History still haunts us like a ghost, lingering about, whispering memories of the past, inviting us to imagine what San Diego was like when the Interstate 5 was nothing more than a dirt path leading up to Frisco.
Beneath the concrete of this teeming metropolis, the roots of San Diego lie buried like the graves of those who, in their time, laid the foundation for this great modern day city. Though the past cannot provide us with a picture as clear as high-def, neighborhoods like Old Town San Diego, which has gone through a few changes as of late, have attempted to preserve those bygone days by recreating the Old West. And if you can't "watch" it, why not experience it instead?
That might as well be the motto of the new and improved Jolly Boy Saloon in Old Town. What was once an adobe home, constructed in 1827, the residence turned saloon arose in 1854, and was dubbed "The Jolly Boy" by its Mexican-Californian occupant, Jose Serrano. Though the building has endured a couple reconstructions, the new renovation has opened its doors to the public once again, without leaving its original Old Town San Diego ancestry behind.
Characters surrounding the bar along the wall greet patrons with little tidbits of "Saloon Gossip," which include snippets of hearsay and scandal about Old Town's original locals. Along with a few ghostly rumors, curios and maritime knick-knacks, much of which bestows reverence to the establishment's first sea-legged patrons, line the Victorian wall papered room and the rafters of the restaurant. A muslin drop, a much-used fabric from the 19th century, floats above the dining room where guests can enjoy a few "gambling" board games, and also eludes to the feel of an 1850s saloon.
The patio, which emphasizes the days of the vaqueros with its mission décor, like the fully-function caretta (Mexican ox cart), constructed from hand-hewn lumber, ties together the vision of, not only the original Jolly Boy Saloon, but Old Town as well, and brings together the Mexican American heritage that encompasses our history.
The furnishings of the Jolly Boy Saloon are not the only elements that represent San Diego's multi-cultural history. From the food to the drink, The Jolly Boy mixes up the flavors by offering entrees like the Mahi Mahi Vera Cruz, a filet sautéed in an organic tomato sauce with onions, olives, capers, jalapenos, fresh avocado, and lime wedges served with Spanish rice, or heirloom meats like a Duroc pork roast, which traces its origins back to 1830s America.
The restaurant also features the traditional plates like carnitas enchiladas or fajitas presented on a sizzling iron platter. But nothing pairs better with a chipotle pineapple shrimp taco than a beer margarita. Strange as this may seem, this delicious drink arrives before your eyes exactly as it sounds: a large margarita, with rocks and salt-and a bottle of corona upside down for a little extra jazz. It's all the things we love about Mexican beverages brought together in one drink.
If the thought of a frosty corona and an icy margarita brought together in holy beverage matrimony is a little much for the average margarita drinker, the Green Cactus Margarita, made with Hornitos Reposado, Triple Sec, and Melon Liqueur, is a fun spin to spike the taste buds.
Though the margarita will always be a classic staple of Mexican-American sabor, The Jolly Boy really brings things back and sets itself a part from most modern establishments with the rebirth of Absinthe. Absinthe, an anise-flavored spirit derived from herbs, which was banned for the last 95 years for its "evil" connotations, was recently allowed back into San Diego's circulation in 2007.
Only a few restaurants have decided to adopt this naughty past time favorite, and The Jolly Boy, in true rebel/pioneer form, is one of the first to serve it from an antique fountain, or "lucshe," the original way. Guests can enjoy the drink and experience this elaborate process if they decide to do it the "1800s" way. The Jolly Boy, which uses Lucid Superior Absinthe, recreates the method by placing a shot of Lucid Superior beneath the tap of the antique lucshe, which drips icy water over a sugar cube, which slowly dissolves to create an icy, stimulating, slightly licorice flavored drink.
The Jolly Boy Saloon also serves this spirit the "Czech" way, which is prepared with Kulber Absinthe, an Absinthe produced in the Czech Republic, and lit on fire. But for those who want to go the less ornate route and just want something more mellow, but sweet and tasty to sip on, guests can opt to go Dancing with the Green Fairy and take pleasure in the traditional Absinthe Ritual from the 1800s - definitely an experience not to be missed. The Jolly Boy Saloon, it seems, proves that San Diego Old Town is alive and well.
Insider Tip: Get down to The Jolly Boy Saloon for "Jolly Hour," from 4-9pm, Monday through Friday, or 4-7pm on Saturday and Sunday for $1.50 Budweiser beers, $3.00 House Margaritas, and of course, the Green Pixies Shooter (Green Fairy's little sister), for $5.00.