Blackie’s by the Sea isn’t a classy establishment. Over the seven years I was a Newport Beach Lifeguard I rode my bike by it twice a day every summer and never dared poke my head in. When I learned to surf in middle school, it was at “Blackie’s,” as is true for most beginning surfing kids. And as a rookie lifeguard, I was stationed at “Blackies” as a right of passage. The bar is a landmark for the beach right in front of it and although that spot of sand draws crowds from all over Southern California, Blackie’s by the Sea is not a bar for everyone. I think even the patrons would agree, Blackie’s is an Old Man’s Club where the boys know how to drink and time isn’t relevant. Naturally, when Carlos first spotted it last summer during our annual Newport visit, he was eager to pull up a stool.
As things go when Carlos and I travel, there are compromises to be made. Usually this means I plan a day of siteseeing (ie markets and restaurants I want to check out) and when Carlos starts to get hot or grumpy, we pull into the closest bar for a beer. I’ll have a water or tea and people watch and then we hit the pavement again. It works out well for us both. This week in Newport, I had no agenda except for a full day at the beach doing absolutely nothing but sunbathing and frolicking in the waves. And Carlos wanted to spend the day at Blackie’s knocking back shots with the burly alcoholics. A deal was made. We would spend a few hours lounging at 36th street and then have the afternoon to kick it with the townies. After our cruiser ride to the beachfront, I was happy as a clam with my New Yorker Magazine and sparkling water, a few trips to the water and some Socal bronzing for old time’s sake. But a deal is a deal so at about three o’clock we packed up and rode over to the bar.
Knowing full well what my parents and friends would think about spotting me in Blackie’s, I was a bit hesitant to go in. The place is dark and reeks of vomit. And it wasn’t my hypersensitivity; a gentleman did ralph in the trash can next to my bar stool shortly after we sat down. Pistachio shells are scattered on the floor and all the men are drinking yellow-tinted beers. I really mixed things up as the only woman in the bar when I ordered an IPA. Thankfully I didn’t recognize any of the regulars (and you know they are regulars because all the guys greet each other friendly and ask about “last night,” when they roll in). Carlos was in heaven. I can’t explain it but he loves a dive and I’ll admit, I love a good people watching session so I was into it as well.
After the first round I ordered some pretzels— there is a full menu to choose from including eggs ($1) hot dogs ($2), chili dogs ($3) and the Special Sandwich ($4). With a little encouragement from Carlos, the king of making new bar friends, I offered the older guy to my right some pretzels. He declined but I think the interaction with a female under forty who had all her teeth probably made his day. From then on, we were friends. Mike, the bartender, was a bit gruff as to be expected because it was the end of his shift and he was sick of tourists in his tavern. But when Carlos mentioned I was a local, his tune changed. We had a round of cinnamon whisky shots on the house to celebrate my homecoming. And when I alluded to my grandma coming into town (in a failed attempt to try to wrap things up) both guys sitting with us got teary eyed. “I wish my grandma was still alive,” Gary croaked. “And I can’t wait to see my grandson again. I practically raised him.” Another round of cinnamon whisky, this one for the grandparents.
I lasted about an hour before I started to get hungry and give Carlos the eyes suggesting it was time to go. Apparently I wasn’t the only person who needs more than beer and Jager bombs to get through a day because as I polished off my pretzels, another dude sauced up his hotdog with mustard and ketchup and bellowed to his buddies, “You can’t live off alcohol alone.” True story. As we closed our tab and shook hands with Mike, Gary and Brad, Carlos bought a commemorative t-shirt. I was out the door unlocking our bikes while Carlos was finishing a final brewsky and thanks to his persistance, he was rewarded with a handful of Blackie’s drink chips for our next visit. We both decided that returning to Newport to ease back into life after our Australia trip will be a good approach and it’s nice to know we have a welcome stool at Blackie’s by the Sea.