Bartender Ian is from Glasgow, Scotland, “so it’s a pleasurable struggle trying to work out what he’s saying.”
  • Bartender Ian is from Glasgow, Scotland, “so it’s a pleasurable struggle trying to work out what he’s saying.”
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The Westgate Hotel

1055 Second Avenue, Downtown San Diego

Let’s say you can’t afford to fly to France this weekend. You know, to frolic around Versailles and walk in the “village” where Marie Antoinette played milkmaid. Waddaya gonna do?

Answer: Get on down here to the Plaza Bar at Third and Broadway. Honest. It’s the next best thing to a French palace I’ve seen. And tasted.

Came in on a whim after wandering up from the transit center, where I’d gone to get my bus pass renewed for the month. Took Second Avenue, headed for the Civic Center trolley stop, when I found myself walking among those tall cream-painted columns of the Westgate Hotel.

Not even five o’clock and Carla not expecting me for at least another hour. So I thought I’d pop in to see if they have a happy hour.

“Happy hour?” I ask the door guy.

“Certainly, sir. Check with the concierge.”

Empty concierge desk, but no probs. The interior of this place is fabbo, so I’m happy to wander around. Old tapestries, massive chandeliers and vases, marble everything, a Steinway grand piano...

“Happy hour starts now, sir,” says a gal at reception. “Plaza Bar, first right, first left.”

All this for $14.

I head toward the windows, turn right into a gilded passage. At the end, on the left, you look into this little jewel of a room with a bar and a dozen small, white marble tables, some upholstered wooden chairs, another piano (this one’s a baby grand), two great chandeliers, and cream-colored walls loaded with columns and tapestries that look like they’re straight out of, well, Versailles. Just like the ones in the entrance hall, only more intimate. Women and kids frolicking in the countryside.

“It’s 18th Century,” says this butler-type guy who comes in from the foyer to make sure everything’s cool. So, that means these things are maybe 300 years old…and hanging on a bar wall? “When the hotel was completed in 1970,” the guy says, “it cost $14.5 million. It was the most expensive hotel ever built in the United States.”

I sit down at a table up against the wall, and when the barman, Ian, comes over, I ask him, “What’s the deal with happy hour?”

“Seven, seven, seven, sir,” he says. “Seven-dollar cocktails, seven dollars for appetizers, seven days a week.”

He leaves me a thick green book — the drinks and eats menu.

Hmm...they have quite a few of these seven-buck apps. Crispy popcorn shrimp with a citrusy ponzu sauce and smoked ancho chili dip; prawn cocktail; an Alaskan king crab cake with “crab bisque cappuccino, lemon-grass foam, saffron-vermouth sauce, and fennel purée.” Wow.

They also have beef, shrimp, and chicken satays with peanut sauce, three sirloin sliders, dim sum, a California cheese platter, and a “Spanish platter.”

Normally, each costs $15. Which means that for happy hour things are more than half off. Not bad.

For me, it’s between the sliders and the Spanish platter. Leaning toward the platter, ’cause it seems to have so much interesting stuff. “Serrano ham, cured pork loin, chorizo sarta, Pamplona morcilla sausage, and salchicha de vic,” plus a bowl of picholine olives.

Sounds way more interesting than sliders, though they do come with blue cheese and bacon, avo, and a couple of cheeses.

“And to drink, sir?” Ian asks.

I order an O’Douls ($4.50). Work day.

So, that’s $11.50 I’m out. Plus tax. Say another dollar, $12.50.

But, it’s worth it. For starters, Ian brings cutlery, a napkin, and a plateful of bread. Make that breads, all wrapped in a white linen napkin: two long spikes of crackling lavash bread, a rosemary roll, several slices of olive bread and sourdough, and a white bun. Rolled balls of butter sit in a silver dish. A white bowl holds dipping oil with garlic, dried tomatoes, and olives floating around in it.

I’m just starting to crunch into these when Ian brings over a white marble slab loaded with meats. I mean loaded. I do a quick body count. Six rows of different salami-type sausages, each with about ten slices…that’s 60 slices I’ve gotta get through. Plus a big wedge of cheese. All for seven bucks. Incredible.

Eighteenth-century French tapestries and gilded-frame mirrors hang on the walls.

Ian — he’s from Glasgow, Scotland, so it’s a pleasurable struggle trying to work out what the heck he’s saying — tells me what each row is. “Cured pork loin, Sangiovese, Calabrese, apple bacon, chorizo, and fennel. The big wads at the bottom are Parma ham.”

And the cheese?

“Manchego. From La Mancha. Same as Don Quixote.”

Turns out, they have musicians here on most nights for no extra charge or cover. None right now ’cause I’ve come too early. I’m sorry to miss it.

“Monday nights are packed,” Ian says. “We have a jazz pianist, sax, and bass. This little place rocks.”

All the while, he’s opening bottles of Argentine Malbec wine. “For selling by the glass. This is so they can breathe a little first.”

When I ask if he misses Glasgow, Ian says, “No way. People are so uptight there. I’m Catholic and supported the Celtics football team. People who weren’t Catholic wouldn’t even talk to you. I came from that to living 200 yards from the ocean with friendly, open people, and a chance to make something of myself. No contest! And in this hotel you have the best of both worlds. It’s like working in one of those old chateau hotels in France.”

Except you probably don’t get $7 happy hours over there.

I run out of space — gut space, that is. Hate to have to leave half of the danged sausages untouched, but I can’t bring myself to ask Ian to pack the uneaten ones to go. This being happy hour, and such an elegant, swellegant place and all. Heck. It could’ve kept Carla and me going for a week.

  • Happy Hour Prices: Everything on the “Signature Appetizers” is $7 during happy hour. These include: crispy popcorn shrimp with a citrusy ponzu sauce and smoked ancho chili dip; prawn cocktail; Alaskan king crab cake with crab bisque cappuccino, lemongrass foam, saffron-vermouth sauce, and fennel purée; beef, shrimp, and chicken satays with peanut sauce; three sirloin sliders; dim sum; California cheese platter; “Spanish platter”
  • Happy Hour: 5:00–7:00 p.m., daily
  • Buses: All downtown
  • Nearest Bus Stop: First and Broadway
  • Trolleys: Orange Line, Blue Line
  • Nearest Trolley Stop: Civic Center (Second and C)
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