Photos by Tenaya HillsLast September, during the homestretch of Old Towne Orange's International Street Fair—you know, when the waist-high heaps of discarded beer cups began resembling modern art and every third reveler sported a thin, caked mustache of bratwurst-hued spittle—six wasted Betties hit a home run for humanity inside the women's restroom at what was then known as Los Vacitos.
The restroom's only toilet having overflowed and flooded the entrance to its stall, a queue of flip-flop-clad drinkers had been left stranded in the cramped bathroom hallway, afraid of stepping in the murky moat before them. But right as the gotta-pee pogoing and high-pitched whines reached the two-minute mark, a shout came from the back of the line: “Um, anybody need some shoes?” It was, without question, one of history's Great Moments in Shit-Faced Altruism, as the women passed a pair of black, size six, four-inch platforms from one gal to the next, allowing everyone to break the seal without the risk of ringworm.
When Mario Marovic was arranging to purchase Los Vacitos a short while before this miracle of human compassion, it's doubtful he had any idea he was inheriting one of the worst bathrooms in the county. But as the owner of 2J's Cocktail Lounge in Fullerton, he did have a vision of what Los Vacitos could become, and in the months following the Street Fair, he transformed the spacious restaurant/bar from a supershady dive into a comfy, classy joint on par with the offerings of competing restaurateurs such as the Memphis Group.
The result is the re-christened District Lounge, a magnificently huge space with a delectably intimate feel that, on a recent Saturday night, was filled with so many incredible-looking twenty- and thirtysomethings one friend observed it felt as though we were hanging out at a hairdressers' convention. Mingling in the room's soft red-and-yellow glow—stemming from the District's red-brick walls mixing with the reflection of two enormous chandeliers and some antique-looking wall sconces in the mirrors hung above them—it was difficult for anyone present not to look their very best, and fortunately, everyone seemed to be acting it, too—who knew it was possible for flatirons and inflated egos to be sold separately?
As for the remodel, Marovic was wise to replace the pool tables on the main floor with actual sit-down tables, just as he was to remove some of Los Vacitos' unnecessary auxiliary beer-only bars in favor of an increased bar staff and a few additional deep-backed semicircular booths. Unlike the county's increasingly popular ultra-lounges, the Lounge in the District Lounge isn't a lie—there are more than enough places to sit, stand or dance—for gratis, even!—which means that people do less groping and gawking and more engaging and talking. It's an ideal bar for meeting new people, yet large enough that if you want to be ignored—as the case sometimes is—there's always a movie playing on the wall (Kurosawa and Kubrick are favorite picks) and a corner available for hiding.
The District is also fantastically cheap, with bottles of Stella Artois running just four bucks and vodka/Red Bulls only 50 cents more. A shout out to its former dive-bar days, perhaps, the drink prices allow for weeknight drinking, like on Tuesdays with the Lounge's April resident jump blues band King Pleasure, and encourage neverending Saturday nights of drunken debauchery. Most enjoyable, however, are quieter, even-keeled Sunday nights spent with a few friends and the bar's Smiths/Radiohead/Johnny Cash/David Bowie-friendly jukebox.
Yet cheap drinks, thankfully, are where the divey comparisons end—the old one-stall bathroom is long gone, as are the drunk Betties and the platform shoes. Their memory, though, will last forever. Begin your pilgrimage now.
THE DISTRICT LOUNGE, 223 W. CHAPMAN AVE., ORANGE, (714) 639-7777. OPEN DAILY, 5 P.M.-2 A.M. 21+.