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Last night I did the unthinkable: I walked into Dobson’s. That’s the downtown magnet for the power elite.

Actually, was just hanging around for a bus. I recognized Paul Dobson, the bullfighter-owner, talking outside. I thought, what the heck. As long as they have a happy hour, I might be able to handle it.

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Paul Dobson

This was around five. They did.

I took a big breath and walked through the hallowed doors into this varnished wood, clubby place. Discrete kitchen at back. Alex, a big, friendly guy, ruled his bar. Found myself a spot, ears burning, trying to figure out who’s a judge, who’s a pol from City Hall… . And, yes. A happy hour menu. Half a dozen items from $8, up to $12, $13. Things like burgers, crab, lamb chops…I glommed straight onto the first one: Dobson’s mussel bisque en croûte, $8. Cheapest on the list, plus anything mussel gets my vote. And I ordered the beer deal, Red Trolley draft for $2.

What a ceremony: white cloth napkin laid out on the bar, cloth-napkin-wrapped flatware, a great chunk of beautiful crunchy bread, butter, that beer, and this neighbor Jim, a lawyer who’s willing to talk to a stranger and make him feel at home. Talk about the deer and wild turkey he sees every day on his way to work from Julian. A feller could start to feel like a real gent in here.

But the star, oh man, was the mussel bisque. Michael, from the kitchen, brought this kind of giant cup on a plate with golden pastry splurging over it and a dip in the middle. Then he produced a large bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry with a long pourer attached. OMG. He pours!

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Michael tips a long, ibis-beaked pourer, and sends down a dollop of the golden stuff into the soup.

The taste: creamy, dreamy, winey. The soup’s loaded with mussels. Damn, it was good. Guess I should have had wine with it, but Trolley was the deal.

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What $10 buys

I even got to talk to the great Dobson himself. Really nice guy. Says he found the recipe for this in Normandy, France, when he was touring in a VW Vanagon with his wife. Wild and stormy day. Lingered over lunch, met the chef, spent the rest of the day talking, brought this recipe home.

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Also turns out his place has a helluva history. Been a bar since the Spreckels building opened, 98 years ago. This actual mahogany counter top was shipped around the horn back around 1913.

’Course I miss my bus, and the next. But for ten bucks, it's been a good ride.

Happy hour’s 4 to 7 p.m.

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