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Vacation Bar Brings Globally-Inspired Cocktails To Santa Ana

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Until recently, you would have been excused for knowing little to nothing about Orange County's dining scene. Which is not to mock an entire county or say nothing good existed there—it did exist (after all, Steve Samson of Sotto and Rossoblu began his rise at Costa Mesa's Pizza Ortica). Orange County was simply lacking two things: a break-out name, and a neighborhood with the critical mass necessary to foster high-caliber chefs and projects.

But things have changed. The break-out name was Carlos Salgado (whose Taco Maria in Costa Mesa has become destination dining since opening in 2013). And the neighborhood is downtown Santa Ana, with 4th Street being the white-light core of Orange County's culinary boom.

It is here that you'll find Playground and Irenia, two restaurants (only blocks apart) redefining the dining scene not just for Orange County, but for all of Southern California. Food halls 4th Street Market and McFadden Public Market (also only blocks apart) are nurturing talent as strong as anything you'd find at L.A.'s Grand Central Market.

And now, Vacation, a bar that opened this week along 4th Street, is adding weight to the neighborhood's heavy-hitters.

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The idea for Vacation began three years ago, when Harry Kho (previously of Harry's Deli) located a space in the 100-year-old Spurgeon Building, and sought to bring a dinner-and-drinks concept to the area with business partner Chris Parker. The space's build-out would become mired in three years of delays—"Anything you think can go wrong did," Kho tells LAist half jokingly—but the duo labored on. Parker himself designed the interiors, which looks like the Beverly Hills Hotel's Polo Lounge for the Instagram age, but utilized local artisan George Bernal to custom make all the furniture (see: the cannabis-patterned banquette dubbed "the cannabench"). Desanka Fasiska, another local artisan, helped with the interior design.

Parker and Kho called in some serious talent to cook up Vacation's food and drinks menus, too. Gabriella Mlynarcyzk (who created the bar programs at ink., Birch, and Accomplice Bar) dreamt up the travel-themed cocktail menu. Each of the 12 drinks is named for a destination, and the ingredients follow suit. The "Marrakesh Morocco" uses a green tea-infused vodka with mint and sumac to transport you to the North African coast. The "Keeping Calm And Carrying On London" is a gin-based cocktail that strikes a balance between the tart kick of fresh blackberries and the sweet effervescence of sparkling rosé. The "Chatachak Market Bangkok Thailand" (the cocktail that inspired Vacation's theme) mixes scotch with thai basil, toasted coconut, and lime.

For bar snacks, chef Aron Habiger (who comes from the kitchen at Petit Trois) has assembled a selection of dishes that will satisfy your hunger while eliciting you to drink more. The beef tartare, served alongside potato chips from OC's own Rusty's, has a kick resembling that of In-N-Out's "Animal Style" sauce. The flavor is also found in an off-the-menu tartare burger. "You like that?" Kho asked LAist of the burger on a recent visit. "I snuck that in. It's my favorite. I used to make animal-style sauce at home." Another stand-out from the snacks menu are "The Lollipops": red cubes of pork belly served on sticks. Lemongrass and ginger caramel add a light sweetness to the umami-rich pops, which rest on a bed of Tokyo turnip puree.

Ultimately, Vacation is poised to be Orange County's standard-bearing cocktail bar: as strong an argument as any for the county's rising prominence.

Vacation is located at 204 West 4th Street in Santa Ana. (657) 266-0855. Hours are Wednesday, Thursdays, and Sundays from 5 p.m. until midnight, and Fridays and Saturdays until 2 a.m. Vacation is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.