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Dragon’s Blood Sangria at Laurel

Dragon’s Blood Sangria at Laurel

  • 12 oz. red wine-3 oz. brandy
  • 2 oz. triple sec
  • 2 oz. orange juice
  • 2 oz. pineapple juice
  • 1 oz. simple syrup
  • 1/2 oz. anisette
  • Top with 2 oz. Sprite and garnish with fresh fruit

Yields one carafe.

For all the wannabe swank spots in San Diego — midcentury rehabs downtown, original upholstery along El Cajon Boulevard — when I want anachronism, I push my tush onto a sleek, white leather bar stool at Laurel. From my perch, I imagine Swinging London, Paris hip-chic, underground New York…and early-’60s suits.

When I met Angela at Fifth and Laurel last summer, she had to drag me out of my daze over the decor — the houndstooth dining chairs, the arabesque black-and-white florals, but especially: those chartreuse banquettes! That silken fabric! “Can’t you just see it?” I shriek. “A fabulous suit!” Below-the-knee, butt-hugging pencil skirt topped with a short, boxy, double-breasted jacket with poker-chip-sized buttons. Something Bobbie Barrett would wear on TV’s Mad Men. You know Don Draper and Roger Sterling would haunt this place for a late lunch running right into dinner. Imagine them at the top of the stairs.

Which is where I found myself surveying the bar below. Get ready to make an entrance, everyone; ladies with legs, this is your moment. Descending four sweeping steps, then a sharp left down a few more (grab that wrought-iron railing) sinks you below street level. The elegant bar crafts a long C, leaving plenty of room for chatting couples, corner-seated regulars, and foursomes along the side. Once seated, you’re strategically set to watch anyone off the sidewalk become someone on those stairs. While taking them in, they’ll take in Laurel. Then you’ll swivel back around to survey the list for “Seven before Seven.”

That’s seven days a week, seven appetizers, seven cocktails (including red and white wine), for $7 each until 7:00 p.m. From Thursday through Sunday, you’re smart to secure your spot at 5:30; by 6:00 the bar’s packed — after-work crowd, pre-theater set, first-daters.

Capping off this picture might call for a Martini — or in these post–Sex and the City days, Laurel’s Sparkling Cosmo (Chambord, champagne, Skyy vodka) — but I resist predictability’s pull and settle for Dragon’s Blood Sangria. It’s my current sweet drink of choice. Laurel’s version of this traditional Spanish summertime wine “punch” adds Calvados brandy and ruby port to its red wine, along with citrus-flavored soda and chunks of fruit. It’s more than a step beyond spritzer — it’s a bolero…or a fandango. Deep and rich and luscious, yet light on its feet, with plenty of kick.

A recent winter visit left a licorice chase to first taste, much mellower than my initial encounter. Did something change? “Depending on the season, it varies slightly,” says general manager Ben Kephart, an under-30-year-old soul with the gestures of a gentleman and a comic’s timing. “When it’s a bit chilly outside, you’ll notice a fuller-bodied version, to warm the heart…” It was anisette! “…and a nice, crisp, refreshing version during warmer times and summer months.”

“It reminds me of the Tinto de Verano [red wine of summer] I had in Spain,” Angela explains. “Spaniards drink it like water.” Though Laurel’s Sangria is more complex, it’s no less popular.

Promise me you won’t let the upscale crowd stop you. For a tony spot, Laurel’s bar during 7b47 (ez 2 txt), with its mix of affordable appetizers, lively conversation, and inventive libations, starts out approachable and ends up downright chat-with-your-neighbors. Expect seniors with scene-sters, sophisticated palates and post-shift servers, early clubbers and late diners. Here, the real world is most welcome, fitting in well with the room’s whimsy.

In recent years I’ve heard great things about the “new” Laurel, reinterpreted in 2005 by Tracy Borkum (Chive, Kensington Grill), who modernized the restaurant’s look and its cuisine (less France; more Italy, Spain, and California). But traces of the “old” Laurel linger like Chanel No. 5, and her heritage shows (Miró motifs, Gallic touches on the menu), most audibly on the website: one click conjures up mid-’50s Paris with piano vamp and saucy French vocalist. Smart with a frivolous streak, worldly-wise but playful, she’s long known how to dress, how to dine, and how to drink.

Grab that seat next to hers. She’s only got a few hours.

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