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Mixing It Up in IRVINE : City’s First Bar Carries the Official Stamp of Approval for Style, Location, Appeal

Times Staff Writer

Throw out those visions of pool tables and dart boards. Forget about pickled eggs and older waitresses who call you “hon.” The city of Irvine just got its very first bar, and none of the above are anywhere to be seen.

For the Trocadero--not surprisingly--is Irvine incarnate, a so-Southern California watering hole located across the street from UC Irvine and characterized by its owners as “an upscale, traditional Jamaican plantation.”

Is all of this on purpose? You bet your Bloody Mary. For, as the very first real bar in Irvine history, the Trocadero is as much a symbol as it is a saloon.

The Trocadero’s owners and site were both hand-picked by the Irvine Co., which controls 50% of the city’s retail space and has spent decades carefully molding the retail mix in this spotless suburb.

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The scrupulous planning has been so successful that enterprises such as dive bars and massage parlors can only be found on the wrong side of the city’s boundaries. Sure, you can get alcoholic beverages at many restaurants here, but it’s taken two decades to get an honest-to-goodness bar in this city of 87,000.

“There has been sentiment on the part of the Planning Commission and City Council that there is a need to get night life activities started to serve the city and campus,” said Dennis Trapp, the city’s principal planner. “We have encouraged the Irvine Co. to do this, but it’s taken some time. It’s taken a couple of years, but it’s finally taken hold.”

Would W. C. Fields have stumbled into the Trocadero for a shot? Not on your life. The local PTA, however, is a different story.

May Soon Be Profitable

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Or as owners Mark and Cindy Holechek say of their latest endeavor, a bar where patrons can graze on appetizers including fresh oysters injected with Stolichnaya and topped with orange hollandaise:

“We’ve had some students from UCI, but they (the students) don’t seem to really go anywhere. We do get a great response from the faculty, though.”

Get the picture? It’s a lucrative one. The Holecheks will not divulge the 4-week-old bar’s sales. But Mark contends that his $650,000 investment will be recouped over a planned 5-year period and that the bar will start making money in about a month.

“Business has been superb,” he said. “We haven’t done one stitch of promotion. We just opened the door. And there are waits four to six nights a week.”

But if it’s such a promising pursuit, why did it take so long for a California college town to get a business establishment that’s long been a staple of American life?

First, there’s the history problem. Irvine doesn’t have one.

The planned community has been incorporated only since 1971, after spending most of its life as farm and ranch land. When the university opened in 1964, said Mayor Larry Agran, slow retail and residential development followed under the aegis of the Irvine Co.

“One thing I’ve learned is that you cannot telescope the evolution of an urban community into a matter of years,” Agran said. “These things take time. You talk about Venice or Los Angeles, it’s 100 years of history. Here, history in a municipal sense is 20 years old.”

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Then, there’s the Irvine Co. problem. It’s not that the major landholder in the city is prudish or anything. But when you own most of the developable real estate, Agran said, you can pretty much proceed at your own pace and discretion.

“I have heard a couple of planning commissioners say that what this city really needs is a good bar,” Agran said. “We of course have to rely on developers to recognize the need at the same time. Sometimes the Irvine Co. is slow to realize market realities.”

Must Serve Food

Irvine Co. representatives explain that the delay was a question of place and time: 1988 and Campus Drive are the right ones; any earlier and anywhere else are the wrong ones.

“There are very few opportunities and locations that were appropriate,” said David Mudgett, retail president for the Irvine Co. A bar “had not necessarily been appropriate for our village centers, nor did we have space within the village centers to locate them.”

According to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Irvine is still one of only four Orange County cities that have no “type 48" liquor licenses, licenses for cocktail lounges that serve no food. The other cities are Yorba Linda, San Juan Capistrano and Villa Park.

Even though the Trocadero’s emphasis is pour first and feed later, it still has a “type 47" license and, therefore, must serve food. And that’s the way the Irvine Co. wants it. “We think it is important that they at least provide food as well as beverages,” Mudgett says.

About a year and a half ago, the development company approached Mark Holechek to design and run this bar-to-be and its very trendy kitchen. Holechek, at the time, was co-owner, along with brother-in-law Chuck Norris of action-film fame, of a successful Newport Beach bar called Woody’s Wharf.

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Holechek was also engaged to the former Cindy Kerby, a modeling school owner who just happened to be Miss California/USA 1981, third runner-up for Miss USA in the same year, and voted by her cohorts as Miss Congeniality and Most Photogenic.

Research During Honeymoon

What’s a barkeep to do when faced with such an opportunity? Holechek sold the Wharf, married Kerby and went on an extended honeymoon in the Caribbean. The couple spent weeks there collecting ideas for the proposed pub. Then they flew to Florida, rented a motor home and barhopped their way West (more research).

“They were really careful about opening their first bar,” Mark Holechek said of the Irvine Co. “We were handpicked, and they didn’t want a sleaze bar.”

The product of all of that honeymoon research was clean, bright, comfortable: a Honduran mahogany bar and back bar to suggest “manliness,” Holechek said, marble-topped tables, ceiling fans, palm trees and primary colors for a “feminine” touch.

The biggest fear of the whole 20 months, Cindy Holechek said, was city approval. But she shouldn’t have worried.

“When we went before the Planning Commission to tell them our idea,” she said, “they gave us a standing ovation, they were so pleased to finally have a bar here.”


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