Tri-tip sandwich
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Tivoli Bar & Grill

505 Sixth Avenue, Downtown San Diego

They're smoking, upstairs above the Tivoli Bar.

Smoking tri-tip, that is. JJ and Ashley, his wife. They're the new proprietors of the grill at the far end of the ancient bar, the one with the counter that bounced around Cape Horn, stowed aboard a square rigger, and yes, the one Mr. W. Earp leaned on, with his wife Josie too. Because this place is old. I mean Stingaree old, 1865 old.

Tivoli corner entrance

But I'm drinking a new beer. From Vermont. It was the crazy wrought-iron-and-rusty-springs draft handle that tickled my fancy. Magic Hat #9, from the Magic Hat Brewing Company in Burlington. Kinda apricot beer ($5.50). Dunno. Maybe I'm too far gone on the San Diego hoppy thing. The Magic Hat is so danged sweet and perfumy for my tastes. But... nice try.

Magic Hat #9

Besides, I'm here just because I like the old place, and its old honky-tonk name, "Tivoli." Name's easy to remember because it's "I Lov It" backwards.

Anyways, good garlicky smells coming from the grill. And a whole bunch of people sitting on stools down at that end munching away.

So I haul my #9 over there. Notice new signs up. "JJ's @ The Tivoli, specializing in barbequed meats..."


Menu propped up on the bar lists things like the Tivoli Burger, third of a pound patty with pepper jack, bacon, sweet onion slaw, other good stuff, $9. Their Romero Dog ($8) has bacon, cheddar, jalapeños, mustard and fries. Sounds pretty awesome.

And their pulled pork sandwich ($8), with pickles, chutney, BBQ sauce and a side of macaroni is tempting. They also have cheaper deals like chicken tenders ($6), nachos ($5), or just a plate of French fries to fill out the liquid lunch for $3.

Guy next to me, retired Army guy, has what looks like a huge swag of meat wrapped in a lettuce. "The burger," he says. "Really good, and no carbs. This is the Atkins diet in action!"

But I go for the tri-tip sandwich ($9) with the sweet onion slaw, pickle, lettuce, mustard, and macaroni salad, because the man himself, JJ, says he and Ashley smoke this good stuff upstairs on the smoker, with their own secret rub. Mesquite's important too. "But it's sweet, Memphis style, with a bit of Kansas City BBQ sauce flavors thrown in," he says.

JJ cooks up for customers

I'm a total rube when it comes to rubs, but it sounds interesting. Plus JJ tells me he makes his own pickles.

And guess what? Those pickles turn out to be the stars of the day. They're spicy and garlicky and crunchy, as only fresh pickled cucumbers can be. Man! What a difference.

If I had more cash I'd get a stash, or at least a jar ($6, with 50 cents back when you return the jar). "I chop up about 40lbs of cucumbers every week," JJ says. "I can't make enough of them."

And they contrast beautifully with this this tri-tip roast beef sammich. Love that sweet thing going on with the onion slaw. And meat's good and tender. Well, I guess at nine bucks, it oughta be.

I raise my glass of Vermont's Best to Wyatt, and his sexy wife Josie. Swear I see them wink.

As they say around here: I lov it.

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