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In the land of gracious living

November 07, 2002|Anne Valdespino | Times Staff Writer

In Orange County we live a little more graciously. We like our easy-access beaches, big backyards and malls with acres of non-structure parking. Our club-going habits follow suit. We don't get that "waiting for eternity behind the velvet rope" thing because we refuse to stand in line for anything but hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts or Easter service at the Crystal Cathedral.

Accordingly, happy hour in O.C. is low-key. The scene might be lively and standing room only, but it's generally non-attitudinal and come-as-you-are, whether you just got off work in your blue pinstripe suit or wandered in from the beach in sandy flip-flops and a damp sundress.

It's not about spiffing up to get past the doorman; it's about unwinding for a few minutes or a few hours while reveling in our laid-back lifestyle.

A bit of paradise

The California sun lights a view that could be mistaken for the French Riviera. A cliff-side patio next to a rose garden hugs a bluff above a brilliant blue Pacific. Pelicans glide by on the soft salt air and, if you look carefully, you'll occasionally catch a dolphin's fin breaking the surface of the water.

Las Brisas in Laguna Beach is paradise for everyone but the waitresses in Hawaiian print mini-dresses. They shuttle back and forth from the bar to a patio with a fire ring and blue Mexican tile counters.

Happy-hour imbibers order margaritas on the rocks, Coronas, Cosmos and green apple martinis as they snack on a buffet of chips, salsa, veggies, dips, tacos, enchiladas, rice and beans.

For a couple of women in their 20s, the ocean view, not the men, is the big draw.

"The best place for happy hour is anywhere by the beach," said Kristin Maxwell, 25, of San Diego.

"That way, you can just look around if you have nothing to say."

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After a day at the office

If the Clubhouse in Costa Mesa were a day of the week, it would be casual Friday. That's because it's part business, part play. Take that dark wood and marble-topped bar with the leather accents. Decadent, yes, but look up and you'll see a news ticker and CNN on the big TV monitor. At the end of the bar there's a champagne bucket filled with today's papers.

No wonder it attracts guys and gals in Oxford shirts and slacks who drop briefcases and cell phones for beer, wines by the glass and all manner of martinis with names like Small Good Voodoo Daddy, Colada-tini, Jack Lemon and Dean Martini.

The music is canned Barry Manilow and Bruce Hornsby. The crowd doesn't care. People are here to rehash their day at the office.

"I want to hear my friends, not the music," said Robert Lizano of Tustin.

Miami rhapsody

The crowd at Habana acts as if it's on an all-expenses-paid Miami vacation. "Mo-JI-to!!!" they shout as the bartender mixes another round. Huge glass jarras filled with mixers line the bar: Thin slices of apple float in neon green liquid for the apple martinis; the lemon drop potion looks like lemonade topped with fresh citrus slices.

The bartenders mix Cuba Libres and made-to-order mojitos, muddling the mint and lime in front of patrons, using a wooden pestle.

There's a special bar menu, and appetizers from the dinner menu are half-price. Among them: crab cakes made with black beans and corn and rare ahi served with tostones (slices of plantain fried golden brown and topped with avocado slices). The eats have a Nuevo Latino-Caribbean twist that makes you feel like you're on a cruise.

Artsy enclave

In Santa Ana, they're dusting off grand old buildings to breathe new life into downtown at the Artists Village. Storefront theaters, galleries and new restaurants have sprung up, encouraging foot traffic in and around the Santora Building, a Spanish colonial treasure frosted with loads of baroque curlicues.

But step inside and leave the 18th century architecture behind during happy hour at Memphis, where you can soak in the swank '50s mod-industrial decor. The best spot for happy hour is on the other side of a brushed aluminum divider that snakes a curvy path along a dark wood floor. Get settled on the comfortable green leather banquette with burnt orange upholstered back. Order a mint julep and get ready for soul food-fusion cuisine.

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O.C. happy hours

Las Brisas

361 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach, (949) 497-5434

The happy hour: Mondays-Fridays, 4-6 p.m.

The deal: Buffet includes enchiladas, quesadillas, soft tacos, rice and beans sold a la carte at discount prices: $1.25 to $1.75.

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The Clubhouse

South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-2582

The happy hours: Mondays-Fridays, 4-7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. to closing.

The deal: Drink and appetizer specials change each day but may include $2.50 margaritas, $5 Skyy martinis, $2 Coronas, $2.50 buffalo wings, $2.50 bruschetta and $2 chips and queso.

*

Habana

The Lab/Anti-Mall, 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-0176

The happy hours: Mondays-Thursdays, 5-7 p.m.

The deal: Bar menu items, including empanadas, media noche, roast pork and steak sandwiches, are half-price, $3 to $6.

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Memphis

Santora Artists Village, 201 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 564-1064

The happy hours: Thursdays and Fridays, 3:30-6:30 p.m.

The deal: All bar menu items are $4, including pizza, steamed mussels, mini meatloaf sandwiches, fried chicken wings, gumbo and others. Well drinks and house wine, $1 off.

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