by Julia Clausen
Walking into the Tustin Union Market in The District feels like a totally different world from the cookie-cutter vibe of the Tustin shopping center. Built to be a European-style market with finger foods and boutique shops, the Union Market takes up its own building just behind the Auld Dubliner pub on the main campus of The District.
The entryway of sorts is an open space crossed by angular counters for sitting and eating the glorified comfort food of the first food vendor, The Kroft. Their specialty? Poutine: a Canadian delicacy made of cheese curds and gravy on top of fries (served with a select craft beer, of course).
The Kroft’s first location was opened at the Anaheim Packing House, a two-story industrial building repurposed as a food market and hipster haven. The appearance of the finger food restaurant here in Tustin is the first sign that Union Market is trying to copy the aesthetic of the Packing House to draw a similar crowd.
Immediately to the right of The Kroft is Portola, an upscale coffee house that prides itself on its pour-overs. For $4.25 per 8 oz. cup of espresso, visitors can sit at a counter along a wall of hand-aged tiles to type on their Macbooks or scribble in their leather notebooks.
Passing Portola will lead you down a sort of hallway created by the makeshift walls of the market stalls. Along the way you will pass Cubed, a poke bowl stop, followed by Churned Creamery and Sweets Choice, a little shop selling chocolate-covered strawberries.
Turn the corner, and explorers will find M2P, an assembly-line style eatery specializing in locally-sourced produce and hand-made pasta. Because what would a hipster market be without offering food labeled “farm to table”?
Hidden away in the far corner, just past the bathroom entrance, visitors are confronted with a menacing floor-length mirror and a giant birdcage above your head. It’s a bar called Hatch, and it offers the exciting prospect of building your own sliders.
Rounding out the wider circle of this market sits a shop called Front Porch Pops that sells “gourmet” popsicles, presumably included to compete with the Anaheim Packing House staple Popbar. Crepe Coop sits right around the corner, where overloaded crepes are rolled up like burritos and sold to young women who act as if they’ve been to Paris and want to prove they’re cultured.
For those looking to buy trinkets to supplement this hipster-spiritual lifestyle, never fear. The Artisan Candle Company, which, according to the website, seeks to right the wrongs of “dangerous chemicals” emitted by “mass market” candles, the Lost Generation clothing store which sells contradictory “vintage” and “on-trend” clothes for “rebel babes” and Shangri-La which is both a jewelry store and an apothecary will take care of all your lifestyle needs.
Union Market is just begging to be instagrammed. Succulents occupy every open space, and strings of lights drape beneath the “edgy” pipes and air vents in the open ceiling. Everything from the cute tables to the artfully-arranged food and inspirational quotes from The Beatles is self-consciously constructed so that no one can resist posting a picture to social media. One of the clothing stores even has a sign saying “Follow us on Instagram” next to a mannequin wearing a brown, floppy hat.
The space is obviously very new, but painstakingly crafted so that you could pretend that it’s not. Like a hipster’s well-trimmed beard, this market exudes an immaculate ruggedness that tries to make its face look old and experienced, when really it’s just been to Joshua Tree once or twice. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the Anaheim Packing House’s advantage of being located downtown in an old white-washed building. Instead, it sits in a pristine shopping center alongside a Whole Foods.
While this is an admirable attempt at recreating the brand of the Anaheim Packing House, it is without venue history, live music, or the central open space where everyone can gather as a community to eat and look at the sky through a glass roof. For me, the Union Market may never have quite the same cult following.
All the same, if you like taking pictures of food, pretending you’re socially conscious, and paying too much for coffee and macarons, The Union Market could be a nice place for a night out — particularly if it’s a group with a difficult time agreeing on what to eat. For those of us who don’t want to admit we like this stuff and are more inclined to consume it “ironically,” I say to give this pseudo-market a shot. Just don’t expect to feel particularly edgy or original eating your tasty dessert.