Months ago, I was talking to someone who was attending the Orange County Bartender's Cabinet for the first time. He told me that he was from the Irvine Marriott, which I immediately made fun of. "What does the Marriott know about craft?" I snickered. "Oh, they're letting us make some changes," he said, inviting me to return around fall.
And that's what myself and a group of Weeklings did last week at the Irvine Marriott's secret YNK lounge, located toward the back of the lobby. I owe that guy an apology: YNK (You Never Know) is a great time, with a Trader's Sam-meets-Miami feel down to Hector Lavoe on the soundtrack and YouTube clips of German tourists hiking through Cuba. The appetizers are pan-Latin and good, but the cocktails are great—not just the tried-and-true, but also Latin American classics like palomas, mojitos, and pisco sours.
And then there's the Mama Juana. It’s the national liqueur of the Dominican Republic, a mix of red wine, rum, honey, allowed to sit in a bottle filled with a bunch of mysterious herbs, tree bark, stalks and the like. I’ve never seen it anywhere in Orange County, not even at the establishments of our local chulo, Amar Santana. But at YNK, it’s everything that makes it awesome: sweet, thick, medicinal, a Caribbean amaro but with verve. That this speakeasy stocks it speaks to its seriousness—so drink a bunch, book a room at the Marriott, and get lucky, tíguere.
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YNK, 18000 Von Karman Ave., Irvine, (949) 553-0100; ynk-irvine.com.