World-class throwback that hasn’t changed since the JFK administration
1201 Hotel Circle South, San Diego
It doesn’t look like much, the windowless portico brooding in the glow of a Hotel Circle Travelodge. However, behind a red door next to the lobby lies a world-class throwback that shows little indication of having changed since the JFK administration. The median age hovers somewhere around the temperature of an Indian-summer afternoon, but make no mistake: this isn’t your sundry Denny’s senior set. These folks have class.
A group seated around the piano bar sips cocktails while the piano man (Tuesday through Saturday evenings) plays “Girl From Ipanema” by request. Others gather in confidential Naugahyde booths, eating house-cut prime rib and complimentary hors d’oeuvres. Fred, who has been behind the bar for nearly a quarter century, wears a semi-formal evening suit as he pours Manhattans and pops bottle tops. The beer selection itself couldn’t be more mundane, but the wine list offers plenty of West Coast vintages and, really, this is a cocktail lounge, and ordering anything but a double is selling the experience short.
Did I mention the naked ladies? Yeah, they got those. No doubt Albie’s most infamous calling card, the numerous nude figure paintings, sensuously illuminated on wood-panel walls, were donated by Vincent, a friend of the lounge’s original owners. A busty brunette in many of the finely crafted oil portraits could be the same woman, but a couple who seems like they’ve been around long enough to know things tells me that the models include the artist’s wife and a number of her al fresco friends.
I ask the couple how long they’ve been coming to Albie’s Beef Inn together. They claim to be “just friends” from the homeowners’ association, which is a fine smokescreen for a forbidden tryst. But a place like this, with its rousing decor and a name that sounds like a Louisiana swamp brothel, is 24 karats for golden girl rendezvous.
Whatever the case, Albie’s and the neighboring Adams Steak ‘n Eggs — both owned by the Samouras family — are indisputable strongholds for the chronologically proven, and something about Fred’s patriarchal air tells me they’d like to keep it that way. This isn’t to say that the less subtle generation isn’t welcome, because you won’t find a friendlier bunch to booze with; just don’t bring your jerk 21-year-old cousin out for birthday shots. Better, invite your urbane aunt to toss back martinis and sing Gilberto tunes at the ivories.
- Prices: Cocktails, $5–10
- Attire: Sassy spinster
- Hours: Lunch, Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m.; Dinner, Mon.–Tues., 5 p.m.–10 p.m., Wed.–Sat., 5 p.m.–11 p.m.; closed Sunday
- Happy Hour: Mon.–Fri., 4–7 p.m.; double wells and complimentary hors d’oeuvres
- Capacity: about 100
- The Deal: $5.75 double wells during happy hour
- Cards: Yes