Polaroiditis: What happens to your eyes when you walk into a dimly lit bar in broad daylight, causing your vision to slowly develop and adjust to the darkness. I recently suffered from a mean case of it as I entered the Guild Club in Costa Mesa, where it seemed as if all I could see were eyeballs mysteriously pointed at me, as though they belonged to some kind of wild animals in a dark forest.
One set of those eyes belonged to Marín von Blöm, who, along with husband Noah, is the creator of said bar and has run the adjoining ARC Restaurant, as well as a new butchery and bakery in nearby Newport Beach. Up until now, the Guild Club had been a private affair, but we stopped in for a little pre-dinner cocktail and snack.
With its dark-wood furniture, classic chairs and eclectic mix of accents, the interior feels as if it’s been there a long time. “I got these lamps in France,” mentions Marín, pointing at a couple of monkey lamps. As she gestures at a framed Appaloosa with braids, she adds, “The rest of the space was designed around this painting.”
There’s a mysterious spiral staircase that leads above the bar to a space that resembles a billionaire’s cat cozy. “We have bands that play up there a few nights a week,” says Marín, batting her lashes.
It all seems so Alice in Wonderland, I reply, as I twirl the hunk of hand-carved clear ice in my cocktail, an old fashioned named Twain that uses a 10-year-old Pappy Van Winkle as its base.
The cocktail list is just as intimate as the room, with only a handful of concoctions named after notable people’s booze choices. There’s the Churchill, a Macallan 15 triple-cask Scotch and soda, and the El Chapo, a Clase Azul tequila-based drink. You can also order the Girlfriend, which is a whim of the day.
As our ARC reservation neared, we munched down the last of our crispy, earthy fried olives stuffed with blue cheese. We then headed through a secret padded door into the main restaurant—as though we were rock stars.
ARC oozes personality from every angle. On the surface, it can resemble some sort of swanky date-nite joint, but after marinating in its ambiance after a drink or two, it can feel like a place you might have stumbled into while on vacation abroad. The open-fire kitchen tempts you with primal prescriptions for whatever the day throws at you.
When the food arrived, I noted the thick-cut bacon was glazed as though it were a maple-bar doughnut and the fire-roasted duck had skin spots as crispy as Lay’s potato chips despite the juices held within. The absolute must thing to order, though, is the Butcher’s Love, a hard-to-find prime-rib cap steak that’s the best of the best part of the cow and eats like beef sushi. ARC serves it seared and with salt, pepper and herbs to dredge each slice through. If I were a billionaire’s cat, I would be purring.
The Guild Club and ARC Restaurant, at SOCO & the OC Mix, 3321 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa; theguildclub.com; arcrestaurant.com .
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening on June 29th in Anaheim!