By Dr. Ink
Dive bars either suddenly disappear because of neighborhood gentrification or stand proudly for decades like rare, protected trees. Rarely do they rebrand under the same ownership while maintaining their celebrated grittiness, as we’ve seen with the recent birth of Balboa Bar & Grill.
This used to be Tin Can Ale House, where canned beer ruled the day with dozens of common labels. But in an age when craft cocktails continue raining down on the populace like an unrelenting monsoon, managing partner Tom Logsdon decided it was time to get his feet wet.
With the new name depicted in a retro tourist-style mural painted on the bar’s facade, Logsdon eliminated the canned-beer inventory and developed with his staff a cocktail program that spins immortal classics with in-vogue ingredients.
The El Silencio old fashioned, for example, uses smoky mescal instead of bourbon. It’s garnished traditionally with orange peel, but not without the bartender torching it to give it more zing.
My drinking cohort described the drink as tasting like “an old house in a very good way.” As with all 10 cocktails on the newly introduced list, it’s $1 off during happy hour. So are the four craft drafts that rotate regularly.
I chose a Prohibition-era classic known as The Last Word, shaken in its pure form with gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and fresh lime juice. Despite its partial resurrection over the past few years, the drink somehow escaped me until now. Served in a martini glass and hauntingly herbal, I loved every sip. Although if rye whiskey is your thing, The Final Word with yellow Chartreuse serves as a wily alternative.
Other cocktails include a Mexican gimlet made with tequila and olive juice; the tropical Hotel National with black rum, apricot brandy and pineapple juice; and the California Bulldog, which mixes Coke with vodka, Kahlua and Galliano liqueur.
Burgers carried over from the Tin Can days remain a big deal. And for good reason.
The hot-selling Balboa cheeseburger we each ordered, priced at $5 during happy hour, exuded sumptuous, clear juices when biting through their semi-crispy exteriors. They’re tucked into bulging bolillo rolls with lettuce, tomato and onions; simple but divine and yet another reason I’ll return to this black-walled joint appointed by a jukebox stocked fittingly with Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Electric Mud.