Like a quarterback sidelined by injury, John Hankey's sports bar and grill in Santa Ana was out of the game for a while. But now it's getting back in.
In the old days, the place was called the Factory; the inside was all decked out in red and white, and it featured an unpretentious Italian menu. But by the time Hankey closed its doors at the end of 1989, the decor had gone yup-scale and the kitchen crew had given way to would-be-trendier offerings--changes, Hankey says now, that only hastened the establishment's demise.
But now that a deal with developers has fallen through (they wanted to turn the place into a medical plaza), Hankey has decided to give it another go.
The new Hankey's interior has gone through yet another, but more comfortable, remodeling, and the new menu retains some of the old Factory's Italian treats. The big news, though, is that the bar has been restored to its former glory, stocking at least 100 international brews.
As in the past, aficionados of various ales, lagers, pilseners, stouts, porters and bitters can sign up for the Cruise Club: Pay $5 and, once you've tried all 100 beers, you get your name inscribed on a plaque on the barroom wall. (To back up his contention that patrons should drink responsibly, Hankey puts a portion of each membership fee into a taxi fund, available to anyone who needs a cab at the end of an evening).
A twist on the old program is the inclusion now of several nonalcoholic brews on the list, a move that Hankey said is designed to let nondrinkers in on the fringe benefits of Cruise Club membership, such as a drawing for a Caribbean vacation.
Also resurrected: Hankey's neighborhood-bar atmosphere and character. It's not unusual to find a group of off-duty Santa Ana police officers in one corner, residents of a nearby senior citizens' apartment complex in another and employees from a local hardware store, or students from Rancho Santiago College, gathered around the dart board. Hankey, who first opened for business here in 1983, says he even serves a City Council member or two.
Hankey is from the hands-on school of ownership: With rare exceptions, he'll be found chatting with patrons every day--when he's not helping out behind the bar, restocking the popcorn machine or trundling off to make sure the kitchen is in good shape.
The old bar, which seated maybe three close friends ("it was small and a little intimidating if you weren't a regular," Hankey says), has been replaced by a gleaming new one that seats about 18, smack dab in the middle of the room. And where sports here used to consist mainly of talk by seasoned observers, there now is a variety of participation-oriented activities: two dart boards (complete with regulation scoreboards), a pool table and a mini-basketball game. For the armchair quarterbacks and umps, there are three televisions above the bar, usually tuned to different games. Hankey's also offers live entertainment by local cover bands on Sunday evenings from 5 to 9.
"I thought it would be nice to give the customers something to do besides eat and drink," says Hankey. "It was kinda boring here before." Besides, because Hankey is now running the operation single-handedly (his brother, with whom he opened the place, has gone on to work in the travel business), "I have to be here by myself, seven days a week. So I had to make it a fun place for me to be."
Hankey's, 1120 W. 17th St., Santa Ana. Open 10 a.m. daily, till 11 p.m. weeknights and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. (714) 542-9996.