The new name for an old institution
  • The new name for an old institution
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1887 on the Bay

1701 Strand Way, Coronado

Baaarp! There goes the ten-minute horn blast.

Just beyond the Boathouse, mighty yachts cut and weave incredibly close to each other. They’re trying to get in position to cross that start line right on the gun.

Man. I arrived just in time.

Sitting up at the bar in what they call the “Crew Lounge,” upstairs.

Looks out right over the waters of Glorietta Bay, south of Coronado.

We’re at “1887 on the Bay.” Used to be the Coronado Boathouse. Before that, for 31 years, it was the Chart House. And really far back in the day, like, 1887, pre–Hotel Del, this building was an actual boathouse for folks to store their dinghies and sails and rigging.

Through a glass lightly: View from the upstairs bar as the yacht race begins

Through a glass lightly: View from the upstairs bar as the yacht race begins

When I heard they’d changed not just the name again but also the menu and the chef, I was interested. Being here today with Carla — Diane’s doing her hair — opportunity knocks.

I wander down the hill to Glorietta Bay, where the boathouse rises out of the water like some Japanese pavilion. It’s 5:00, happy hour. Should wait for Carla. But this is too good to pass up.

It’s a beautiful old building. Has a widow’s walk around the center tower. They say that Elisha Babcock built the place (in 1886) as a training exercise for all the workers he was hiring to put up the Hotel Del Coronado the following year.

Tide’s high, I notice. Comes to within a foot of the deck.

“Upstairs, sir,” says the hostess when I ask about happy hour. “In the Crew’s Lounge.”

There’s quite a crowd clustered around the small happy-hour bar. The counter reaches right to the dormer window. Right below us, those crazy yachts are swooping and backing and filling in Glorietta Bay.

“What’s happening?” I ask the bartender, Sean.

“Beer Can race,” he says. “Their start happens right when our happy hour ends, at 6:00.”

Oh, Lord. That means I need to act now. I grab a bar chair and reach for the little happy-hour menu. Hmm…

Selection ain’t huge: soup (today’s is asparagus, $5), two oyster shooters ($4), six oysters on the half shell ($9), Caesar salad ($5), roasted artichokes ($5), wings ($8), ribs ($8).

The asparagus soup

The asparagus soup

The two tempters are the wings and the ribs. “Rice Crispy Lolli Pop wings” come with a spicy glaze and “Point Reyes Bleu” cheese. But I go for the ribs because they sound like they’d fill you up more. They come with this relish of pineapple chunks, red peppers, red-cabbage strips, red onion, and other stuff.

Also, grog: cocktails are $7, house wines are $5, and beers start at $3.50 for a Coors Light and top out at $5 for Green Flash IPA. I order a Ballast Point Amber for the $4 happy-hour price. Not bad, either. Fresh. Nutty.

The ribs? “Huli huli style beef short ribs,” the menu says, “with grilled pineapple relish.”

“Huli huli”? Means “Turn-turn.” It’s the Hawaiian word for rotisserie. And for flavors that usually involve ginger and soy.

The ribs look small at first on their big white plate, but then I realize that these are cow-size ribs that have been sliced, buzz-cut across the grain so you nibble the meat around the edges of each disk. But the main thing is the pineapple relish. And with the ginger, soy, and garlic, it’s a luscious combo.

What the heck — I order the soup of the day, too. Asparagus, with goat-cheese crumbles on top. Smallish silver chalice of it, but big, generous, creamy flavor. I ask Sean for some bread. He brings it out all fresh and warm, free of charge.

“We get a lot of famous people stopping by,” he says. “Stevie Wonder, Richard Dreyfuss, the Breaking Bad crew. They all come over from the Del.”

Plus, this building was in Some Like It Hot. Marilyn probably ate here. And, get this: four children of the first boathouse-keeper, James Dunne, were born in this upstairs room I’m chowing in.

Something else was born in this room: Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Back in 1903, this guy William Ritter set up a lab right here for his students to analyze all the sea life he had them exploring.

Of course, in 1903, this boathouse was parked 80 feet out in Glorietta Bay, with a dock walkway from Tent City (which is where it is now). Vacationers would camp here right through summer. Along with entertainers. Ritter and his students would have to put up with the racket of concerts, dances, magicians, and ventriloquists every night. No wonder Scripps moved to La Jolla.

In the end, I go a little crazy, too. I see this menu item, “Lilikoi cheesecake with passion-fruit sauce.” Seems the new chef took a lot of inspiration from Hawaii.

The lilikoi cheesecake with passion-fruit sauce

The lilikoi cheesecake with passion-fruit sauce

Ooh. Golden topping on the cheesecake. Passion-fruit flavor. Problem is, happy hour’s over, and the regular price is $8. But the setting sun is shining golden through the dormer — clear through the little candy sculpture on top of the cheesecake.

Gotta have this.

I take it. Mouth-melting. That tart touch from the passion fruit (“lilikoi”) brings it all to life. Now I’m really full.

Feels like coming off a ship when you leave. Returning to real life. Responsibilities…

OMG. Carla. I’ve just spent 30 of our hard-earned bucks. Naturally, she’ll want to try it when I tell her. Except I’m full, and the wallet’s empty, and it ain’t happy hour no mo’. We’re back in the land of $35 steaks.

“I’ll forgive you everything,” says Carla, “except the passion-fruit cheesecake. How could you!? I must have a piece of that now or, or…”

Back upstairs, as Carla scoops into her cheesecake, lights twinkle across the waters outside. She sighs happily. “We are coming back, Ed? For a proper meal?”

“Of course,” I say. Then I say, “For a proper, uh, happy-hour meal.”

  • Happy Hour Prices: soup (asparagus), $5; two oyster shooters, $4; six oysters on the half shell, $9; Caesar salad, $5; roasted artichokes, $5; Rice Crispy Lolli Pop wings with blue cheese, $8; huli huli ribs, $8; regular items more expensive
  • Happy Hour: 3:00–6:00 p.m., Monday–Friday; regular dining room 5:00–10:00 p.m. daily
  • Buses: 901, 904
  • Nearest Bus Stop: Strand Way, directly outside
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