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Mild Excitement Where Once Were Only Lima Beans

November 15, 1990|JANET EASTMAN

There's a good reason the drinking age in California is 21--kids would be bored by most bars. Their protest would probably have something to do with bars being dank, cramped, Naugahyde-filled places.

I think kids have a good point. I like cavernous bars that promise mild excitement and pollution-free lungs upon departure.

I've found such a place at Tia Juana's in Old Irvine, which is housed inside a restored 95-year-old lima bean warehouse. The zeppelin-like wood and corrugated metal ceiling guarantees that the A-bomb could go off inside and not smoke up the atmosphere.

The bar itself is 75 feet long, providing plenty of room to belly up to or--for the less sociable among us--there are private tables, some with views of the trains that zing by outside.

Order a cerveza (they claim to serve any Mexican beer an aficionado can name) or one of their hand-shaken (never blended) margaritas on the rocks, and pretend you're inside some upscale south-of-the-border restaurant that actually has napkins.

The sweet-and-sour margarita mix is produced by a local "juicer" exclusively for Tia Juana's. Customers, who range from construction workers trucking in off the Santa Ana Freeway to Irvine Spectrum suits rolling in after a hard day of reconfiguring the wheel, can harden the mix with one of 18 different kinds of tequila.

Mercifully, airings of Monday Night Football occur only once a week, replaced the other six nights by live music. Rock 'n' roll gets its moment Fridays and Saturdays, and a South American Folk duo plays guitars and pan flutes Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Of course, you can eat Mexican food here too, underneath a platoon of pinatas. Ever dined with a papier-mache Ninja Turtle dangling above you? Now that's what I call mild excitement.

Tia Juana's Long Bar & Mexican Cafe Deluxe, 14988 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine. The bar is open 11 a.m to midnight Sunday through Thursday, till 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday. (714) 551-2998.

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