The Place: Proof, 215 N. Broadway, Santa Ana; (714) 953-2660.
The Hours: 4-8 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The Deal: $3 well drinks; $2 domestic beer (bottles only); $1 off everything else; $5 appetizers.
The Scene: Light and bright, surprisingly, with squooshy couches near the far end of the venue and a nice, normal, non-thematic bar. A couple of projectors show TV on the white wall above the bar; the picture gets washed out in the abundant OC sunshine, so this is not the place to watch a daytime game. Not crowded, but with a motley crew of fellow drunkards: some OC hipsters, some government workers and some just normal folks out to have a quick beer.
The Sauce: Good. The target clientele is clearly pretty young, so the liquor selection is skewed that way, with the embarrassing bottle of Jäger tucked away in the reach-in cooler under the bar and the girliest drink special ever in the history of girly drink specials: a bubblegum martini. (Yikes.) A nice range of vodkas, a surprisingly good selection of mid- to high-end bourbons, and even a couple of nifty artisanal rums up on the top shelf there. The gin selection is not going to win any awards; this isn't the place for stodgy Anglophiles. If you like Tanq or Sapphire, though, Proof mixes up a powerful G&T.
Beer is bottles only (no taps, sorry beer snobs), but they have a couple of good craft beers like Black Orchard from the Bruery in Placentia (like all Bruery beers, though, only available in the 750 mL format, which is a little more than twice the size of a regular 12 fl. oz. bottle). They're poured expertly into the glass for you, with the perfect amount of head. The place is also quick: Proof isn't very busy at happy hour (but you'll change that, right?), so you will have all the attention you need for getting a fresh round.
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The Eats: Proof doesn't have a kitchen, but it's got an incestuous kitchen relationship with Memphis at the Santora next door, and you can choose from a half-dozen selections written on an index card. The result, which was delivered on china plates by a Memphis server, was surprisingly good. Potato cakes were an interesting take on the more usual bar fries (also available), with a couple of sauces and a small pile of absolutely addictive, vinegary collard greens right in the middle, and pulled pork sliders were better than average, with buns that actually contained the sloppy porky goodness.
The Verdict: A definite go, especially if you're not into the whole mood-lighting thing. This is a normal bar, something in short supply in the land of the overwrought theme. The deals are a lot better than at other nearby places, and the service is friendly and chatty.
The Grade: A-. Extra marks for the happy hour going so late, for the cool old cash registers and even cooler cash register jockey, and for having the foresight to get the apps in from a place that makes them well.