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Nieuport 17 Passes With Flying Colors

March 24, 1994|PATRICK MOTT

If you haven't been to Nieuport 17 in a while and are still using the name as a mnemonic device to remember that it's on 17th Street in Santa Ana, you're using the wrong mnemonic device.

First, it's not on 17th Street anymore. It's on Newport Avenue. Owner Bill Bettis moved the veteran restaurant to the corner of Newport Avenue and Irvine Boulevard in Tustin about four years ago.

Second, if you insist on using word association, use Nieuport. That's the name of a World War I-era airplane, and the touchstone of one of the more impressive collections of aviation art and memorabilia anywhere.

Unless you're a regular, drinking at Nieuport 17 is like taking a cram course in aircraft identification. Throughout the restaurant--but particularly in the bar--the walls are covered (read: COVERED!) with oils, prints, photos, signed portraits of famous pilots, letters from the Wright brothers, even a tail hook from a Navy fighter.

Aviation talk often holds sway here, although it doesn't necessarily come from the mouths of active-duty pilots. Nieuport 17 has become a kind of club for dozens of retired, mostly military flyboys, a handful of whom have presented Bettis (himself a retired Navy pilot) with pictures of themselves and their planes to hang on the wall.

You'll notice a preponderance of photos of the Navy's Blue Angels team. During the week of the El Toro Air Show, Bettis has hosted the team at a large dinner at the restaurant (last year he hosted the Air Force Thunderbirds).

You'll also notice that this isn't the same cozy bunker of a bar that was the Nieuport 17 of old. Bettis intended to build a big, turreted place along the lines of a 19th-Century German hunting lodge. That meant an imposing high-ceilinged bar with lots of dark burnished wood, regal tasseled drapes, military flags, a chandelier made of deer antlers and a stone fireplace that extends all the way to the ceiling.

It manages not to be stuffy. A good-sized clutch of regulars continues to use the bar as a den-away-from-home.

If you can't make it to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Nieuport 17 may satisfy your craving for aviation history for the time being. Besides, the Smithsonian doesn't serve drinks.

Nieuport 17, 13051 Newport Ave., Tustin. Open daily from 11 a.m.; bar closes at midnight Sunday through Thursday, 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. (714) 731-5130.

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