atrium Bar (located inside the Atrium Hotel, also across the street from the airport) we arrived at Gulliver's a little tipsy, a little hungry and hell-bent on finding a drunken pilot. Or at least a flight attendant.
We found neither, but we were instead greeted by a table of complimentary happy-hour hors d'oeuvres (fried mushroom caps, deviled eggs, blue-cheese-and-salami wraps) and Michelle, one of Gulliver's Swedish milkmaid-meets-German barmaid waitresses. Aside from two people next to us who appeared to be on an Internet date—or just very weary from traveling—the bar was empty. "Most people come here for the free hors d'oeuvres," Michelle explained. "They tell me it's something not a lot of other bars have." Gulliver's does great happy-hour business, she continued but noted that it slows after 7:30 p.m. We checked our watch: it was 8.
Okay, but hypothetically, we asked her, was Gulliver's a good airport bar? "We get a lot of airport staff who come over after they are off," she said, "and people waiting for flights." Why these people wouldn't wait for their flights in the Sports Page Pub or Orange Grill is, obviously, unknown to us. But Mary Tyler Moore was spotted gnashing on something while we were there, so maybe that's an indication. That, and they have half-yard and yard-length glasses, which they gladly fill with Anchor Steam ale, as they did for us. And best of all, we didn't even have to take our shoes off.Gulliver's Restaurant, 18482 MacArthur Blvd., Irvine, (949) 833-8411. Open daily until 10 p.m.