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Cracking the game plan at Park & Rec

By Dr. Ink

If a friend hadn’t told me that Park & Rec throws a weekday happy hour, I would have likely paid full price for my stagger when visiting recently.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.18.53 AMTheir website and Facebook page make no mention of drink bargains. From casual observation, there isn’t any signage on the property indicating happy hour either. It was only after asking the bartender about it when he told me the happy-hour deal involves canned beer; buy one at regular price ($5) and get shot of bourbon or cucumber tequila for $2.

I was sold.

Upon wrapping my paw around an aluminum vessel of Vanilla Cream Ale from Mother Earth Brew Co. and then raising a little boot-shaped shot glass of the cucumber tequila to my mouth, I noticed the other bartender concocting something wonderful. She was adding orange bitters and brown sugar to bourbon.

Cucumber tequila and vanilla cream ale (Photo by Dr. Ink)

Cucumber tequila and vanilla cream ale (Photo by Dr. Ink)

“That looks great,” I said to the bartender who handled my order. “Do you guys have a cocktail list I can see?”

After it was tentatively handed to me, I expressed surprise that none of the bar’s crafty booze drinks are on special during happy hour.

“Actually, they’re all $7 right now,” he said erroneously as I read the fine print on the menu stating that only four of the cocktails marked with minuscule asterisks are priced at that amount during this time period.

After the initial hype a few months ago of Park & Rec opening as a cocktail bar designed to nostalgically capture the bygone days of University Heights, my first impression was one of confusion.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.19.05 AMWandering onto the famed outdoor patio, which beckoned to a New Orleans-style courtyard when Bourbon Street operated here, the company that took over the property (ELE Collective of Waypoint Public) has seemingly skewed its charm.

The redo resulted in some of the patio walls painted bland-white. And several outdoor porch chairs sporting weathered metal frames forfeit comfort for effect.

On the plus side, an elongated communal table constructed with quality wood shows off built-in garden boxes filled prettily with live succulents. Smooth marble crowns the bar tops (think Soda & Swine). And there are games to be played: Ping-Pong and corn hole under the open skies or pinball and shuffleboard inside.

Food was recently introduced by Royale Cheese, which sells sandwiches, burgers and “magical mystery tots” from a space off the central patio. But as with getting to the root of the drink deals, you’ll need to prod the staff for a menu — or stumble upon one by chance as I did after my vanilla-cucumber buzz kicked in.

I’ll give Park & Rec kudos for creating a neighborhood hangout free of pretense and tailored to all legal ages. It just needs a bigger and clearer welcoming mat, at least during happy hour.

—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at fsabatini@san.rr.com.

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