Statue of Dempsey Holder, who surfed the Sloughs in 1937, guards The Plank.
24 Palm Avenue, Imperial Beach
“Hey,” says Kim. “How come they can serve meals inside here? They grandfathered in?”
“Make that ‘great-grandfathered,’” I say. I happen to know. This place has been in business since 1886, not that I was there for the grand opening.
“Wow. This bar?” says Kim.
Okay, it started off as a stable and a grocery store. “But history has nothing to do with it, dude,” I say. “We’re going in because of that.”
Manager Marty (left) with regulars Bob and Bill.
I’m pointing beyond a life-size sculpture of a surfer to the ocean that’s crashing in, accompanied by an onshore breeze.
“Oxygen, my friend. Doesn’t get more covid-free than here.”
I called ahead and the gal said yes, the inside’s open, and they do have hot food. Inside, pics of the two great “kings” — winter king tides that sent surges sluicing right through this building. In the ‘80s. “Now, we’ve built a seawall,” says Eric the barkeep. “We should be good for a few years.”
Besides the seawall and a sizable enclosed deck, the joint is also protected by the big statue of Dempsey Holder, the local hero who first conquered the big waves of the Tijuana Sloughs, way back in 1937.
So inside, tiki bar! With puffer fish and coconut faces, red and green navigation lights, flotation corks, scads of nets, and lots and lots of dollar bills tucked into the palapa. “At lockdown, March 16th, day before St. Paddy’s Day, we cleaned it out,” says this guy, the manager, Marty. “There was $2500 worth. We used it for a food drive, because people were really hurting back then.”
Old pilings protect wave-exposed entrance.
One puffer fish is lit up from the inside.
“Uh, keep your mask on, and you need to order some food before I can give you a drink,” says Eric.
“How do you manage to have inside eating?”
“I’ll show you,” lady named Esmeralda says. We walk up a couple of steps and into an enclosed but open(!) patio. Like an atrium. Enclosed, but with clear sky in the middle. Tables are strung around under the roofs. They have built curved, varnished wood booths. Some serious craft work’s been going on here, and it all looks fresh. At one end, there’s a kind of cupboard with doors ajar. The grill. Just fits.
“This is where the magic happens,” says Adrian. He’s the cook, a cheery, lanky guy in an O’Neill tee shirt and a Screwball Peanut Butter Whiskey face-scarf. Actually, the choice is pretty simple today: hot dog or burger. But unbelievable prices! Burger’s $4, hot dog, $2. Also, Marty says, in the mornings from 6-10, they have 25-cent coffees. “This is IB. Think of us as a Midwest town. We look after each other.”
Super-honest cheese burger, a steal at $4.
Usually, if you include daily specials, there’s more. Six wings cost $4, hot and spicy or honey BBQ. Smoked pork belly or brisket nachos, $5. Smoked chicken nachos, $5. Smoked shrimp nachos, $6. Or smoked sausage bacon wrap, $3. BBQ chicken (or pork) on a skewer with pancit (noodles) and rice and 3 pieces of lumpia (spring rolls) cost $10. Adobo (marinated) chicken, same sides, $10. A bacon-wrapped hot dog is $4, and Ye Plank Fries (with a pork or chicken BBQ skewer, “smothered in cheese on top of fries”) is $9. The Friday Special, BBQ ribs with potato salad, BBQ beans, and roll, goes for $10. Also on Friday, chicken or pulled pork sliders are $6. The Monday Special is charbroiled burger (and you can see Adrian charbroiling those pink patties right now) $6 with fries. Tuesdays are tacos, of course ($3).
Every day you can get nachos for $4, with chili for $6, or their “famous chili with cornbread,” $6.
Kim’s getting twitchy. Can’t tell if it’s for lunch, or a cerveza. We both go for a $4 cheeseburger. “Limited menu right now,” says Adrian. “Never sure when they’re going to shut us down. Look what happened in LA.”
Still, he takes a lot of trouble. Nice fresh lettuce, and his slices of tomato are generous. He lays two squares of cheese over each sizzling patty. The stiff cheese relaxes all over the meat, then starts oozing down, bubbling, even. No fries. Packs of Heinz mustard, Hunt’s ketchup. That’s it.
But now we can go get our beers. Kim goes for AleSmith’s Tony Gwinn honorific, .394 Pale Ale. Costs $6. I’m trying the Elysian Space Dust, the one with the hoppy-looking green planet spurting, well, space dust ($7.50).
“Cash only,” say a whole bunch of signs. But they do have an ATM. We head out to the patio. To the corner seat. Because you can see the ocean and the sunset from there. Maybe it’s the salt air: the burger is dee-lish. The patty has got some luscious sort of marinade, I swear. Lettuce nice and crunchy, tomato fresh-cut, what’s not to like? And just to think: back in the day, this’d be the stable. We’d be surrounded by the horses they kept to tow logs from the sloughs when the sloughs were bog forest.
As the sun hits the ocean and flares under the clouds, the statue gets a life of its own.
“That’s your famous pioneer surfer,” says this guy over at the next table. Bill. From Canada. Snowbird. Comes every year. Sitting with Bob. Local. “I’m here several times a day, from coffee on,” says Bill. “Feels aboat like home.”
- The Place: Ye Olde Plank, 24 Palm Avenue (at Seacoast Drive), Imperial Beach, 619-423-5976
- Hours: 10am-10pm daily (coffee from 6am)
- Prices: Morning coffee, 25 cents; cheeseburger, $4; hot dog, $2; six wings, $4 (hot and spicy or honey BBQ); smoked pork belly or brisket nachos, $5; smoked chicken nachos, $5; smoked shrimp nachos, $6; smoked sausage bacon wrap, $3; BBQ chicken (or pork) on a skewer with pancit (noodles) and rice and 3 pieces of lumpia (spring rolls), $10; adobo (marinated) chicken, same sides, $10; bacon-wrapped hot dog, $4; Ye Plank Fries (with pork or chicken BBQ skewer, “smothered in cheese”), $9; Friday Special BBQ ribs, potato salad, BBQ beans, roll, $10; chicken or pulled pork sliders are $6 (Fridays); Tuesday tacos, $3; nachos, $4; nachos with chili, $6; chili with cornbread, $6
- Buses: 33, 34
- Nearest Bus Stops: Palm and Seacoast