Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dive Bar Crawl #2

So we decided it was time for another Dive Bar Crawl. We had so much fun on the first one. The three of choice this time are, 
The Asti
The Blue Lounge
Julie's Review

The Asti
Happy Hour 4-6
$3 – Well
$2 – Bud, Bud light and Pabst
$5 – Jameson, Jack and Stoly

This was a birthday dive bar crawl, celebrating the wonderful Ms. Teresa.  We decided to check out the Asti, Brady’s and the Blue Lounge.
We decided to start our crawl at one of the oldest dive bars around.    The Asti – also known as the “Nasty”  - was established in 1937 according to the sign.  This is a true dive bar. 
I had a particularly bad day due to car problems combined with my cell phone completely dying.  Luckily Roy aka Captain Tutu came to my rescue.  He picked me up at my mechanic Hana’s house.  She gave him a pair of rainbow puff antennas which he immediately proudly donned.  They suited him to a T! 

We arrived at the Asti and took a cruise through looking for the girls.   Roy got quite the looks and comments from the regulars in his rainbow fuzz antennas and tights, but I protected him. 

There was only one spot at the bar – the place was packed.
This is a true dive bar where the clientele are obvious regulars.  The bartender was harried and not particularly friendly.  We were lucky to get a seat at the bar.  The gentleman next to me – can’t remember his name, was a fan and regular at the Asti. We had a discussion of happy hours and I gave him a card. 

The bar is dark and smells of smoke, though there weren’t ashtrays and whether you are allowed to smoke depends on the bartender from what I understand.
I ordered a margarita, but was told it didn’t qualify as a Well drink because it had two kinds of alcohol in it, so I ordered a rum and coke.  The birthday girl arrived followed shortly by Josephine.    Teresa had a rum and coke, Josephine a beer and Roy a Mai Tai.  We were able to get a table and relax and open birthday presents.

I will give credit where credit is due – the best thing about the Asti – is they make a good cheap strong drink.  For three bucks you get a drink where you can taste the alcohol.  I won’t say much for the service or ambience.  There was no food, of course, and that’s always a down side. 
Glad to have gone, but don’t need to go back in a hurry.  Onto Brady’s Yacht Club.

Julie’s Rating: 3 shots

Brady’s Yacht Club
Mon-Thurs: 4-6 p.m.
Monday - $3 well
Tuesday - $1 off draft and bottled beer
Wednesday - $1 off slide card or pay stub
Thursday – Ladies night $1 off for the ladies
Friday –Saturday – Teachers/Student happy hour 9 pm – closing $1 off with campus ID

I have wanted to go to Brady’s for a long time.  It’s been years since I’ve been there.  If you talk about Santa Cruz dive bars the top two that usually come up are Brady’s and the Jury Room.  Brady’s has repeatedly won the best dive bar in the Good Times Best of Santa Cruz polls.
When we arrived it had a much different feel than the dark, smoky, claustrophobic feel of the Asti.  This was much lighter with both the front and back doors open.   

The Beastie Boys were playing and the pub is dominated by the bar and the pool table.  The best thing about this place is they allow dogs inside and we quickly made friends with a black lab named Buddy.  It definitely has a surf punk feel to the place.

The d├ęcor had branches tied to the rafters, which was a nice effect.  It was getting late, so we barely got our drink orders in before happy hour was over at 6:00 p.m.  The bar was packed, but the place had an easy going feel to it.

The bartender was named Dave, I think.  I didn’t get a chance to talk with him.  Too busy.  The drinks were basic, $4 for wells.  We were waiting for Sue to arrive.  When she did, we petted the dog and then were ready to feed our drinks and get some grub.  The downside of dive bars is they don’t have food.
I wasn’t overly impressed with Brady’s for all the hype.   Friendly, basic dive bar.  A little too crowded for my taste – but it was Friday night.  May have to give it another go when I’m not hungry.

Julie’s Rating:  3.5 Shots

Blue Lounge
Monday – Karaoke
Tuesday – Open Mike
Wednesday – Live Music – Shotgun Suitor and friends
Thursday – Gay/Bi night
Friday – Ladies Night $4 Cosmo
Saturday – Local Artists and DJs
Sunday – Comedy

After leaving Brady’s we stopped in at Betty’s Burger, but they had a huge line.  Next stop was the Seabright Brewery, but it was at least a 20 minute wait there for a table.  We put in our name and decided to check out the Blue Lounge and see if they had anything to eat.

I had gone to this bar in a previous life when it was the Night Owl and I lived in the neighborhood.  Teresa’s friend Babs Liddon used to own the Night Owl for years. I haven’t been in since they changed owners and names.  I instantly liked the place.  It was empty, except for one guy, but I don’t see that as a downside – especially coming from two over crowded bars.  We had our choice of seats – and I do like a seat at the bar.

The bar is made of emerald pearl granite.  The reason I know the name is that this is the same granite that is on the Circulation Desk at the Science Library at UCSC where all of us have worked at one time or another.  We have tap danced on that Circulation Desk and so we hopped up on the side table to bring back the memories.

Jennifer, our bartender was welcoming from the moment we walked in the door.  She gave us five shot service the entire time we were there.  She is all you could ask for in a bartender, friendly, attentive, always going above and beyond.  She also makes a great Cosmo which is the special for Ladies Night. We asked if she had any food and she brought out chips and salsa.  When she found out it was Teresa’s birthday, she made homemade guacamole which was delicious.

We decided to order a pizza from Engfer’s Pizza next door.  Jennifer said we could order it and have it delivered to the bar.  So even though they didn’t have food, we could eat there.  Which was very much needed at this point.   As Jo always says, “you gotta feed your drinks”.

I loved the Blue Lounge – this is my kind of place.  There is something going on every night of the week. From open mic to gay and bi night to DJs and dancing.  The pool table is always free.  Jennifer gave us money so we could play songs on the jukebox.  The birthday girl Teresa chose most of the songs.  We took over the dance floor and did the electric slide to Culture Club.
Jennifer made Teresa a Birthday Cake shot with candle on a floating lemon.  We all sang God Danced and Teresa blew out her candle.  About this time a woman came through selling flowers.  We all declined, but the only guy in the bar, bought Teresa a dozen roses for her birthday!!  How sweet is that!

Our pizzas arrived from next door and we dug in.  They were quite delicious.

About this time, the woman who runs the Open Mic showed up and offered to sing us a song on the piano and sang a beautiful version of “I Will Fix You”.  After that we danced some more.  Teresa had fun laying out on the “Hotflash” air hockey table.   Air hockey was only 75 cents, so Jo and I tried a game which led to more laughter and cheers.

Teresa said this was one of her best birthdays ever.  I was happy to find my new favorite bar!  I will be coming back to check out the Open Mic night and we will definitely have to have another Ladies night here some Friday night!  Great energy and a wonderful bartender.  Come check it out and say J & J sent you!

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

Dive Bar Crawl #2
Well Julie and I decided it was about time for another dive bar crawl.  As you know this is when we frequent a couple of bars in one night, trying to catch all of the happy hours we can.  Now it seems that most dive bars do not have happy hour, happy hour is all the time since they usually have cheaper drinks. Suffice it to say that you can usually find some kind of happy hour or special going on in a dive bar that makes it special. Our bars of choice this time are The Asti, Brady’s Yacht Club, and The Blue Lounge.
The Asti

It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon and I am not really in the mood for any of this today, but it’s our good friend Teresa’s birthday as well and this was the plan so onward we go. The traffic is f*&ked as usually and all of us are running late, except Julie which has all kinds of other issues going on and is off for the entire month so we’re not feeling much sympathy for her. The Asti or as some people refer to it as “the Nasti”, I’m sure received its reputation for a reason. It has 2 entrances and as I’m taking pictures of the side entrance a gentleman from inside (because there’s a metal screen door that you can’t see through) yells out “take a picture of me”. He sounded a bit scary and this was not setting a good tone for me.  I decide to go in the other door. 

The place is packed, there’s at least one or 2 layers of people at the bar and the back area (where the voice came from), is pretty full as well. Luckily Julie, Roy and Teresa are right up front at the first booth so I settle right in and order up a drink.  The bartender is not pleased.  I don’t think it has anything to do with us or the people in the place, she just doesn’t look pleased.  I pick a beer that the bartender snarls at and Julie goes for probably a rum and coke, at least that’s what it looked like. 

The Asti does have happy hour, every day 4-6 with $3 wells, $2 Bud, Bud light and Pabst, (yes Pabst Blue Ribbon), and $5 Jameson, Jack, and Stoli.
Well we are laughing and enjoying our drinks but the place not so much, I was really feeling like an outsider, which I was but I guess it was just a crowded afternoon and lots of regulars around. We took some pictures and Julie wanted to take some of the place but it was so crowded and it didn’t look like anyone wanted their picture taken (well one friendly gentleman at the bar was interested) so we finished up and headed for Brady’s. 

The Asti is not really my kind of dive bar, I believe it has its clientele and that’s the way they like it. A dive is a dive so if you’re looking for some cheap drinks and a dark bar this may be the place for you.

Jo’s rating: 2.5 shots


Brady’s Yacht Club bar is located in the Seabright area.  I love this area of town. It’s on the other side of the Boardwalk which means it’s just past the touristy area of town. Sure we get a few strays but mostly this is where Santa Cruz begins for me. Quaint homes, a large sandy stretch of beach and mellow Santa Cruzan’s. Brady’s is very local and has quite the dive feel to it. The place is packed at the bar 2 lines deep which seems to be a pattern for the dive bar seen.   

Everyone is around the bar drinking and talking it up.  We have a couple of guys playing pool which is just as you walk in and to my surprise 2 large dogs walking around and visiting with everyone. 

Nothing says local like dogs in the bar. One black lab and one blonde lab, each with scarfs on walking around looking for a hand out or just someone to pet them. We found an open booth and ordered up some drinks, not sure what the girls had but I had a beer. Brady’s may be small and divey but it has always been very open and comfortable to be in. Plus a dive bar with a promotional plaque from the Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland for Best of Good times Best Dive Bar rating must be good.

Well we enjoy our drinks and pet the dogs and laugh it up.  Starting to get happy now but we still have more to see so onward we go. Brady’s is a nice dive bar full of local friendly people and I don’t know about every night but that night nice doggies to pet.

Jo’s rating: 3.5 shots

The Blue lounge 

The blue lounge is just down the road from Brady’s just pass the popular Seabright Brewery which we haven’t hit up yet for happy hour…….so many happy hours, so little time!!!!!
As soon as I walk in I’m in love with the place, its empty which I know sounds wrong for a bar but for us we loved it.  Pick of seats, we could hear each other talk and the bartender was quick to respond to us and our babbling.  I’m hungry, “hungry I can get you some chips and salsa and make some quick guacamole for you” our bartender Jennifer says, and we jump on that idea.   

We are looking around the place and it is very clean looking for a dive bar. Now I know that it has changed hands a couple of time it was The Night Owl for a while, them 529 for a while so I’m sure it has been cleaned up with all the changes unlike the other dive bars we visited today. The Blue Lounge is actually owned the same person that owns The Blue Lagoon downtown so I guess he’s expanding.
The place is very spacious, with a bar and air hockey set in the back, a nice long bar made out of Emerald Perl granite which I recognize because the place where I work has the same counter top.  Some boothy type seats behind the bar and a piano. We immediately are thinking of music and they have one of those electric jukeboxes so Jennifer hands out some cash to play some tunes.

I head outside to get some shots of the place and notice a number of signs on the wall about this and that, but the one that stands out is Friday night ladies night, $4 Cosmos and Martini’s. Well now that I know what I’m drinking I head back in for a Cosmo.
Jennifer tells us that you can go next door and order pizza from Engfer Pizza works and they will bring it over to you. So we decide on pizzas and the Cosmos and guacamole show up. I’m really glad about the chips, salsa and guac, I needed it.

I always love being around my friends for a happy hour and celebrating Teresa’s special day was a plus for this one. Sue met us at Brady’s just when we were leaving so now the 4 of us are laughing it up and dancing to the juke box. Since we have the place to ourselves we are taking advantage of it. Julie notices some wording on the air hockey table that seems to fit in perfectly for how Teresa is feeling and what we all are dealing with at this time in our lives so the birthday girl gets a few shots on the table. The pizza arrives and we munch down, it’s good, not great but good and I must have been having a good time because it’s one of the things I didn’t get a picture of.

So Jennifer asks if we can turn the jukebox off for a bit because a friend of hers wants to play and sing at the piano. Live music!!!! Oh yes. She has a lovely voice and the song is so nice it brings a tear to my eye and the next thing I know we are all hugging. I love my friends!!!!!

So the Blue Lounge was the last stop on our dive bar crawl and by far the best time was had there. Was that because it was empty and we had the run of the place and got to be as loud and wild as we wanted…..maybe.  Will I be back…….most definitely. The bartender Jennifer had a very warm and friendly attitude, she has I good soul I believe, and the place had a good feel to it. Just the right amount of dive feel to it.

Jo’s rating: 4 shots! 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Johnny's Harborside Restaurant


Happy Hour: Mon-Fri 3:00 – 6:00 p.m.

$4 Crispy Artichoke hearts, Calamari, Quesadilla, Shrimp Louie, Tempura Fried Green Beans
$5 ½ Grilled Artichoke Hearts, Cheddar Bacon Potato Skins, Blackened Chicken Sliders, Fish Bites
$6 Buffalo Shrimp, Pulled Pork Sliders

$4 Margaritas, Martinis, House Wine and well drinks (extra dollar for Bloody Marys and combined mixed drinks)

 $3 selected draft beers 

Johnny's website
Julie's review


Johnny’s Harborside is not surprisingly located at the upper portion of the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor.  It is an upstairs venue with windows on three sides, with lovely views looking out at the boats in the harbor.  Parking in front of Johnny’s used to be meters, but they now have a parking machine which charges of $1.00 an hour – the same as the Crow’s Nest.

Josephine and I were celebrating Lysah’s big birthday.  We wanted to do happy hour for dinner and then head down the Crow’s Nest Beach Party.  Different bands play outside on the beach every Thursday evening during the summer and Johnny’s is just a short walk away.

 You can sit anywhere for happy hour, either at the bar or the restaurant.  We met the owner and Executive Chef, Owen.  They told us to choose our seat, so we had a nice table overlooking the harbor.  Happy Hour is Mon- Fri between 3-6  p.m.  Josephine and I made a point to get there at 4:30 so we would have lots of time to sample goodies before heading to the beach.

Wesley our waiter came over to take our drink order.  For happy hour they have margarita and martinis, as well as well drinks for $4. Combined mixed drinks such as Bloody Marys are $5.00.  Josephine and I both ordered margaritas.  We decided to order a plate of calamari while we waited for Lysah to arrive.

The margaritas arrived in nice tall glasses the way we like them.  Jo and I laughed at the size of the lime slice – it wasn’t a slice – it was half a lime per drink.  We perused the menu which had a variety of appetizers ranging on $4 to $6.   Wesley answered all our questions and was very attentive.  I was pleased that they had a Shrimp Louie on the happy hour menu – so often happy hour specials are less than healthy options. 

Wesley explained that it wasn’t a full Shrimp Louie – just a tiny little taste of a salad with a few shrimp (that would be something to get a Shrimp Louie for four bucks!).  Jo and I settled on the Shrimp Louie, the Tempura Green Beans,  the fried Artichoke Hearts and the Blackened Chicken Sliders.

Lysah and the Calamari arrived about the same time.   The calamari came with two sauces – both tartar sauce and a cocktail sauce that had a spicy salsa consistency.   The calamari was in small bite size pieces.  Evan the chef, later told us they will be getting Monterey calamari soon and will feature that on the menu.

My favorite was the fried artichoke hearts which came with a delicious sauce.  The fried artichokes were crispy on the outside and soft and velvety on the inside.  Some of the best fried artichoke hearts I have had.  The Tempura green beans were also delicious.  They came with a spicy ginger sauce that was so good we asked for another little bowl of it.

My Shrimp Louie was a cute little morsel with several shrimp in a tiny mason jar.  The cucumber was a bit bitter as Josephine pointed out after taking a bit.  There were two blackened chicken sliders which had cole slaw on them.  Quite tasty.

We dug right in.  At this point I decided to pop for the extra buck and ordered a Bloody Mary for $5, since I couldn’t decide what well drink I wanted.  It came tall and tasty.  We talked and chatted and ate.  We sang Lisa our traditional “God Danced”  birthday song. 

I was still a little hungry and Lisa hadn’t eaten much, so we ordered the quesadilla.  Executive Chef Evan came to talk with us about the upcoming change in menu.  The menus rotate about four times a year.  Evan was also looking out the window to see what fresh fish was being unloaded from the boat outside.  One of the nice thing about their location is they get FRESH fish often straight off the boat.  They also get their produce from two local farms.

Josephine and Lysah had ordered another round of drinks earlier, but I had lost track of time.  Before I knew it, it was 6:05.  I asked Wesley if I could slip over that happy hour cutoff this once and he was very accommodating, seeing what he could do.  He brought me another margarita – now that is what I call five shot service!

We were all pleasantly full and had that nice happy hour buzz.  We settled our check and were on the way to the beach party. 

In sum, Johnny’s Harborside is a nice happy hour – good ambience with a view of the water, friendly service and good food.  I would definitely recommend the artichoke hearts and tempura green beans, if you go.  The portions are not large enough to make a meal, without buying several dishes, so the happy hour price tag was a bit high. 
Their happy hour is Mon- Fri until 6:00.  It would be great to have the happy hour run later, rather than earlier and a Sunday afternoon would be a welcome addition.  They have stiff competition with the Crow’s Nest ocean views and $3.75 Bloody Marys and chicken wings just a few blocks away.  However, if the Crow’s Nest is packed and you can’t get a seat – take a stroll down to Johnny’s and tell them J & J sent you! 

Julie’s rating:  4 Shots

 Jo's Review

Johnny’s Harborside Restaurant, a cute little place located at the beginning of the main harbor surrounded by boats both docked and in dry-dock being worked on. It is on the second floor and just below is a fish market where the locals bring in the days catch to clean and sell. I love going down to the harbor, its walking distance from my place which means I tend to spend a lot of time down there. 

From that second floor you get a great view of the bay and the harbor from the windows encompassing 3 of the 4 walls. They have a pretty good size bar and the kitchen is semi-open so if you like you can watch the chefs creating and preparing. Julie and I arrived at the same time so we headed upstairs and got a table right by the window.

Happy hour is M-F 3-6pm. They have a number of appetizers that run from $3-$6 and $4 well drinks, Margaritas, Martini’s, house wines, and $3 drafts. We start with margaritas and the calamari.  My friend Lysah is going to join us, it’s her birthday that day so we will be treating her to happy hour.

Our very friendly and attractive waiter Wesley comes back with our drinks and a few recommendations for eats so we decide on the fried artichoke hearts, green beans, and the blackened chicken sliders to go along with our calamari. The margaritas are hitting the spot and each has half a lime in it………now that’s a lot of puckering. 
The calamari arrives next along with the birthday girl. So as we give out the gifts and such to Lysah and she orders her vodka and cranberry the rest of the food arrives.
Everything looks lovely, the calamari is dark and crispy as well as the fried artichokes. The calamari is a little overcooked for my taste but the artichokes were very yummy. 

The green beans came with 2 dipping sauces, a spicy aioli and a teriyaki sauce. The aioli was nice and spicy and we asked for extra of that. The blackened chicken sliders were good as well with a fairly good size chicken breast on each one. We were munching away and downing the drinks and have a grand time.  

For our next round Julie goes for her old standby the bloody mary which you can get for a $1 extra on the happy hour price, and I move on to beer. 

Julie spots on the happy hour menu a shrimp Louie and is intrigued by it. Could it be…….a shrimp Louie at a happy hour price!!!!!! As we question Wesley he informs us that it is also a happy hour size shrimp Louie, the cutest little thing so we go for it. It was small and cute and I let Julie enjoy it.

Since Lysah was with us we decided one more wouldn’t hurt so we ended happy hour with a quesadilla. It was good sized with all the trimmings and looked rather good. I would like to say that we ordered all that food for the 3 of us but Lysah eats like a bird so, no it was the 2 of us scarfing most of it down and having a happy time.

So happy hour at Johnny’s Harborside Restaurant was a great success. The food was good, the prices were right and the company was great as always. The staff was very friendly and helpful and the chef even came by to talk with us and tell us about how he goes down when the boats and trucks come in to pick his fresh fish for the day and plan his menu. I mean does it get any fresher than that. A fun time was had by all.

After all that we walked down to the Crows Nest for the outdoor beach band which was Extra Large, I mean we had to work off that happy hour after all.

Jo’s rating: 4 shots