It is often the case that the good old days weren't nearly as good or even as old as they seem. In fact, those days were once the crappy, boring, degenerate present, and many relics of the supposed good old days became relics for good reason. Then again, there are plenty of habits from yesteryear that we fully support, perhaps the noblest of which is the three-martini lunch. Whether your idol is Draper or Lemon, Thompson or Artest, a nip or several in the middle of the day is often just the right balm for the wounds of the morning and the perfect way to round the afternoon's rough edges.
To further those worthy goals, and to encourage others to join us in the best kind of nostalgia, here are 5 Great Places to Drink at Lunch. Turn the page.
5. Neptune's Net:
The only relevant power at lunch at this fish shack on PCH is the horsepower of the motorcycles lined up out front, but that doesn't make it any less worthy of your midday booze budget. Order your basket of shrimp and fries or your Styrofoam cup full of chowder, grab a bottle of craft beer or a pitcher of light lager, and set up out on the patio. The sauces are neither organic nor house-made and your beer is in a tiny plastic cup, but it doesn't matter. The people-watching is outstanding (note the ornate head tattoos on the bikers) and the ocean-watching is even better (note the windsurfers just a few yards south). The magical blend of salty Pacific coast air and hoppy beer is better than any painkiller on the market, and a scientifically proven part of a pleasant afternoon. 42505 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu; 310-457-3095.
4. Tsujita L.A.:
Sometimes drinking is not so much about what you're drinking or how it makes you feel as it is about the act of drinking itself. The eating process at Tsujita L.A. at lunchtime feels more like a ritual than a meal, particularly if you order the specialty, tsukemen. If you don't know by now, tsukemen is basically a deconstructed bowl of ramen, with noodles and super-concentrated broth served in separate bowls. You're meant to grab noodles, dip them in the broth and eat. So how, you ask, does drinking fit in? Perfectly, we answer, if you slot it in after just about every bite. Tsujita offers but one beer on draft, Kirin, and only two in bottles, but this is for good reason. The super-carbonated, light Japanese lager is the perfect foil to the richness of the broth, immediately cleansing the palate of any remaining fat and preparing your tongue to face the dripping noodles as if for the first time. Between the convivial atmosphere and the trance-inducing grab, dip, bite, sip rhythm of a meal at Tsujita, the whole day could pass by without your noticing. Now that would be a day well spent. 2057 Sawtelle Blvd., West L.A.; 310-231-7373.
3. Bäco Mercat:
Downtown has its fair share of choice spots for a lunchtime tipple, from dark old-school establishments to hot up-and-coming destinations, but for the finest combination of drinks, scenery and food, it just isn't possible to top Bäco Mercat. The stellar spot has been the subject of much praise, taking places on lists both national and local, and for good reason. Its namesake dish, in particular, is worthy of note; part sandwich, part taco, part flatbread, stuffed with a wide variety of innovative fillings, the bäco is one of the best partners imaginable for a spicy bäzerac (like a Sazerac, get it?) or a c.g. & t. (celery, gin and tonic). Sit outside on the patio and enjoy the architecture and the unique ambiance of the downtown scene, or sit inside at the trendy modern industrial bar -- either way the setting is absorbing, and it gets ever more so with each cocktail. 408 S. Main St., downtown; 213-687-8808.
2. Stuffed Sandwich:
In a fenced-in corner of a strip mall parking lot in San Gabriel, on cheap patio furniture from decades long past, accompanied by a massive sandwich of house-made Polish sausage, someone is drinking a very old beer in a glass he brought himself; he has reached Mecca. The Stuffed Sandwich is a craft-beer landmark, one of the first places in the L.A. area to truly embrace the movement, and it shows. The patio furniture has seen better days, and there was a time when the metal handles of the coolers shone a little brighter, but the place is stuffed to the point of bursting with vintage beer memorabilia and glassware, and you would be hard-pressed to find a finer beer collection anywhere in Southern California outside of the cellar of Dr. Bill Sysak. It is an idiosyncratic, anachronistic place -- you have to have food if you want to have a drink, they only provide paper cups (but you're welcome to bring or buy your own glass), there's a monthly style of beer on tap and when a keg is gone it's gone, and many of the bottles in the back are old enough to be in middle school -- but it's quite a fitting place to get a little unstuck in time yourself. 1145 E. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel; 626-285-9161.
1. The Hungry Cat:
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There are no red leather booths or dour waiters in red jackets, and your drink doesn't come with a miniature refill carafe on the side like a certain well-worn (but still worthy) midday watering hole around the corner, but the Hungry Cat's lunchtime lineage is clear -- it is the power lunch as it looks now. The seafood is fresh and the produce is seasonal, but there is also a spectacular burger and the cocktails are both innovative and powerful. There is, of course, good wine and solid craft beer, but from noon to six on weekdays, cocktails are half-price, so to our mind there is no doubt that that's the way to go. Between the discount and the sheltered patio, the Hungry Cat is just about the ideal place to sip on a Dark & Stormy and sample some ceviche in the early afternoon. 1535 N. Vine St., Hollywood; 323-462-2155.
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