Hidden Saloon from 1912
Don and I had a mighty memorable night at The Blue Beet, in October... when we finally found it on Balboa Peninsula.
The 110 year old brick building stood just yards from wharf. We could see it on the map, but we still drove in circles. The skinny, 3-story structure was sort of tucked into an alley.
Stark's in 1912
We were greeted by a narrow hall when we stepped inside. If it had been a century earlier, (when Henry Stark owned the saloon) I probably wouldn't have been allowed inside. Unless my name was Dollar Dolly. She was an older "Lady of the Night" who searched for customers at Stark's. This may just be folklore... not sure.
I was not nearly as bold as Dolly, so I let Don lead the way. Actually, I was just moving slowly as I studied the walls and thought about Mr. Stark. I'd read up a bit on the internet. He evidently ran the rough and tumble saloon, in a pretty relaxed manner, back in the day. He managed to keep the bar open, even through prohibition days. He also allowed a never ending poker game to continue throughout his ownership. When the bar closed at 2 am, the game continued right into the morning, when the bar re-opened at 6 am.
Sid's Blue Beet in 1960
If we'd come in the 1960's, when Sid Soffer took ownership, I might have felt a little more welcome. I assume women were allowed, in the sixties. If they'd felt uncomfortable though, they could have put a dime in the payphone near the door, to call a cab. Not sure if that phone is actually original.
From what I've read, the owner Sid was even more of a character than Henry Stark. He served food, but refused to offer condiments. He got himself on the city council where he stirred up trouble... enough trouble, that he fled to Vegas to avoid arrest. He died in Vegas, in 2007.
The Bar Today
I believe The Blue Beet has been owned by a father and son, since 2015. I know nothing about them.
We didn't see the owners, but met Manny the bartender (manager?) when we arrived after 6 on a Monday evening.
We had heard that singer/guitarist Mike Hamilton would be performing that evening. Don and I became quick fans when we enjoyed his music in Laguna Beach, back in 2012. Manny said Mike wouldn't be performing till closer to 7, so we had time to kill.
I looked around the cozy-dim space and wondered about other performers in the saloon's past. I'm sure there were many musicians over the years, but evidently in the sixties you could also enjoy entertainment like flamenco dancing or poetry readings. At some point Steve Martin did stand up here!
After peeking around a bit, we decided to head outside to see if we could catch the sunset.
We didn't have to walk far. The Pacific was lovely and we caught the sun just before it disappeared.
We wandered near the pier and studied some of the businesses facing the water. The older bars reminded us that this area was once a working class seaport. In the early 1900's buildings stood yards from the wharf, offering food and drink... and brothels.
I'm sure "Blackies By the Sea" and "Beach Ball" have some stories to tell. Who knows how old they actually are, but they now stay open more hours than Blue Beet! Blackie's opens daily at 10. Beach Ball appears to have the same hours that Blue Beet had long ago. "Closed 2am to 6am"
Back to the Beet
It was a little darker (than my photo) by the time we returned to the Blue Beet. The window to the kitchen was open, sharing some pretty good smells.
Luckily no smells of burning food... or burning building. Evidently there was a huge fire in 1986, that destroyed most of the interior. Luckily, enough of the brick exterior was spared, so the building could be renovated.
Peek in the Kitchen
Once inside, I had another view of the kitchen.
Under the Prime Steaks sign, I could catch a glimpse of the bright room, that made our dinner later.
Mike & Guitar
Don and I headed for the back room, where Mike was setting up, beneath a neon Blue Beet sign.
I've kept up with with Mike on Facebook, since seeing him perform in Laguna. He knew his fans from 10 years ago, were coming that night, so if was a fun reunion. We chatted casually while Mike dealt with all his equipment.
Mike and Don continued to gab, while I explored. I climbed upstairs to check out all the levels.
There was even a roof terrace, on the top level. I took a quick peek and headed back down, checking out all the framed posters and photos, on my way.
There was an odd assortment of framed celebrities, from Jackie Kennedy to sports players. And then there were images that clearly had stories behind them.
There was a lot to wonder about. What was original from the old saloon, besides the brick?
But there was no time for questions. Mike was tuning up and I was thirsty and hungry.
From Beatles to Bach
Don and I grabbed a table in the cozy back room and spent the next few hours enjoying Mike's mellow voice and acoustic guitar. He started with Simon and Garfunkel's, "The Boxer" Good choice.
I requested Cat Stevens and heard an old favorite, "Moon Shadow". Perfect! It was fun to hear some Kenny Loggins tunes, knowing that Mike toured with him back in the seventies. Another nice surprise was hearing Mike's guitar doing a little combo of Bach and Pachabel! What an enjoyable evening.
We hadn't come for the food but we did have a decent dinner with our drinks and music. The salad with grilled chicken, goat cheese, candied walnuts, beets, apples and and balsamic dressing was very tasty!
The house Pesto Flatbread with mozzarella and baby arugula was surprisingly yummy.
So I mentioned the food, because this is a Dining Blog. But the tasty food was just a part of the enjoyable evening. The other guests and laid back atmosphere, made it feel like we were in someone's living room, hanging out. Mike chatted through his mic, introducing us to to each other and telling stories... experimenting with different requests and thanking us all repeatedly. We hadn't intended on staying until his last song, but we did and enjoyed every minute.
Last to Go
I guess Don and I acted like Groupies. We lingered, until only Mike and Manny were left.
Manny took our picture and we 3 grinned, kind of like we did 10 years ago when we took a photo at The White House in Laguna. Yay for a good mix of music, food and historic atmosphere!
Love the Look!
I was just giddy, when I spotted this delightful entrance to T Paul's Supper Club, on our Oregon trip. I loved the rounded canopy, with neon sailboats! I loved the retro sound of Supper Club! It made me think of dressing up for dinner in the 1950's.
But in 2023, the word club also sounds exclusive and less welcoming. That's why I was happy to see the words on the window.
"Eracism... Liberty and Justice For All" Cheers to that!
Don and I happened to be staying at the Hotel Elliott, right across the street.
We ended up having a mini dining adventure at T Paul's. If we'd only known there would be a Tiki option on our road trip, we would have packed the proper shirts!
We didn't check into the Elliott until 5 pm. We got settled and I told Don I'd dash across the street to see about dinner options.
I left our hotel, with its own sweet, rounded entrance and headed across to the glowing door. Actually the door was to the T Paul's lounge, Bar 300. I took note of the words on the glass, "Snappy Hour from 4 to 6"
My watch said 5:35!
A Quick Look
I stepped inside and immediately noticed the table for 2 on the left! I laughed to picture us sitting there, looking like we were ready to hand out Mai Tais.
To the right of the door was a cute modern table, beneath some artsy light fixtures. The window offered a good view of our hotel.
There was a large dining area off to the right, with curious decor hanging from the high ceiling.
I looked above the diners and drinkers and tried to figure out some of the decorated features. Giant Umbrellas... curious fans...
Were those fluffy Christmas trees? Who knows? I didn't have time to look around. I dashed back to fetch Don. I told him Snappy Hour ended in 15 minutes.
That's pretty embarrassing to admit how quickly we move, when there are bargains awaiting.
We chose a cozy seat near the bar and ordered drinks right away. Don didn't even get a happy hour drink, but mine was some Mule-Something-or-Other with cranberries and lime. It was the Bartender's Choice of the Day Snappy Hour Drink.
At 5 minutes of 6, we placed an order for food from the Snappy Hour menu. (It's clear that I like to say Snappy Hour) Our server was delightful and didn't roll her eyes at our cheap strategies.
It was actually a pretty fun mix of food. The Snappy Hour Nachos were generous and just spicy enough.
Don is holding an order of dumplings. They had a bit of crispiness, which made them good for dipping!
I'm holding the Bourbon Prawn Cocktail, with some fabulous house made crostini on top. The sauce was decadent! When the prawns were gone, I spooned out the remaining sauce with the crispy bread!
Our hotel room awaited us across the street, but I of course took a trip to the Ladies Room, as an excuse to explore.
I walked through the main dining room and up some stairs to take in the view.
I liked this artwork, behind the desk. Underwater light fixtures? Bubbles? Jewels? Seagrass?
The stairs took me to an elevated dining area. The colorful walls had a few guitars decorating them.
There were city images decorating the wall, that made me feel like I was looking out windows. That would be the ultimate dining adventure, to sip and feast, while gazing out over Venice and Paris... at the same time!
Lots in the Hall
On the way back to the restrooms, I found lots of wall art.
Much was related to Marilyn Monroe. I'm sure there are stories about all of the art choices.
Quotes & Signs
There are probably stories behind all the quotes too. There were a lot of them.
Inside the Ladies Room I read the bold question, "Who Runs The World?" I should have asked Don to check the Mens room to see if they had the same question, with a different answer.
More Than Alcohol
As we finished up, I snapped a quick picture of the wall across from me. One more little quote. Alcohol You Later. Kind of clever.
When our server asked if we'd like another drink, we opted for something sweeter to take with us. She described their house-made cookies and we suddenly left with a hefty bag of jumbo cookies. Snickerdoodles, Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal! They were huge and amazing!
Before we headed across the street, I took a photo of Don at the Tiki Bar table. A man offered to take a photo of both of us. He posed and thanked him. I love that photo of Don, looking so at home in that little hut.
That photo reminded me of something. It bugged me. I finally found it on my phone. A photo from a trip to Santa Rosa, CA, 5 years ago. I love matching up photos!
Pause to Peek
So we headed out the door, beneath the glowing sailboats.
I had to stop and study the pretty looking building, lit up at night. What a nice and simple and tasty evening we'd had.
In the morning we ate breakfast at the hotel, looking out the window at T Paul's. It didn't look nearly as festive in daylight, but there was no car clutter and I could more easily see the doric columns all lined up. Interesting.
I looked over and wondered more about the building and the business, What was this building originally? Who thought up the creative interior? How many locals choose the tiki table? I'm guessing just tourists!
I'm glad we have our tiki photo to remember our evening!
Lucky Visit in 2019
Today I'm remembering a unique dining adventure, that I failed to write up! Back in October of 2019, we lucked into a memorable meal at Pok Pok, in Portland.
Don and I were visiting our daughter and son-in-law, when Heidi managed to come up with last minute reservations. Little did we know, that exactly a year later, Pok Pok would close down. The pandemic was just part of the reason.
Heidi gave us the scoop before we arrived. Chef Andy Ricker opened Pok Pok in NW Portland, in 2005. Although he wasn't Thai himself, he specialized in Northern Thai cuisine, specifically from Chiang Mai.
There's much more to his story but basically, his food and authentic approach, became a hit quickly. Before long, Chef Andy opened other locations in Portland, as well as Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Vegas. There were James Beard Awards and he was featured on Anthony Bourdain's show.
The Original Pok Pok
Our visit in 2019, was to the original Portland location. The little eatery didn't look all that impressive when we arrived. There were colored lights and the lit up sign, with mortar and pestle image.
The patio was enclosed in plastic, long before the pandemic made that common. It looked like a place that might be featured on Guy Fieri's, Diners, Drive Ins and Dives show. And it actually was.
We arrived before 8 and there was no line. We'd heard a wait of two hours was not uncommon.
Memories of Chiang Mai
We 4 were excited to sample some popular dishes. Less than 2 years before, we had visited Chiang Mai and had been impressed with the unusual North Thai cuisine.
The photos above were taken on that visit. It was January 2017 and we had traveled from Bangkok, after the wedding celebration of our son and his new bride. It was wonderful having Chali's family, guiding us through many feasts.
Cozy Feast in Portland
Two years later, (just months before the pandemic) Don and I headed up the stairs with Heidi and Jamie and squeezed into a tiny room that I assume had once been a porch.
Our table practically touched the other 2 tables in the space. We wished we could have magically made the 2 dining couples disappear. Then we could have magically added Scott, Chali and her family to our gathering. It was sad not having them with us.
It was hard to believe we were in Oregon, not Thailand. Our server Matty, brought dishes that looked exactly like ones we remembered eating. Even the tablecloth reminded me of some we'd dined on. And the water tasted of coconut. Or was that my imagination?
Even the curious choice of music was memorable. It was full of surprises... like some of the music that amused us on our trip. Thai Pop? There were voices that sounded like high pitched Disney characters. Then suddenly we were listening to American Pop music. Elvis!? It was all part of the curious atmosphere!
My Khoa Soi
In a few minutes the other tables vacated and we were able to relax and push our chairs an inch from the table. Suddenly our hushed voices were normal voices, raving about our food.
We had a number of Khao Soi orders at the table. My bowl was filled with 2 pieces of chicken on the bone and slurpy, slippery noodles, all swimming in an incredible sauce. Cilantro and crispy noodles on top! The plate of lime, onion, bok choy, pepper paste, allowed me to dress it up, just like I remember doing in Chiang Mai!
A Photo from Chiang Mai
I dug out these old photos of our first Khao Soi feast, back in 2017.
The broth looks less thick, but oh how I remember the amazing flavors. And lucky for me I was born with genes that love cilantro! I was excited to add my own ingredients!
The papaya salad was a hit! Long beans, fried shrimp, peanuts, Thai chili, lime juice, palm sugar, tamarind... and papaya of course.
The fun bit, was how a mortar and pestle was used to pound the papaya with ingredients. The pounding sound of "pop-pok" is how the restaurant got its name!
Kaeng Hang Leh Pork Belly
Don made an impressive choice when he ordered Kaeng Hang Leh. This sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry, is a rich and exotic Chiang Mai classic, also.
It came in its own little iron pot, with a container of sticky rice.
Matty was our wonderful server. She was from Bangkok, but said she had never been to Chiang Mai until after she started working at Pok Pok. She said Chef Andy had a very big house there.
Matty said she was happy to be in photo and offered a gracious bow. I'm not sure how I managed to blur so many photos!
Don did a decent job of saying thank you in Thai. Khop Khun Mak Kharab. I hope I got that right. Matty was delighted with the attempt. And she was even more excited when she heard we had all been to Thailand.
Sharing a Photo
I shared a photo on my phone of Chali and Scott's wedding and she smiled and studied the image for a while.
As we left the restaurant that night, we knew we'd have to return another time, when we had more family together in Portland. It's now sad to know we can't do that.
All the Pok Pok restaurants have closed, with no plans to reopen. I guess that means we need to pull this group together for another trip to Thailand! I'm game!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.