7126 University Avenue, La Mesa
You’ve probably seen Wong’s neon towers glowing along the University Avenue corridor through La Mesa. You probably mistook the place for a drug front or maybe the entrance to a theme park. The truth is even better. Like a waft of samurai nostalgia on an autumn Shanghai breeze, the Dragon Room has a dreamy, faraway quality. Established in 1966, the electric hallucination sees paper Tsingtao serpents flying among Chinese lanterns and Budweiser Select signs. Cocktails come out strong and occasionally on fire. The happy hour is a miracle. Wong’s crown virtue, however, is its cozy patio, where an ornate fountain runs into a koi pond and you can smoke in the open air without ditching your drink.
The Palace’s mediocre cuisine lends credence to the dope-ring vibe. But the Dragon Room, which plays host to diversions such as darts, foosball, billiards, pinball, free Wi-Fi, corn nuts, and a Lotto machine, is an effortless neighborhood dive whose weekday happy hour (5 to 7 p.m.) offers $2.50 drafts from 11 taps and $2.75 wells (add a quarter for juice). There’s no finer prelude to Friday-night karaoke, which starts at 7 p.m.
You can start your Saturday with an omelet or pork chops and eggs ($6) and then stick around for a night of live music from the likes of rock-and-soul stalwarts the Tighten Ups, the Johnson Project Band, Cameltones, and Joey Harris. A $7 steak-and-eggs breakfast is served from 9 a.m. till noon on Sundays, and a half-pound burger or sandwich lunch special ($7.25) with fries/rings and a well/domestic is available from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on weekdays. Remember, you aren’t here for the food. Stick to the cheap cocktails and signature tiki drinks in ridiculous ceramic bowls touting exotic names such as China Dream, Confucius, and the Wong Cup.
“It’s like a Mai Tai but worse,” explains bartender Danelle as she hands me Wong’s namesake pint of hooch.
The classic Scorpion ($8) — a flaming bowl of high-octane rum and fruit juice — is mixed on the restaurant side and may require added shots to taste. The bar, on the other hand, pours heavily. Never, ever drive to the Dragon Room.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily
Happy: Monday thru Friday, 5 to 7