Walter Mencken 1 p.m., May 1
New happy hour for downtown's oldest coffeehouse
Café Lulu reaches out beyond the late night hookah crowd
"Oh heck," say Sean. "Let's make it two dollars off everything in the menu."
He's planning happy hour specials for Café Lulu (419 F Street, downtown, 619-238-0114). I popped in to see if they even had a happy hour. Turns out this very moment he's planning it with his staff. They've been renovating here at what he swears is downtown's oldest coffee house.
They have always done well late-nite with the hookah crowd and people coming from bars who want to slow down, have coffee and conversation before they go home. Can't tell you how many times Carla and I have used them for just that.
"But we need more daytime customers," says Sean. "So let's not just make it $2 off appetizers like hummus. Just make it for everything."
He's redoing the menu too so I'm guessing at prices. But probably hummus will be around $5, garlic fries $2, cheese plate $8, Falafel $6, doner chicken around $7. And the good news on drink: wine $5, and all beers, like Stone IPA and not just Buds, $3.
The other good thing here: happy hour is from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. seven days a week.
There's only one thing missing: all the Russian girls who ran this place.
Talking about Victoria, Nathalia, Nathalia, Nathalia (yes, there were three of them) who gave this place a smoky, exotic atmosphere. Something about the Russian accents turns me on. And man, those gals worked hard.
"Gone, every one of them," Sean says.
The Nathalias all went back to Russia and married. Victoria joined an accounting firm here.
"I called them my babushkas," says Sean.
I've just bought a coffee (not the cheapest at $3.50 for the basic, an Americano) but what I like most, apart from the fact that it tastes good, is it's organic. And it's in a big hand-warming china cup with a nice chunk of chocolate in the saucer.
Erk. Except no chocolate tonight.
"They just stopped making them," says Sean. "But we have these."
Alright. He brings a bunch of chocolate buttons. Honor satisfied.
But what's this about "oldest coffeehouse in downtown"? Wasn't the original Bassam's (now up on Banker's Hill at 3088 5th Avenue, but originally down in the Gaslamp) the "first real coffee house in California, since 1991," as it claims?
"Well Café Lulu has been here for going on 24 years. Since 1990," Sean says. "Not me. It was an Italian couple. The wife's name was Lulu. This was the place. I used to come here myself. Because back then there was nothing else, late-night, where you could come, here downtown, have a coffee and a dessert and make a nice end to the evening with your date."
Lulu and her husband returned to Italy. Sean bought Café Lulu in 2005. "They already had hookah pipes going here then. I didn't want to change that. Or the name. People wanted me to change it to something more hip. But no way. The name is the place."
Have to agree. Guess I'll have to come back when this happy hour is up and running.