A couple of years ago, we learned about a speakeasy in the unlikeliest of places: Inside the lobby of a Marriott in Irvine. Baffling, yet oh-so-true, YNK produced one of the better bartenders this county has seen in recent years. Jump to last month, when a recent visit to YNK on our Instagram Stories had another favorite bartender asking if we made it to the other speakeasy inside Marriott. Other speakeasy? You’ve got to be kidding. Well, he wasn’t. A little research and a website request later, we had a reservation to visit The Butcher Shop. If you’re seeking a new watering hole in the city, we compare the two spots below.
YNK (a.k.a. “You Never Know”) – The OG speakeasy
YNK’s original concept was an ever-changing one. The bar would “travel” to different regions around the world, adapting a different menu every few months. Customers would be introduced to new flavors (plus coordinating decor) with each visit. Located beyond the hotel’s lobby bar, you enter through a partially open door. It was walk-ins only, as they had limited seating capacity.
On our most recent visit to YNK 2.0, we met Jonathan Solis. His goal was to determine what type of drink we’d like to have. There are no formal menus, only custom requests— unless you ask. Solis is no stranger to the YNK concept, but he is definitely up for the task of playing host, bartender and server. The space is very library chic, with varying seating configurations, plus candles lighting up the dim room. You are also able to order small bites to tide you over; the cauliflower was oddly addictive. YNK is open most evenings, except Sunday and Monday, from 5:30 p.m. until . . .you never know. (949) 553-0100; www.ynklounge.com.
The Butcher Shop – Speakeasy Inception
We’ve frequented our fair share of speakeasies, and can tell you that these two vary quite a bit. First off, The Butcher Shop is strictly open Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight. Entry is by reservation only (but is at the discretion of management to offer in the event that YNK is to capacity). Of course, if both are full, that’s life. To access this back room, one needs to inform an employee at the lobby bar that they have a reservation. After they disappear to verify, another person will come out to greet and take you inside. This is located in what was formerly a dishwashing room. An L-shaped space, you can either kick it on a couch, huddle around high tables and chairs, or take a seat at the bar for a cocktail.
Our bartender that evening was Marcos Ibarra. Easy to talk to, he gave us the rundown of his domain. All cocktail listings were written on one wall. Cool graffiti, photography, and videos of bartenders making drinks also decorate your surroundings. It may appear less polished on the surface, but the unevenness is part of the charm. Also, knowing what to expect, drink-wise, takes the edge off. (949) 254-5713; www.thebutchershopoc.com.
Don’t get us wrong, both rooms require a certain amount of trust in the bartender. One speakeasy is definitely less accessible than the other, making it more appealing, depending on who you ask. Both serve high-quality spirits with a creative edge. YNK and The Butcher Shop are similar, but different enough to draw specific crowds. If you’re wanting a cold beer or straightforward martini, take a seat at the lobby bar. Head to The Butcher Shop or YNK for a more complex experience.
YNK and The Butcher Shop are located within the Irvine Marriott – 18000 Von Karman Ave.
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.