4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Toasting Cap’n Keno’s

The smell of a place like this lowers my pulse

Cash only, with prices out of the past.
Cash only, with prices out of the past.

When I worked in North County some years ago, I would regularly drive by Cap’n Keno’s on the 101 and admire it, in the same way I would admire Leucadia’s Log Cabin Apartments or the old yellow railway station that houses the Pannikin. Like all of these, Keno’s is a survivor of a cozier, more innocent, more wonderful time in the midst of mostly boring new development. I would wonder what the place was like — with its friendly maritime sign with a pipe-smoking captain and parrot below a homey shake roof, with its $2.99 meal specials advertised outside — but I never went inside until last week, when I had some extra time before going to the Fairgrounds to see the Beyond Van Gogh exhibit.

Sponsored
Sponsored
The smell of a place like this lowers my pulse.

Around 6:45, I open the door with its “Cash Only” sign and step inside from the chilly coastal night onto the well-trodden burgundy carpet, breathing in the reassuring alcohol-infused aroma of the place. I’ve never been here before, but the smell of a place like this lowers my pulse. It feels instantly familiar. The Christmas lights and ornaments are still up. The FM radio plays mellow hits from the ‘80s and ‘90s. College basketball plays on a TV over the bar next to signs — two of them — requesting no profanity. Silverware clinks on plates filled with ribs, steaks, burgers, baked potatos, and fried fish. When I ask for a menu myself, the giant of a bartender kindly says, “We’re old school here; you can order right over there at the counter,” and points me through a dining room in the direction of a cafeteria-style register in front of a window to the kitchen. All the food, which they will bring to my seat at the bar, has the strange, time-travel-like low prices alluded to earlier. There is a claw machine near some arcade games. An old snack machine has been cleared out and repurposed as a display case for the kind of cute miniature buildings that people bring out around the holidays. From my seat at the bar, I can appreciate the plush red booths and the log wall along the back of the building. I listen to a guy tell his friend that he looks old (“Im tired, man”), and to another guy telling the bartender that he just had a promising interview for work. A lady pays for her White Russian and adds an extra tip for the big bartender — a little bag of jellybeans.

Keno’s has been written about before — in this paper and in numerous others — and is acknowledged fondly by many locals and regulars. The story of its origins many decades ago, its previous incarnations as two other restaurants, and its 1970 purchase by current owner Gerry Sova has also been told. But I want to raise one more glass to this place, especially because it may not be here for many more years to come after its recent purchase, along with the property of its neighbor, the defunct Portofino Inn, by RAF Pacifica Group. The Group says it will incorporate this space as part of a mixed-use project. This project is said to include a bar that will pay tribute to Captain Keno’s, but it is of course not clear what this will look like. Could it ever be this warm and good?

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Trump Trumps Love

Fractured friendships following 45
Next Article

Q&A’s Diamonds & Pearls: an intro to oysters

“Diamond” activated charcoal gives it a texture more than a flavor
Cash only, with prices out of the past.
Cash only, with prices out of the past.

When I worked in North County some years ago, I would regularly drive by Cap’n Keno’s on the 101 and admire it, in the same way I would admire Leucadia’s Log Cabin Apartments or the old yellow railway station that houses the Pannikin. Like all of these, Keno’s is a survivor of a cozier, more innocent, more wonderful time in the midst of mostly boring new development. I would wonder what the place was like — with its friendly maritime sign with a pipe-smoking captain and parrot below a homey shake roof, with its $2.99 meal specials advertised outside — but I never went inside until last week, when I had some extra time before going to the Fairgrounds to see the Beyond Van Gogh exhibit.

Sponsored
Sponsored
The smell of a place like this lowers my pulse.

Around 6:45, I open the door with its “Cash Only” sign and step inside from the chilly coastal night onto the well-trodden burgundy carpet, breathing in the reassuring alcohol-infused aroma of the place. I’ve never been here before, but the smell of a place like this lowers my pulse. It feels instantly familiar. The Christmas lights and ornaments are still up. The FM radio plays mellow hits from the ‘80s and ‘90s. College basketball plays on a TV over the bar next to signs — two of them — requesting no profanity. Silverware clinks on plates filled with ribs, steaks, burgers, baked potatos, and fried fish. When I ask for a menu myself, the giant of a bartender kindly says, “We’re old school here; you can order right over there at the counter,” and points me through a dining room in the direction of a cafeteria-style register in front of a window to the kitchen. All the food, which they will bring to my seat at the bar, has the strange, time-travel-like low prices alluded to earlier. There is a claw machine near some arcade games. An old snack machine has been cleared out and repurposed as a display case for the kind of cute miniature buildings that people bring out around the holidays. From my seat at the bar, I can appreciate the plush red booths and the log wall along the back of the building. I listen to a guy tell his friend that he looks old (“Im tired, man”), and to another guy telling the bartender that he just had a promising interview for work. A lady pays for her White Russian and adds an extra tip for the big bartender — a little bag of jellybeans.

Keno’s has been written about before — in this paper and in numerous others — and is acknowledged fondly by many locals and regulars. The story of its origins many decades ago, its previous incarnations as two other restaurants, and its 1970 purchase by current owner Gerry Sova has also been told. But I want to raise one more glass to this place, especially because it may not be here for many more years to come after its recent purchase, along with the property of its neighbor, the defunct Portofino Inn, by RAF Pacifica Group. The Group says it will incorporate this space as part of a mixed-use project. This project is said to include a bar that will pay tribute to Captain Keno’s, but it is of course not clear what this will look like. Could it ever be this warm and good?

Comments
Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Benito Juarez, last park in Tijuana's Zona Rio, has its heroes

City's Zocalo 11 de Julio project chops down 400 trees
Next Article

Gonzo Report: Bang Bang’s Tokyo subway motif and Chicago house music

It’s a restaurant, it’s a nightclub, it’s a dope photo op
Comments

Many years ago (80's) I too worked in North County, Encinitas to be exact, and also drove past the place many, many times. In fact, it was just up the street from "my" independent Volvo mechanic when we had two of them in the family fleet. And I wondered just what it was like to eat there, but I never did, despite having tried every other spot along Coast Highway and well inland. So, now I know a little about the place, and am most unlikely to ever go there due to the distance from home. Too bad I passed up those bargain prices and the ambience when I had the chance.

Feb. 11, 2022
Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town The Gonzo Report — Making the musical scene, or at least reporting from it Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close