2241 Shelter Island Drive, Shelter Island
"I'm in a phone booth baby. Your number's scratched up on the wall. I'm new here in San Diego. Ain't got no-one else to call..."
It's that Robert Cray song, "Phone Booth." Boy. Christian Hastings Band. Bluesy, tight, loud, just right for this moonlight night. Beyond Christian Hastings himself, who's doing the singing, you can look down to the moon-gilded waters of La Playa, here in Point Loma.
And when the drummer, David Eley, starts racking out a long, crazy-inventive series of solo explosions, he has me holding my fork-load of salad quivering in mid-air.
"Damn, they're good," says Ken. He's sitting next to me at the bar, munching on the happy hour dish I really wanted: ginger honey-marinated skirt steak. Oh man, it looks succulent. Angle-sliced strips of steak, with a green-skinned cucumber shiitake mushroom slaw, plus grapes, scallions and dried ginger. The pink stuff fluffing around the meat slices is the fried ginger.
And for all this? He paid six bucks.
My lucky night. I was scurrying east, trying to make it to the #28 bus before it took off, when I noticed these massive Hawaiian, like, prow timbers arching up from the entrance to Humphrey's.
But what I really noticed was the sign. "Happy Hour, 4:00-7:00."
Lord. Right now it's two to seven. In a New York minute I'm up the bubble-lit steps and asking the receptionista if food's part of the HH.
"Absolutely. But you need to hurry," she says.
So I kinda hustle through the crowds, skirt this dance floor, notice band guys onstage setting up mics and going "Test, one two. Test, one two...", and finally hoist myself aboard this last spare stool at the bar.
"Still in happy hour?" I ask the bartender Kayla, as soon as she comes up. She checks the time. "Better order pretty soon," she says, and leaves me with a menu book.
When she comes back she has the plate of skirt steak for Ken. Looks so delicious. And they have other HH items that sound good, like the Meyer Ranch cheeseburger with fries ($6), or the six jumbo buffalo wings ($6), or the ginger-soy chicken lettuce wraps ($6.50).
Gal to my left, Pauline, is toying with the last of her quesadilla ($6.50), and the guy with her, Bill, isn't really finishing his plate of basil hummus and pita bread ($4). "Little too much flavor, curry, think it is," he says, when I ask.
"Quesadilla? Okay, if you like spicy," says Pauline. "I like garlic flavor better."
"Happy hour food items can NOT be taken to-go," says the HH menu.
But Ken's a happy camper with his skirt steak.
"Beautiful, ginger flavor," he says.
"D'agh...oh, gimme the salad. And a Stone IPA," I say to Kayla. Just noticed the "chopped Greek salad ($5.50)," that promises "kalamata olives, tomatoes, feta, cucumbers, romaine, red onion, garlic, toasted garlic-oregano dressing."
Sigh. Trying to stick with the salad diet, lose weight right now. Even though — news flash! — weighed myself this mawnin' and not an ounce of difference, after a whole week nibbling on nuts and twigs. Okay. Have had a few brewskis, like this Stone IPA. But still, should have lost something. Whatever, determined to hang in there.
This is when conversation kinda ends, 'cause the band's starting up. Man. Boom! They're good. I can't believe my luck.
The salad's pretty good, too. Basically just a mess of chopped lettuce with red onions snaking around, and tomato chunks adding color, and a crown of white feta cheese chunks on top. I ask Kayla if they have any bread.
"It costs $5," she says. Yikes. No way. Still, the salad's fine. And so is that IPA.
Ken seems more interested in Pauline than the band. "Swear I know her," he says. Finally, between numbers, he goes over and talks. Comes back.
"I knew it. I gave her a ride home four years ago," he says. "She doesn't remember. But she still looks great."
I'd love to stay, hear these Christian Hastings guys out. But the #28 buses get rarer as the night goes on. I pay up. Three dollars for the Stone IPA (a Bud would've been $2), and $5.50 for my Greek salad. It comes to $8.50 plus tax ($9.18 with tax). I mean, what a deal. For under a Hamilton I've scored a salad, an IPA, a way-cool bar crowd, views of moonlight on the water, this terrific band, a dance floor to dance on (and quite a few are), and no cover charge.
I know. Humphrey's has been around forever. Carla and I jes' never have come. Thought it would be way too expensive. Which, normally, it is. Except for this beautiful musical happy hour.
Out in the cold moonlight my feet are still jigging, my head's still going "I'm in a phone booth baby..." Never underestimate the power of happy hour.