Another year, another 52 weeks of constant drinking, from bar to bar and bottle to bottle. If this list is a bit SanTana-heavy, it's because 2013 found SanTana emerging as the county's booze capital, from the paisa bars to the hipster bars to great liquor stores and bartenders and everything in-between. But now: the drinks. And, of course, not making the list because they're il capo di tutti cappi of OC's drinking scene is 320 Main, something everyone on this list would agree with.
5. Anything by Seth Marquez at Little Sparrow
Little Sparrow is the only restaurant that dominated the year-end listings for both drinks and food, and with rightful reason–it's a fabulous place. And that's why we named it Best Lounge in our Best Of issue this year. But when that happened, it had Joe Valdovinos as the head bartender, with preternaturally gifted young gun Seth Marquez as his barback. Then, a funny thing happened: Valdovinos got booted from Little Sparrow, for reasons no one will ever truly know, and Marquez had to step up immediately (Dave and I were there literally hours after the split happened).
The next couple of weeks were rough; Marquez was overwhelmed with Little Sparrow's popularity, and hadn't had the time to develop enough of his own drinks to establish himself. Well, that time is over: Little Sparrow just debuted its new menu, which I've plowed through a few times–and Marquez is killing it. Watch for him next year to move on up; in the meanwhile, he gets #5. 300 N. Main St., SanTana, (714) 265-7640; www.littlesparrowcafe.com
4. Anything by Drew Tripp at Chapter One: The Modern Local
Drew's Frisco made the list last year, and it's usually the drink I order whenever I swing by Chapter One. But the Marine-looking man also stepped it up this year with a well-rounded cocktail menu that only grows in booze and mystery. 227 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 352-2225; www.chapteronetml.com
3. Cydonia at Playground
I'll be honest: I don't get to Playground as much as I should, mostly because I'm a drunk wreck by the time I get there, which is packed by the time I do stumble on over. But after drinking this quince-and-sherry-based cocktail, maybe I should. From my blurbage earlier this year: “the quince's meatiness blending into the tart sherry, with the lemon juice and simple syrup adding even further tartness. But nothing could deny the flavor of that amazing quince (cydonia is its Latin name), and nothing could stop from me marveling at yet another Playground triumph.” 220 E. Fourth St., #102, SanTana, (714) 560-4444
2. Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream
From my blurbage earlier this year: “slightly thicker than Bailey's, but so much better, with hints of vanilla and chocolate cut by Buffalo Trace's legendary bourbon cream.” Gave a bottle to Chapter One: done in a week. Had friends just come back from Kentucky, where they tried it: also heaven on Earth. Still not available in Southern California, so get thee to my old Kentucky home and bring back a case or 40. Find out more on Twitter @buffalotrace.
1. Anything by Joe Valdovinos
2013 will end as the year of Joe Valdovinos. As the debut bartender at Little Sparrow, Joe immediately made it a must-visit with his drinks, whether it was an India Maria, a Smooth Operator, or ANYTHING. Within hours of getting let go by Little Sparrow, Valdovinos found jobs, eventually settling at Playground not too far away. And the man loves Fernet–¡que cabrón! Give him a couple of years, and the Loara High School graduate will be as famous a Saxon as Gwen Stefani and Julio Pérez…