By Dr. Ink
It’s a boxy structure that sits unassumingly on the border of Hillcrest and Mission Hills. For at least the past 35 years, dive-bar aficionados have known it as CJ’s, although the address has been a watering hole since the early ’60s, when it was called The 222 Club. Before that it was supposedly a candy store.
Thanks to a new set of owners who kept the CJ’s name, the gambol lives on to the tune of revised drink prices reminiscent of a decade ago.
Happy hour is “all the time,” said Bill Franzblau, one of the three new owners who purchased CJ’s from its former proprietor in late November 2017, shortly after Thanksgiving.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the “always happy hour” claim, usually a baited tactic that results in empty bargains. But in this case, drink prices are indeed so low that no bar owner in their right mind would put additional discounts on them.
Well drinks, for example, have been reduced from $4.50 to $3.50. And the liquors used for making them were upgraded from generic brands to established labels such as Old Crow, Svedka, Seagrams, and Lunazul for the tequila.
Beer prices dropped a bit, too. With 12 taps flowing, they range from $3 to $6 a glass. In quenching the tastes of a diverse patronage — a hallmark attraction of CJ’s — choices include a mix of domestics and local crafts, not to mention the super-weird tasting, chest-warming Fernet-Branca served in 1.5-ounce pours for $6. Think Jagermeister with tiny bubbles.
According to our efficient, upbeat bartender Tim, who happens to run trivia night on Thursdays, lots of industry people drink it.
There are also $2 shots. One of them is a daily house pick that can include exciting options such as Fire Eater Cinnamon Whiskey, a flavored Svedka vodka, or the hemp vodka by Earth Mama that I threw back in a daring pairing to a scotch and soda and the aforementioned Fernet-Branca.
My friend watched me get hammered while sticking to a glass of Racer 5 IPA by Bear Republic Brewing Company.
With the purchase of any beer, you can score a $2 shot of just about anything in the house. In addition, the cheap Sutter Home wines have been replaced by respectable options from Napa, Australia and Chile for an easy $5 a glass. This is the kind of chump change I spend in neighborhood bars when visiting little blue-collar towns back East. And for that reason alone, I’m ecstatic CJ’s remains with us.
Franzblau co-owns the bar with his domestic partner Deb Fisher and her daughter, Jessica Fisher. The trio also runs Two Seven Eight, a restaurant and bar at 3687 Fifth Ave.
Under their guard, CJ’s looks and feels warmer. Out went the sports paraphernalia and in came alcohol-related neon signs, colored string lights, new bar stools and much-needed illumination to the aquatic-themed stained glass behind the bar.
“We upgraded the place rather than changed it,” Franzblau said. He pointing out that there is no kitchen, but customers can bring in food from any nearby eatery or purchase bagged snacks onsite. In addition, CJ’s is a cash-only establishment and allows smoking on the front patio.