Omni Hotel, 675 L Street, Downtown San Diego
"See?" says Hank. The black spiked shoes stand there behind thick glass, inset into the wall.
"Joe DiMaggio, New York Yankees 1941. These are the actual spikes that were worn during his 56-game hitting streak," says the plaque below.
"Can you believe it?" Hank says. "The Yankee Clipper's shoes."
"Great," I say. I look around at the marble walls and leather chairs. "Can we go now?"
It's nearly six. Hank's just hauled us into the lobby of the Omni hotel, down by the ballpark.
"Go? My good man, we've come here to eat."
"Are you out to lunch? Us? Here?"
"Trust me. You pay the drinks, I pay the food. Deal?"
What's wrong with this picture? Here we are in the palace built for millionaire Padres players and their rich groupies. Through the door to the restaurant, I see split-level, curved walls, blond wood, brushed steel, timber floors, fancy stairs, U-shaped bar...I mean, come on.
Still, I'm a sucker for a "trust me" offer like this, if only to find out from which direction the sucker punch is gonna come.
"Okay, I'm crazy too," I tell Hank. "Let's do it."
We walk into the restaurant, McCormick & Schmick's. We sit at the bar. Rich, red, teaky polished wood. Dave, the barman, comes up.
Hank looks to me.
"Uh, beer," I say. "Draft?"
Dave reels off a bunch of fancy names. I don't hear Bud. I don't hear Pabst Blue Ribbon. So I settle on that Escondido brewery's Stone IPA. Hank orders a bottled water. Sounds innocent enough. Pellegrino.
'Course I don't ask the price. What's the point? I can't afford it anyway.
"See anyone you know?" says Hank. The joker.
This is bizman schmoozeland. A guy farther down the bar says to his buddy, "The day he sold it, he became the ninth richest man in the country. Next year we're projected at $200 million..."
Sigh. I look at Hank.
"Your move," I say.
Hank signals Dave.
"The, uh, $1.95 happy hour menu, please."
"Comin' right up," Dave says. He hauls out a sheet of green paper.
My giddy aunt. At the top of the page, guess what it says? "$1.95 Happy Hour Menu, Monday thru Friday 4:00 p.m.--6:30 p.m."
"What's the catch?" I say. But there's plenty to eat, and not just wimpy snacks. Like, "Half-pound cheeseburger served with French fries, tomato, onion, and a pickle."
Half-pound? Buck ninety-five? Here?
They also have steamed mussels in white wine and garlic, buffalo wings, potato skins, breaded zucchini, an "imported international cheese plate" -- ten dishes in all.
"Gimme the chicken satay," Hank says to Dave, "and the California rolls and the fish cakes."
Okay. Three plates for him, three for me.
"Cheeseburger," I say, "mussels, and the cheese plate."
What I like is how Dave doesn't seem to mind us pushing the envelope here. He has to know we're not going to be ordering Pisco Sours or -- whoa! -- a $14.00 glass of Kendall Jackson Cab-Sauv. But he's cheerful about the whole thing.
"We do this happy hour everywhere," he says. "We started in Portland, Oregon. Now we have 86 restaurants around the country. I guess it works."
And, wouldn't you know it, soon I'm ordering another Stone IPA. Even though I found out it's $4.41, plus tax. Hank's fancy water was $4.00. This time he orders an iced tea ($3.75, but you get refills).
Soon we're heads down into the chow. Oh God, it's good. For starters, you get cloth napkins, heavy flatware, muy elegante china. And yes, the burger's real. A half-pounder, with a nice clump of chunky fries. Hank lets me in on one each of his two fish cakes (with a delicious aioli sauce), the five chicken satay (arranged like a star, with spicy peanut sauce and arty swirls of soy all over the plate), plus four plump California rolls, with pink ginger and green wasabi, on their own square white dish.
I give him half the burger and fries in return, plus bits of the cheeses and mussels.
It's a lot of food. Those "international cheeses" are four logs of pepperjack and multiple slices of what Dave says is Swiss but Hank swears is Gouda. Whatever, they go well with the graham crackers.
A manager, Fernando, comes around checking customer satisfaction. Have to ask him if John Moores, the Padres' owner, still has the penthouse upstairs. "Oh yes," he says, "he comes down all the time for breakfast, in his own special booth."
The mussel bowl becomes a battleground, they're so darned delish. I get a spoon, just so I can slurp up the broth.
I mean, as Hank later says, not everything was out of this world, flavor-wise -- the burger, for instance, was a wee bit dry -- but the whole deal is nice, fresh, elegant, clubby, friendly, and hey, did I mention $1.95?
In the end, for our four drinks I pay out maybe 17 bucks. Foodwise, Hank owes about 16, for -- wow! Did we eat all that? -- eight dishes. Oh yeah. I couldn't help ordering the plate of three potato skins with cheese and bacon and sour cream, and Hank went and got the buffalo wings, eight of them, with a blue-cheese dressing. Now, if we'd been frugal we could have just nursed a Coke ($2.75) and stuck with the burgers. Five bucks each. Somehow, though, as we walk out past Joe DiMaggio's shoes, I feel positively uplifted. It was such a deal.
"Was that a home run or what?" says Hank.
"Out of the park, old buddy. Out of the park."