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Hangouts & Haunts

Robert Scheer

Bar Wars: Friends Kris Lovering, Alister Krumb and Max Johnson (left to right) discuss the merits of jazz vs. rock music and other earth-shaking subjects while sharing drinks at Cloud's Downtown.

Dozens of neighborhood nooks are out there waiting to give a friendly smile or shoulder to cry on

By Kelly Luker

Some bars are cut from Cheers' humble cloth, those warm homey spots carved out of life's chaos "where everybody knows your name." Not your testosterone-dripping, meat-market, drinks-with-parasols kind of place, neighborhood bars are where you go to find kindred souls who may not be interested in your problems but have the decency to pretend they are. Forget the makeup and dressing to impress--they all know you and like you anyway.

From under the redwoods of Boulder Creek to the beaches of the Boardwalk, Santa Cruz County has an abundance of nooks and crannies that cater to everyone from fresh things to fossils, from transgendered to trainspotters--and everything in between.

Asti Cafe
715 Pacific Ave, SC, 423-7337.
This may be the oldest continuously opened cocktail lounge in town, dating back a good 50 years. The owners have changed now and then, and, fortunately, so have some of the customers. Although this is South Pacific, don't bother looking for the Tiki torches and Mai Tais. The "Nasty Asti" is a down-home, elbow-to-the-teakwood kinda joint, a place to tune out the world, tune in to Garth and pound down a boilermaker.

The Avenue
711 Pacific Ave, SC 426-3434.
Another SC landmark, but this blue-collar bar is going uptown, complete with a facelift and pool room expansion--figure four tables to shoot some stick. Owner Abel Mekkoudi's added a way cool simu-drive game called "Cruisin USA." For those who are serious about their brews, Mekkoudi claims the Ave holds first place for hops on tap--45 at last count. And the politically incorrect may rejoice--a cigar shop will be opening up inside the premises next month.

Blue Lagoon
923 Pacific Ave, SC, 423-7117.
If you haven't been to Santa Cruz's only downtown gay nightspot lately, come check out the changes. A complete remodel job has boosted the Lagoon to twice its former size, offering two bars, two dance floors, two pool tables and a killer Earthquake sound system. It draws a sizable crowd of gay-friendly straights, too, who come for the friendly atmosphere and DJs spinning techno and disco music seven nights a week.

Boulder Creek Brewery & Cafe
13040 Hwy 9, BC, 338-7882.
When you're ready to slake your thirst after the long drive up Highway 9, pull into the brewery, which always has at least three made-on-the-premises styles on tap. Locals and not-so-locals swear by the Redwood, an amber taste treat. The tasty beer--plus a few pool tables, pinball and great camaraderie--help persuade the mountain folk to stay in the mountains, rather than joining the "flatlanders" down the hill.

Brady's Yacht Club
413 Seabright Ave, SC, no phone.
There's no phone, cuz this ain't the kind of place you need to phone ahead for reservations. They'll be there and keep a seat warm for you. Although it's near the yacht harbor, there appears to be a dearth of yacht owners present. But, with a Laundromat next door, there's plenty of folks scrubbing duds and sucking suds, or maybe breaking a rack at the vintage pool table. The place has many regulars, who come to drink and chat with the bartender, who would bag high scores in a Sonny Bono look-alike contest.

325 Soquel Ave, SC, 425-7665.
As the name implies, this is the place to play pool or billiards. Its smoke-free environment offers a welcome relief to dedicated pool hounds who need a clear head--and lungs--to shoot their best game. With 19 tables, there's rarely a wait, and you can count on a wide microbrew selection to quench your thirst. This is the place to train little Johnnie or Susie to be the next Minnesota Fats, since the Breakroom is open to all ages and features a Sunday "family day."

Britannia Arms
8017 Soquel Dr, Aptos, 688-1233.
Britannia Arms serves up a warm British (duh!) pub atmosphere. Plan on enjoying bangers and mash--or a full array of other English dishes--along with your tankard of ale. With darts, two satellites dishes, four TVs and music on Saturday nights, there's always plenty to do. And don't forget, the place has a courtesy cab pickup to and from your house. The authentic English cab's license plate reads: NODUI4U. Cute. Live music on Saturday nights.

Castaways Lounge
3623 Portola Dr, SC, 462-1319.
As Joe the bartender (aren't they all named Joe?) points out, the Castaways is a cocktail lounge, not a bar. One does not go there to knock back a drink; one goes there to sip a cocktail. And pigs fly. With its home in Pleasure Point, heart of the Surf Ghetto, the Castaways may be a tad short on martini enthusiasts but long on neighborliness. No entertainment except pool, darts and the opportunity to chow down some wholesome burgers and hotdogs.

The Corner Pocket
3102 Portola, SC, 475-9819.
This is how pool was meant to be played--in a dark cave-like atmosphere with James Brown on the juke, a Bud lamp hanging low over the tables and Ace the Mighty Mascot Mutt keeping watch over all. CP only serves beer and wine--but in a place like this, were you really gonna order a Fuzzy Navel?

Duffy's Sports Cafe
219 Mt. Hermon Rd, Scotts Valley, 438-6627.
Like its name implies--nuthin' but sports. Hockey, baseball, football, basketball, dwarf-tossing--oops, that doesn't start till next season. That lil' ol' satellite dish sucks in games from every state in the union, and then some. There's many places where you can get your Monday Night Football fix, but figure that any place with "sports" in its name won't let you down.

Fast Eddy's Billiards
4300 Capitola Rd, Capitola, 462-1882.
They've been saying "rack 'em up, Jack" at this mid-county pool hall for a couple decades now. With 17 tables and a newly added arcade room, three bucks (per hour) or a handful of quarters can buy you some cheap fun while you lift a pint and grab a bite of pizza.

Front Street Pub
516 Front St, SC, 429-8838.
One of the first to brew--and serve--only their own beers, the Santa Cruz Brewing Co./Front Street Pub has been keeping Santa Cruzans fortified with hops for almost a decade. Besides a range of bottled beers, look for the muscular barleywine on tap and, with the holidays right around the corner, keep an eye out for the Christmas blend, "Hoppy Holidays." Tuesdays and Thursdays finds the joint enjoying a "happy hour" that runs 6pm-midnight and is usually accompanied by music. Come check out the newly opened patio out back.

303 Soquel Ave, SC, 426-7770.
A little tired of the braying collegiate type who thinks Mudslides are the epitome of class? Then head for the Hindquarter, where grown-ups go to drink. Look for $40 haircuts and Cole-Hahn shoes, not dreadlocks and flip flops. Pulls in brokers, mid- and upper-level county managers and growers (well, maybe that, too, but we're mainly talking lettuce and strawberries). The bartenders are pros and can blend an exquisite grasshopper, but figure on call drinks--neat and over.

Hurry Back Inn
910 41st Ave, SC, 475-475-4932.
Looking for a place to hold forth on Nietzsche? To banter about the finer points of agrarian policies in developing countries? This ain't it. But, by cracky, this fun-loving crowd has its own softball team and, bless its heart, one of the last remaining non-CD jukeboxes in town. It's common knowledge that the one thing a serious drinker hates is change. With nary a knothole moved in 20 years, HBI aims to please.

JJ's Saloon
Robert Scheer

Three's Company: Eric Franklin, Olga Aguilar and Kimberly Lincoln opt for snuggling instead of pool-playing at cozy JJ's Saloon in Soquel.

JJ's Saloon
4714 Soquel Dr, 462-1631.
Nope, don't look for dank or dingy in this airy, well-lit hideaway, which features genuinely happy folks hoisting one high with their good friends and neighbors. JJ's still has that $8 New York steak dinner special to accompany Monday Night Football and great selections on the juke. Although it might be a tad early, start planning now for the 10-year anniversary next April.

Jury Room
712 Ocean St, SC, 426-7120.
Appropriately named for a bar that nuzzles the broad shoulders of the Great Grey County Building, the Jury Room aims to soften the harsh light of the criminal justice system. Cops, deputy DAs and other public servants mingle in this justice system landmark, trading horror stories and tossing back real drinks--no Long Island Iced Teas here, thank you. No ferns, no faux sponge-dabbed decor, just solid brick walls and a pool table. And it is still, and always will be, "Home to the Giant Gopher," as its sign proclaims. Ask the barkeep to tell you the story behind the name.

Knight Owl Cocktail Lounge
529 Seabright Ave, SC, 426-2513.
Under the watchful eyes of a mural full of owls, enjoy your own night-owl concoctions after wrapping up a sumptuous dinner from any of four or five restaurants within a block of the place. Bartenders expertly mix, stir and shake dang near anything your heart desires, but definitely don't pass up the--what else?--Owl Special. The spot also has a couple pool tables for the gaming sort.

Larry's Surf and Turf
215 Esplanade, Capitola, 475-6215.
Like many of its neighbors along the Esplanade, Larry's caters to a pretty straight weekend dance party crowd. There's a dance floor with disco lights as you enter, where DJs spin hip-hop and dance music on Friday and Saturday nights until closing time, drawing a lively young crowd of locals and folks from over the hill. Larry's has a full bar and serves up the food and drinks on an indoor patio overlooking the annual lagoon at the base of Soquel Creek.

Malone's Grande Grille
4402 Scotts Valley Dr, Scotts Valley, 438-2244.
It's held court from the heart of Scotts Valley for nigh unto 15 years now, so it's no wonder Malone's is the first place to head when Scotts Valley-ites want to meet with each other. With a cool jazz band under the redwoods on Fridays, the popular watering hole keeps pulling them in.

265 Center, Aptos, 688-7004.
With such close proximity to the water's edge, it should be called the Pacific, but the Med's name captures its Moorish exterior. The shuffleboard is gone, but now's your chance to try pinball when you're not watching the big screen TV. Mingle with locals or check out the tourists that cruise over from the Seascape complex. If your aim's good, join one of the dart teams.

99 Bottles of Beer
110 Walnut Ave., SC, 459-9999.
You know the song. But when you take one down and pass it around, there's still plenty more. Huge selection of microbrews, foreign brews, ales, malts--you get the picture. This is definitely the destination for the serious hops aficionado. Warm brick and hardwood atmosphere is perfect for a toast. Great grub, too--don't miss those spicy waffle fries!

Tampico Lounge
Robert Scheer

Booth's Toll: Feisty friends crowd into a cozy booth at downtown Santa Cruz's Tampico Lounge to celebrate the 23rd birthday of a cheery but slightly overwhelmed Molly McGrath (second from left).

One Double Oh Seven Club and Smoking Parlor
1007 Soquel Ave, SC, 425-9589.
And why might it be called "smoking parlor," you may ask? Come in and check out the new floor-to-ceiling humidor, where you can find every kind of stogie from Macanudos to Aristocrats. Then play a game of interactive football with fellow (and sister) sports nuts, who fill up this sports-lovin' joint at night. Jagermeister on tap, plenty of drink specials and lotsa college-types, both in front of and behind the bar.

Over the Hill Gang Saloon
3530 Portola Dr, SC, 476-3679.
With the life-size rearing Appaloosa and the swinging doors, this watering hole looks like it belongs in Dodge City, not Pleasure Point. The inside continues the Wild West motif with a formidable museum of antique weapons, including one of Wyatt Earp's pistols. As its name implies, this little treasure trove is a familiar roost for the older crowd, so you might find a few antiques propped up at the bar, too. Clean, well-run, with honest drinks. And safe. With a virtual armory, you think anyone's gonna mess with the clientele here?

Palapas Restaurant & Cantina
21 Seascape Village, Aptos, 662-9000.
Continuing the Southern Mexican theme found in the restaurant, the cantina is a favorite with both village locals and visiting tourists in the summer. Since there's almost always a wait for dinner, try ordering one of the to-die-for appetizers instead, while enjoying a drink either indoors or on the patio with a view to the Pacific. What? You still haven't had one of their signature Mango Margaritas? Shame, shame.

Poet & Patriot Irish Pub
320 Cedar St, SC 426-8620.
Named for two Irish revolutionaries (who are memorialized in a brilliant mural on the building's side), the P&P is 15 years old and still going strong. Unlike some Irish bars that are more Blarney than pub, this one's the real deal, with a smattering of Celtic, blues and jazz making up the entertainment calendar. There's a good selection of beers on tap, including Guinness, of course. Gets a lot of next-door-neighbor Kuumbwa's crowd before and after shows. The rest of the clientele, says owner Chris Matthews, is "eclectic--students, professionals and professional layabouts." The weenie-shaped balloons laying about in half-twisted designs should give you some clue as to what famous Santa Cruz character calls this his home away from home. Honk! Honk!

Polivio's Back Door
E. Cliff Village Shopping Center, 15th and E. Cliff, SC, 475-7600.
A neighborhood staple for decades, Polivio's attracts a quiet, steady crowd both before and after they've grabbed dinner from the attached restaurant. Although it has bowed to karaoke, Polivio's is not your trendoid kinda place. Solid, stable and there when you need a friend.

Portola House
3326 Portola Dr, SC, 476-2733.
This is a no-nonsense steak house with a no-nonsense cocktail lounge. Come for dinner early and enjoy the dark, peaceful surroundings. Or come later and catch the game on TV, roll a few hands of Liar's Dice and sip on a serious scotch or bourbon. It's that kinda place.

Positively Front Street
44 Front St, SC 426-1944.
If you loved it in the '70s, c'mon home--the Pos is back in business. The miniature train still chugs around the interior, but the decor is all new--or all old, actually, with '60s memorabilia adorning the walls. The place also sports a nouveau exhibition kitchen, where you can witness your massive Thurber Burger being broiled before your eyes. Owner Harry Angus admits there's a method to his '60s madness--he's threatening to have Grateful Dead nights starting soon. So, come hear Uncle John play.

Redroom Cocktail Lounge
1003 Cedar St, SC, 426-2994.
The Redroom, part of the old Santa Cruz Hotel, is a cozy place to knock back a few. Popular with a young crowd, the place has cush booth-style cushions in the front room and a funky old sofa in the back, which, combined with luxuriant old portraits adorning the walls, adds a touch of antique elegance. The Redroom sports a full bar, microbrews on tap, a ping-pong table and one of the hippest jukeboxes in town. Once a home base for local bands to perform, the bar now only sporadically offers live music.

Rosie McCann's Irish Pub & Restaurant
1220 Pacific Ave, SC, 426-9930.
An Emerald Isle import, Rosie's rolls out the welcome mat every day of the year--not just March 17. Part of the downtown hub, it's a great place to hit between other Mall gigs. If Celtic music makes you want to pull out the razor blades, not to worry. Rosie's has one of the more eclectic musical offerings on Pacific Avenue. Soak up some of the dozen or so ales and malts with a plate of solid pub food.

Rush Inn
113 Knight St., SC, 425-9673.
This is a warm and friendly retreat from the parallel universe that exists beyond the Town Clock standing tall outside its doors. Working-class stiffs, a few white-collar types and a garnish of students attend. Flavor that with the Shakespeare Santa Cruz crowd, which calls this home, and the Rush serves up a zesty gathering about any time of night or day.

Seabright Brewery
519 Seabright Ave, SC 426-2739.
This popular brewpub and restaurant has a neighborly feel on most nights, and on Tuesday its "Neighborhood Night"--with discount pitchers from 3pm to closing--crosses the boundaries of mere neighborliness to become a massive pick-up scene for the 21-to-40 crowd, who absolutely pack the house. From the outside, the brewery looks like modern art--a pink building with water splashing out of a blue pipe into a trough on the patio. Seabright only serves its own fine homebrews, which are made on-site, as well as a selection of wines to be sipped inside or out on the brewery's large patio. You can also strap on your dancing shoes for Cajun, blues, world beat and soul starting at 6pm on Fridays, a godsend for those who are asleep by 10pm.

Silver Bullet
603 Front St, SC, 426-4726.
This centrally located watering hole keeps pulling down awards and kudos for best bar in town. It's not hard to see why--you can find 31 flavors and more in your preferences for the opposite sexes. Students, bikers, bad girls, yuppies--the Bullet's got 'em. The drink specials keep rolling, and the juke keeps blaring. The joint's got the art of fun down to a science.

Sir Froggy's Pub
4771 Soquel Dr, Soquel, 476-9802.
Anchoring the little village of Soquel along with JJ's, this cheery little building next to the Bagelry has been holding forth as a tavern for half a century now. Its latest incarnation--Sir Froggy's--features soft light flooding through the many windows during the day and the flames from a toasty fireplace to light up, and warm up, the interior at night. Join the gang for one of Sir's many barbecues most weekends and holidays. Stellar musical selections on the juke to tickle your ear, and liberally poured libations to tickle the tongue.

Watering Hole
2405 Mission St, SC, 469-4653.
As Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." And sometimes a Watering Hole is just a watering hole. After the crown was passed from former (and infamous) tenant Paul's, we waited to see if this could live up--or down--to Paul's reputation. Indeed, our hat is off to this no-frills, line-'em-up establishment that is the place to go after a long day of hitting the books or working a real job. Close to both UCSC and the farm fields out Highway 1--talk about culture clash.

White Cockade Pub
18025 Hwy 9, BC, 338-4148.
This is about as far out of Santa Cruz as you can get--four and a half miles north of Boulder Creek. But some say it's worth it for the fish and chips, a feature dish at this Scottish pub. Most locals like it for the warmth and companionship--a must under those chilly redwoods at fall time. No entertainment, but darts, darts and darts.

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From the October 17-23, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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