Play it once, Sam. For old time’s sake,” requests the lovely Ilsa Lund as played by Ingrid Bergman in the film classic, “Casablanca.” The song, a wistful longing for the past, is at times as poignant now as it was then. Have you ever found yourself longing for a place from a bygone era? Perhaps a joint that Bogie and Bacall would have felt at home at. A place where Sam’s fingers would have danced upon the ivories as a sultry singer mesmerized with smoldering vocals.
If so, you are not alone. While there are great times to be had in places with loud music pumping and crowded dance floors, there are also most certainly those requiring a more laid-back environment. A location where people dressed in relaxed, yet fine evening attire enjoy a quiet drink, and perchance a small meal with that someone special. Or as life occasionally demands, a place where a person can go to think.
It may be due to the love of classic films that I began to seek out just this kind of place. One that had that classic 1920s to 1940s vibe, such as Harry’s New York Bar in 1920s Paris, or Formosa Bar in 1940s Santa Monica—a favorite haunt of Humphrey Bogart. Where legendary cocktails like the Side Car, Manhattan, Martini, Sazerac and Vieux Carré reigned supreme. A place, as the song goes, for moonlight and love songs that will always welcome lovers.
Fortunately, my search revealed not one, but four different locations on the Monterey Peninsula that offered some version of what I sought. Each of these gems has their own long, unique, and rich history that adds flavor to the overall ambiance and experience.
The first of these can be found inside what was once a mansion built in 1905 and is now the La Playa Carmel (corner of 8th and Camino Real) hotel. Having recently changed its name to Bud’s in homage to Bud Allen who owned the hotel from the early ’60s through the early ’80s, walking in immediately brings one a feeling of being at peace. With dark wood paneling and a long oak bar top upon which sit small lamps positioned across its length, it projects a warm, inviting environment. Sitting at the bar on the well cushioned wrought iron-based stools allows one to fully take in the ornately carved wood bar back, stocked with a diverse variety of high-quality spirits.
While unfortunately there isn’t a piano, there is soft jazz piped in via an unseen sound system that is ample. There are a half dozen small tables positioned around the perimeter of the room, each imbedded with several unique metal medallions that are visually interesting, and certainly a conversation starter, as are the framed old turn of the century posters and pictures.
With a recently updated list of handmade cocktails, they offer twists on the classics. Is their Jade Hunter a take on the prohibition classic, the Millionaire? Is the Don’t Call Me Terrance, actually a Manhattan in disguise? Only you can be the judge.
Terry’s Lounge inside the 90-year-old Cypress Inn, Carmel (corner of Lincoln and 7th street), was co-owned by the late Doris Day, and named after her son, Terry. It is also the only local bar that Lauren Bacall is known to have visited, as she stayed at the Inn in 2009 while filming “The Forger,” her final film.
The interior is separated into four areas, the bar proper, the indoor and outdoor restaurant and the “living room.” Stepping through the bar’s worn double doors with faded French blue paint allows access to several comfortable stools positioned along the front of an Italian red marble bar top. With its curved tin ceiling and blue glass bar back, it has a certain art deco vibe, as though one was back in the days of the early 1920s.
The lounge offers a diverse range of old school cocktails, including several classics such as the Stinger, or Between the Sheets (speaking of welcoming lovers), aka, a Maiden’s Prayer, a drink rumored to have originated at Harry’s New York Bar. And of course, it is the only place to offer a version of my personal favorite, the Vieux Carré…magnifique!
The living room is just steps from the bar and offers comfortable seating options positioned around a large fireplace. Guests are encouraged to enjoy their drinks here anytime, but especially Thursday through Sunday evenings where live intimate music is performed.
The Lounge at the Sardine Factory was founded in 1968 by Ted Balestreri and Bert Cutino in a location which they describe as “a run-down and forgotten piece of Monterey on the wrong side of the tracks,” (if there was ever a teaser for a Bogie film). Walking in, patrons are greeted by a large stone façade fireplace positioned directly across from the entrance. Nearly every interior wall is covered in framed photos of celebrities, scenes of nostalgic Cannery Row, as well as old world posters.
A long wood bar top runs nearly the entire length of one side of the room, crowned by a large wood bar back. All the seating, stools, benches and chairs in the lounge are cushioned in burgundy leather material and are very comfortable, making it easy to stay for a while. Positioned in a cove of a room, overlooking windows on the bay, is a piano Dave Conley plays on Tuesday and Saturday evenings. When he isn’t present, smooth jazz is piped in, yet at a volume that still encourages conversation. The bar is exceedingly well stocked, with high-end bottles in the 18+ years age range. As far as cocktails, the Sardine Factory doesn’t disappoint, with a selection of their own creations as well as classics such as the Sazerac, or the 1920s drink, the Boulevardier.
The Mission Ranch Inn is by far the oldest location of the four, dating back to the early to mid-1800s. Yet, the restaurant that houses the piano bar was founded in 1986 when Clint Eastwood purchased the property, effectively making it the youngest, or shall we say, newest of the lot. Regardless, it is of course well known to locals and tourists alike and for good reason. With a low ceiling, subdued lighting, dark green painted walls from which are hung numerous black-and-white photographs of the surrounding area in the late 1800 and early 1900s, and a small fireplace, it immediately has that warmth of a British country pub. This feeling is only compounded when looking south and west through the two walls of windows that overlook what I refer to as the Carmel moors, dotted with grazing sheep, and the Highlands in the distance.
A beautiful copper bar top encased in oak trim with forest green cushioned stools and a brass foot bar is as inviting as is the well-stocked bar back. While the presented craft and classic cocktails are limited, the folks behind the bar know what they are doing, and have the necessary ingredients, so if there is something specifically calling out to you, don’t be shy.
Though this location can get a bit noisy due to the attached restaurant, it does allow for one to sit right at the edge of the piano with a drink and small plate while enjoying the music. There is often a sing along portion which, depending upon the singer and how much they have imbibed, can be hit or miss. Still, it is a location worth visiting when seeking that quiet comfort.
While there will always be those times to enjoy loud, boisterous locations where the bass reverberates against the back of one’s skull, it is good to know there are still places for that quiet drink and conversation. For as time goes by, we all come to realize the importance and need for those more peaceful moments. Cheers!