Monday, January 26, 2015

Jack O'Neill Lounge Aquarius

Happy Hour: 3-6 p.m.  7 days a week

Wine, red and white $5, beer (Coors Light) $4,
Well cocktails - $7 (Skyy, Jim Beam, El Jimador, Bacardi, Famous Grouse, Gordons)
Specialty cocktails: $10

Jack’s Lounge Bites from 4-10 p.m.

Various appetizers ranging from $8 – $13 are 25% off during happy hour

Jack O'Neill Lounge Website
 Julie’s Review

To celebrate Martin Luther King Day, Josephine, Michelle and I decided to go see the movie Selma and follow it up with a happy hour review.  The movie was powerful and moving– a must see film.   Afterwards, we were certainly ready for a drink.  Since  the only alcohol I will have during Sober January is for the J&J Buzz, I was especially looking forward to our outing.

We decided to check out Aquarius, which I had not been to before. It is located at the foot of the wharf in the Santa Cruz landmark,  the Dream Inn.  (Glad it’s back to being the Dream Inn).  When we walked up I was surprised to see it is now the Jack O’Neill Lounge.  I asked the hostess whether this was still Aquarius and she said the lounge is now separate, but the food is from Aquarius and so they work very closely together.  There is Jack O’Neill photos and memorabilia all over the lounge.

The first thing to know about the lounge is the view is breath taking.  The entire lounge is floor to window ceilings overlooking the beach, west cliff and the wharf.  In the lounge, there are window seats with cushions which are quite comfy.  We started out at the bar, of course.

This was Michelle’s first Happy Hour Buzz so we had to acquaint her with the very stringent rules and standards Josephine and I apply when working on a review.  This is very serious business and no fun will be had – NOT!  Just don’t eat or drink anything until we get a photo of it!  That’s the rules, honey.

We opened the menu to discover that Jack’s Lounge has Happy Hour – seven days a week from 3-6 p.m.  Now what’s not to love about that!!  A happy hour on Saturday and Sunday is a rare thing indeed and much appreciated.

Our bartender, Haskell arrived and explained the rather complicated happy hour menu. $5 wine and $4 beer, Good, good.  $7 well drinks and $10 specialty cocktails.  What????!!!   Is this happy hour or not?  I had a bit of sticker shock on that one.  Now they actually list their wells which were a bit higher end – Skyy and Jim Beam, etc. but still seven bucks for a well??  Hmmmmm.

They had a nice list of specialty cocktails that are usually $13 and were $10 for happy hour. I broke down (it was sober January and I was going to make the most of this drink) and ordered a Cucumber Collins with Hendrick’s gin, shishito pepper, cucumber and mint.  Michelle ordered a Blood Orange Mule with Grey Goose vodka, blood orange, mint and ginger beer.   Jo went with the happy hour red – Bogle, I believe.

Jo and I ordered the Kale Salad and Pastrami sliders and Michelle tried the Fish Tacos, grilled with fries for $2 extra.  The appetizers on the menu ranged from Truffle popcorn ($8) Hummus ($9), Tuna Tartare $10), Marcona almonds and olives ($12),Brie ($12) pan seared scallops ($13),   during happy hour the appetizers are 25% off.  It was really nice to see such a healthy and varied menu on a happy hour, but the price is high.

Josephine pointed out that this is a high end hotel and most expensive hotels like this don’t usually offer happy hours at all, which is very true.  Plus, there is that spectacular view.  I wandered over to admire the light and view of the beach.  It really is special. When the drinks arrived, they were quite tasty and you could definitely taste the alcohol in them.  I savored my cucumber Collins and really enjoyed the sip of Michelle’s Blood Orange Mule. 

It was great to have Michelle with us and we discussed the film, which has been unfairly shut out of the Oscars.  It is my favorite movie so far in my Oscar research and the Director should have been up for Best Director in my opinion.

The food arrived shortly and was all very tasty.  It was unusual combinations of food with things I’ve never heard of – but the combinations were good.  I liked the duck on top of the kale salad.  The dressing was very subtle.  It is heaven to have such an item on a happy hour menu.  At first, I thought the pastrami sliders were a bit overcooked, but they grew on me.   The thing I don’t like about sliders is they usually don’t have lettuce, but these had kraut on them and that was delicious.  I liked the slaw - standard cole slaw – nothing special (like Hula’s ginger cole slaw, for example). 

Jo and I shared one of Michelle’s fish tacos and it was quite delicious.  Michelle liked that you had your choice of grilled or crispy.  I liked that it had cabbage and avocado.  I tried a few of Michelle’s fries.  I’m not a fries person, but these were unusually tasty, I thought.

Time for the next drink – so I tried my standard rum and diet.  There well is Bacardi.  You could taste the rum, but it came in an awfully small glass for a $7 well.  We were waiting for Joanie and Gary to arrive, but Michelle needed to get to her classroom, so she headed out.  Not more than a minute later Joanie and Gary arrived.  I couldn’t believe they hadn’t run into Michelle, but they came in from a different direction.

We moved over to a window seat and made ourselves at home.  The cushions are actually quite comfortable to lie down on, so I indulged.  Gary and Joanie ordered beers, the kale salad and the hummus.  I had my last rum and coke for January and we discussed movies and the Science of Happiness course,  that Jo and I are taking.  The light was getting spectacular out the window.  The company was wonderful and it felt like we had escaped  away on vacation.

When the bill came Joanie very generously picked up the tab.  Wow -  funding for the Santa Cruz Happy Hour Buzz!  Thank you, thank you Joanie, so generous!!!  What a wonderful way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., with good friends, good food and drinks and an iconic view of Santa Cruz.

So in sum, Jack O’Neills Lounge has great hours – 7 days a week from 3-6, a spectacular view and wonderful ambience, the food and drinks are tasty and the service is good.  The only down side is the price, which is not really happy hour prices.  That said however,  it is still a happy hour I am sure to return to again and again to sit by the window and savor the best of Santa Cruz.  Happy indeed!

Julie’s Rating: 4.5 shots!
Jo's Review


Aquarius is located in the luxurious beach front Dream Inn hotel. The hotel has been a fixture in Santa Cruz for as long as I can remember. It went through some name changes (Coastal Santa Cruz Hotel, Uggh) and style changes and received its current facelift from the new owners in 2008. Luckily they went back to the original name Santa Cruz Dream Inn. The hotel has a bird’s eye view of the Santa Cruz Wharf, the Beach Boardwalk and the famous Cowell’s beach and Steamers Lane, known for its great surfing. One thing about this place is you can’t beat the view. 

The restaurant is called Aquarius but the bar/lounge area is named after the famous local surfer dude of all time the Jack O’Neill Lounge.  This local legend had resided here since 1959 and his name brand can be found on wet suits, surf gear and clothing. There are pictures and memorabilia all over the lounge of Jack with a surf board ceiling historic pictures of the area surfers.

This happy hour, the first of the New Year, is looking good already because we have some fun friends joining us. Michelle, Joanie and Gary. Michelle started off with us at the movies (we saw Selma, great movie) and we were ready for a drink and some happy to happen. You walk into the bar area which is all windows on the ocean side so you have a panoramic view of the ocean, wharf, Boardwalk and Steamers Lane. It has a nice sized bar with plenty of seating around cozy little tables and a cushioned bench area along the windows.  I start snapping pictures all over while Julie does the introductions and we settle into the bar and start checking out the goods.

Happy Hour here is every day from 3-6pm with $4 bottled beers only (no draft beers for happy hour), $5 house wine, $7 well drinks (good well), and  $10 specialty drinks. Food is from the lounge bites menu and everything on that is 25% off. I decide on wine while Julie and Michelle had the specialty drinks. For food we go with The Black Kale Salad with Duck confit, Pastrami sliders and Fish tacos. I was surprised to see on the menu that the sliders and tacos come with cole slaw and if you want fries you pay extra. Usually you get fries and have to pay extra for the cole slaw or salad so that was a nice change. Since we’re all trying to be more health conscious it’s nice to see them offering these options.

So the drinks have arrived. My wine is a nice Bogle red blend. Julie’s goes for a specialty cocktail the Cucumber Collins which looks very tasty, light and refreshing. Michelle’s gets the blood orange mule which comes in a pint glass and from the look on her face I would say it’s very tasty as well. 

The food looks yummy and I haven’t eaten for a while so I dig right in.  The Kale salad is nice and light, not as much quinoa in it as I thought but the duck confit on top was a real treat, crispy and tasty. The sliders were so good I just wish there was more than 2 of them. The pastrami was cooked crispy which didn’t appeal much to Julie but I liked it. The sauerkraut on it was nice and tangy. The cole slaw was o.k nothing special. The fish tacos were great. We went with grilled instead of fried and we got french fries instead of cols slaw so we could try everything.   

The taco had this yummy lime sauce on it that really set off the fish and lots of fish in it as well. The french fries were nice and crisp and came in a cute basket.  That seems to be the trend for fries right now, showcasing them in a little wire basket. Anyways we were munching away and talking about how good the food was. Julie and I both went for another drink but Julie changed over to a rum and coke. Michelle’s drink was pretty big so she was still sipping on it. The camera is snapping away and we are laughing it up. The happy is settling in just right.

After we have gobbled up all the eats we decide to move to the window seating and take in the view.  Joanie and Gary should be arriving soon and Michelle is taking off on us. It was fun chatting it up with Michelle. I must admit it is a nice view from this lounge. It’s very calming and relaxing.   

Joanie and Gary arrive and it’s time for another round. The two of them are so full of life and energy it’s always fun around them. We greet and order some drinks and they decide on getting a little something to snack on as well so they go for the Spinach Hummus. It looks rather good and I’ve never had spinach Hummus before, it was quite yummy served with veggies and pita bread. 

I have been very impressed with the food, tasty and somewhat healthy, which is a surprise in happy hour food, but a welcome one. While we were settling up the bill Joanie surprised us by taking care of it. Wow that was a wonderful surprise, how generous of her to do that. I love that kind of kindness and warmth from friends it really put the icing on the cake so to speak.

Well the sun is setting and my glass is empty so it’s about time to go. Happy hour at the Jack O’Neill Lounge, Aquarius at the Dream Inn has been fun.  The food was very good; the ambience was relaxing, and the bartender and hostess friendly. As far as happy hour goes the food and drink prices are a little high, but you are eating at a high end hotel right on the beach with a million dollar view. I guess one expects to pay a bit more for that. All in all though it was a good time.

Jo’s review: 4 shots!