"Talk low, talk slow, and don't say too much, pilgrim."
6519 Mission Gorge Road, San Diego
John Wayne’s tombstone reads: “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”
More than just timeless American acumen, the epitaph also appears to serve as an unspoken motto for the near-half-century-old Longhorn Cafe and Saloon in Grantville, which opened in 1968 under the original proprietor of Pal Joey’s, located up the street in Del Cerro.
When current owners Paul and Betty Anne Bernhardt bought the bar and family restaurant with friend Toby Taki about two years ago, regulars asked them two questions: “You’re not getting rid of the John Wayne room are you?” And, “When are you getting rid of the John Wayne room?”
Learning from Longhorn’s many yesterdays, the new owners chose to keep the room (why else would you be drinking in a Mission Valley strip mall?) in the condition they found it: spackled with hundreds of John Wayne plates, photographs, movie posters, life-size cutouts, magazine covers, and assorted memorabilia brought in by regulars over the past 45 years.
Now, the place feels like an orgone chamber, conducting machismo and static that makes men speak in a deeper register as they nod and sip whiskey and occasionally laugh. You can almost hear the Duke whisper in your ear: “Talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much, pilgrim.” After a few happy-hour cocktails or pints from Longhorn’s eight standard taps, you’d do well to heed the advice. After all, if your experience is anything like mine, the Duke’ll go on to suggest that perhaps you could happily pass the rest of your tomorrows sitting here, tossing back slow drinks, letting your vision go long on the receding horizon — that all-American frontier that the Duke, though reputedly drunk by noon daily, now seems to reassure you he never lost sight of, pilgrim.
Longhorn prides itself on its burgers, but I suggest the turkey Reuben on rye ($7.75) with a side of homemade coleslaw and a bloody Mary ($3.75) if you accidentally find yourself a regular. You wouldn’t be the only one.
“We have second- and third-generation people coming in,” says Paul. “You’ll have three generations playing on the pool table.”
And the Duke booms, sloshed, from his shrine: “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”
Attire: Cowboy casual
Prices: drafts, $3.50–$4.75; wells, $3.50
Hours: Sun–Thurs, 11–10; FRI, 11–11; SaT, 9–10
Happy: Mon–Fri, 4 to 7 p.m. Bud/BUD light, $2.75; select appetizers, $5
Max cap: 140