CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 2 Orange County Pubs
Cook's Corner, 19122 Live Oak Canyon Road, Trabuco Canyon, California
The Swallows Inn and Nest, 31786 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, California
On the last weekend of my spring visit to Southern California I went on a bit of an adventure. Using my Belgian friend Daisy's memories as map, the two of us navigated eastward into the far reaches of inland Orange County, beyond the shopping malls and uniform housing tracts and out into the countryside. North of Modjeska Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains we found ourselves in the 760-metre-deep gorge called Silverado Canyon. Images of cowboys on horseback sprang to mind, although we came across more motorbikes than horses.
We headed back in a coastal direction and found ourselves in Trabuco Canyon, named after the trabuco -- or catapult -- lost by a soldier who camped here back in 1769. The canyon, originally called San Francisco Solano, features bridle and mountain-bike trails in a rustic woodsy setting.
We decided to stop for lunch and cold refreshment at Cook's Corner, one of the most famous biker bars in Southern California. This bar started life as a cabin, which was converted in 1926 by Earl Jack Cook into a restaurant for the local miners and ranchers. When Prohibition ended in 1933 Cook's Corner started to sell alcohol and became a bar. In 1946 an old army airbase mess hall was added so that food and snacks could be offered as well.
Cook's Corner sits in a green valley with a bridge surrounded by hills. Daisy remembered having fun here a few years ago, and she wanted to come back but not without an adventurous companion. The car park was full of motorcycles, and inside we found ourselves in a long tavern densely decorated with biker-themed clothing, photos, and memorabilia, and the floor was covered with sawdust. We seated ourselves at the opposite end of the bar from the regulars who were bantering loudly in their biker drawls.
My early memories of biker bars were of intimidating taverns populated with heavily tattooed bikers and offering a simple choice of either Bud or Coors on tap. But it's 2012 and this biker bar features no less than 16 taps, which impressed me. So we ordered pints of Samuel Adams Alpine Springs (5.5% ABV, Boston Beer Company, Boston, Massachusetts). Brewed with Tettnang Noble hops, this beer looked and tasted like a Belgian white beer and was served very cold. As we sipped an impressively tall man entered followed by two short fat biker mamas who ordered some food to take away. "We're headin' for Vegas, man!" one of them explained.
For lunch we shared an excellent quesadilla from the kitchen, prepared by a Mexican who didn't speak English, with cheese and vegetables and guacamole and sour cream and three salsas. It was the perfect Mexican snack that I remember from my California days. As we dined we chatted with the bartender who was off to Spain in a couple of weeks.
At that point a cyclist entered, his skintight bicycle pants contrasting with the baggy jeans of the regulars. Considering the rural location I could easily imagine backpack-laden hikers and horse riders stopping in as well, especially with the good cheap food and the choice of beer.
Our next destination was another memory of Daisy's: a honky-tonk in San Juan Capistrano. The town is famous for its Spanish mission, which is not only the oldest building in California but the home of the cliff swallows who leave en masse every year around the 23rd of October, or the Day of San Juan, and fly 6,000 miles down to Goya in Argentina. They return to the mission on or around the 19th of March, St Joseph's Day, and the event is celebrated with a huge fiesta and parade.
Just a short walk down the road from Mission San Juan Capistrano is the Swallows Inn & Nest. This is another spacious dark bar, with walls plastered in an overdose of posters, pictures, words, and cowboy decor.
We ordered pints of Longhammer IPA (6.5% ABV, Redhook Brewing Co, Woodinville, Washington), a good and hoppy beer, again served ice cold. We took our pints and sat outside at a table in the rear beer garden. Daisy told me about how she was barred from the Swallows once after being stranded by a friend, and all she remembers was dancing in her high heels with the cowboys. Considering she's a short blonde with a thick Belgian accent I could picture it perfectly. Before we knew it Daisy -- along with her American-English expat friend -- had attracted a whole group of locals to our table, and 2 of them were actual Texans. Yee-haw! Needless to say we had a few rounds and made lots of new friends.
As we returned to Long Beach I thought about how much the beer scene in Southern California has changed. Who could have imagined, back when I was growing up, that one day a thirsty soul could drink a hoppy microbrew in a tavern populated by bikers and cowboys? The world might be going to hell in a handbasket, but the world of beer brewing may save us yet.