7777 University Avenue, La Mesa
A friend who frequents the Riviera Supper Club in La Mesa once remarked that drinking in the attached Turquoise Room rejuvenates his sense of machismo. While the sentiment had never occurred to me, the retro cocktail lounge does feel like the kind of place Frank Sinatra, Chuck Norris, or Ron Burgundy would stop off for a ribeye steak and scotch after work.
Former Turf Club proprietors Sam Chammas (Live Wire, Whistle Stop, Station) and Tim Mays (Casbah, Starlite, Krakatoa) opened the Riviera with Live Wire co-owner Joe Austin about two years ago. Founded in 1946 as Jamar Restaurant, the bar maintains its ’60s lounge vibe thanks to sultry red lighting and leather booths illuminated by marbled lamps. In addition to a list of generously spiked cocktails (try the Art Snob — bourbon, bitters, orange peel, ginger ale), the lounge offers four bottled beers, Tecate tall cans, and three drafts. On a recent visit, a dude who was raving to his date about a drink called the “Russian Quaalude” observed that the place looked like something out of Space Mountain. Mostly correct, apart from the bar’s stained-glass Medieval shield centerpiece.
Elaborating on the cook-your-own arrangement at the Turf Club, Riviera expanded their grill and menu, which starts at $8.50 for a sirloin burger or chicken sandwich and touts a variety of sides and desserts. The macaroni & cheese and bacon chocolate cake are highly esteemed in many circles. Steaks start at $9.50, but bovine sympathizers can find alternatives in the portobello burger or the catch of the day.
The no-cover venue hosts live music most nights of the week. Upcoming acts include Blackout Party, River City, V Drago, and the Mario Escovedo Xperience happy hour. The last MEX hour saw Escovedo (the Dragons) and company playing barroom alt-banda rock and classic covers while discount margaritas made their rounds. In lieu of live entertainment, the jukebox spins a collection of oldies, classic rock, jazz, and locals Blackout Party, Lady Dottie and the Diamonds, and Black Heart Procession.
The free lot parks about 50 but fills quickly on weekends. Dinner reservations are encouraged for groups of six or more.
- Hours: Sun–Thurs, 4 to 11; Fri–Sat, 4 to 1
- Happy hour: 4 to 6 daily; $2 off cocktails, drafts, and sirloin steaks
- Prices: cocktails, $6–9; drafts, $7