Story and photos by Pat Sherman
Poring over the cocktail menu at La Mesa's Turquoise Room is like liquid archaeology-an exploration marked by progressive sips, proving just how cool our grandparents could be.
"We get senior citizens coming in saying, 'We haven't heard of a Harvey Walbanger in 40 years. We didn't think anybody
knew how to make that anymore,'" says Turquoise Room manager Josh Christensen.
Pre-retirement age patrons dropping in to grill 'n' chill at the adjoining Riviera Supper Club (a DIY steak house under the auspices of former Turf Supper Club owners Tim Mays and Sam Chammas) are often pleased to unearth the Turquoise Sour, a combination of Rye whiskey, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup served up with a float of red wine.
Christensen recalls the first time he ordered the drink, originally known as the New York S our, from a veteran Seattle mixologist.
"He whipped it up and I thought, 'Did you just put wine into my whiskey? What are you doing, man?'" Christensen says. "I think six later I was like, 'This is the greatest drink of all time!' My wife and I were rolling out of there."
When the drink was created in the 1880s, it called for a red wine known as claret, though Christensen prefers a pinot or other dry red wine.
Enthralled by the unlikely marriage of wine and whiskey, the Turquoise Room staff voted it onto the menu.
"We're all pretty similar in our views and our likes," Christensen says. "We take pride in making classic cocktails, making them correctly and making them strong."
Drinkers wishing to replenish their strength for summer might consider an equally muscular number known as the Infidel.
Christensen introduced the drink after a trip to Nicaragua, during which the only ingredients on hand were limes, sugar and "killer rum."
"It's just an old-school Cuban daiquiri," Christensen says. "When people used to order daiquiris back in the '40s and '50s, that's what they would get. It's almost all booze."
The Riviera Supper Club, which opened in the late 1940s and thrived during the '60s and '70s as Jamar S teakhouse and Lounge, looks much as it must have when JFK delivered the commencement speech at nearby San Diego State University in 1963-dark wood interior, dim lighting and highbacked leather booths offering an uncanny sense of place. Mays and Chammas discovered the site after losing their lease at the Turf Supper Club in Golden Hill, opening Riviera in December 2008.
A piece of glass painted with the Jamar logo was discovered in a shed out back and is now backlit and displayed behind the bar in the Turquoise Room-its crest containing a goblet and a fish. Christensen says the staff is united in their theory that the image means "to drink like a fish."
Riviera Supper Club & Turquoise Room
7777 University Avenue, La Mesa
Happy Hour: 4 to 6 p.m. daily, $2 off sirloin and cocktails
Live Music: Monday through Saturday, 9 p.m.