With growing summer crowds upon us, we locals need to be reminded of those few more tucked away, local-welcoming restaurants that will help get us through the next 10 weeks. I asked my dear buddies, Ruben and Nelson, to join me at two “local” spots this weekend, both of which are within spitting distance of each other.

Seahorse Definitely Making a Splash
Last week, I wrote about the Pearl St. General Store’s coffee nook, but I hadn’t yet visited the Seahorse “speakeasy.” The revitalized Seahorse Bar re-opened last year at this time in honor of the first “Seahorse Bar” that stood in the very same spot in 1946.

At that time, the Seahorse was a word-of-mouth gay bar. Believe it or not, the new Reynolds owners actually found the original bar in the bowels of the shop. So, the hefty wood bar is back in play, the rather racy art is back on the walls, and the turntable might be new, but its stack of LP fare can croon as far back to the 1940s, too.

When I dropped in late Friday afternoon, the Seahorse was bustling with Laguna locals piled at the bar and on surrounding couches and mismatched chairs. A single standing fan blows warm air around, but the cold wine and craft beer options are plentiful. The serving crew alternates between pouring drinks, running to the back for small bite menu items, and changing up the LPs on the ever-circling turntable.

In other words, this place is a throwback kind of hoot.

Wine Gallery Croonin’, Too
Two evenings later, Ruben and Nelson met me at The Wine Gallery, just across the street and a few steps south from the Seahorse’s big pink logo in the Pearl Street window.

Longtime Wine Gallery owner Chris Olsen and new co-owner Paul Spiegelman have big plans for the favorite local hangout, but it’s really all about making a great thing even better.

For the second visit in a week, I ordered up the Bruschetta of the Day, a fantastic blend of thinly sliced fresh peaches on goat cheese with arugula and pistachio bits acting as a happy crown to each toasty bite. Absolutely delicious.

Ruben chose a lovely, crisp bottle of white burgundy, and we proceeded to mow through Oven Charred Spicy Cauliflower, Blackened Brussels Sprouts, a wood-fired Margherita pizza and, finally, a basket of pipin’ hot, freshly made Fries with three dipping sauces.

That might sound like a lot of food, but what we thought would be a quick drink and dinner turned into an all-evening event. We ended up sitting there for more than three hours to listen to the fun and fantastic live music of “The Status Crowes.” The couple – Chuck Crowe and Michelle Dahlin – sang everything from Jim Croce to Jack Johnson and, every now and then, we’d join in, too. The great acoustic music is a lovely plus offered Tuesday, Thursday and one Sunday a month through these summer weeks.

So, take heart my local friends: After the Sawdust opening party tonight, I know that many of us plan to hide under our beds until September 4th. This summer, make a point of crawling out now and then for local connection, great food and fun at two of our more unique entries. (I promise – more “local” research to come.)


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