Decked in bonnets, waistcoats, high collars, and neckerchiefs, many an early San Diegan visited the Jolly Boy Saloon in what is now Old Town for an evening of bar banter and billiards.
Those days of the past have returned with the grand reopening of The Jolly Boy Saloon and restaurant "” one of San Diego's oldest and most favorite watering holes "” on Saturday, March 22.
Reminiscent of its 1854 appearance, The Jolly Boy is complete with oil lamps, an antique mahogany longbar, old-time pool tables, portraits of famous luminaries and a functional outdoor caretta or ox cart, typical in the 1850s.
Jolly Boy is the second restaurant in a series of three to be opened by park concessionaire Delaware North. The saloon/restaurant will open its doors on Saturday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at noon, followed by family fun lasting into the night.
Among the featured entertainment:
"¢ Face painting, stilt walkers and jugglers from noon to 5 p.m.;
"¢ Live music, singing sailors and vignette performances from 5 to 7 p.m.;
"¢ Zirk Ubu Circus, featuring sword swallowing, fire breathing, aerialists, Asbestos the Clown, mystic fork bending, Bearded Lady and conjoined twins from 7 to 9 p.m.
Old Town's interpretive staff will also re-enact poker games and old-time fisticuffs throughout the event. The first 1,854 guests to the restaurant will receive a souvenir gaming chip for the Gamblers' Club and receive a lifetime 15 percent discount.
"We are the first restaurant in Old Town to offer more than Mexican food," said Lance Wellwood, general manager. "We are commemorating the change from ranch life to marine life and I suppose we're where the surf meets the turf with a splash of absinthe."
The Jolly Boy first opened more than 150 years ago with the help of resident Jose Antonio Serrano, and was once popular for serving the finest wines, liquors and fresh seafood dishes representing the fishing trade of the new port of San Diego in the mid-1850s.
A favorite nightspot among the merchant seamen who brought goods to the port, the saloon offered relaxation and fun after battling through the rugged life aboard clipper ships, freighters and fishing boats.
Traditions are kept alive today by offering rare tequilas, margaritas and wines such as the restaurant's own private label from California's Round Hill Winery that can be paired with authentic Mexican dishes, seafood, homemade salsas and spicy stews. While visiting the restaurant, the staff suggests trying the mahi mahi Vera Cruz, a filet sauted in an organic tomato sauce with onions, olives, capers, jalapeÃ±os, fresh avocado, and lime wedges served with Spanish rice, or salmon agave con fruta. Grilled to order and topped with a blue agave-infused Maradol papaya salsa, the dish is accompanied by a cilantro pilaf.
"If you fancy a steak, sink your teeth into an all-natural 12-ounce roasted bone in churrasco, the finest from Rancho de Brandt, and have it with a glass of Columbia Crest Wine," said bartender Jim Salinas.
Absinthe, the herbal, green-colored, high-proof anise-flavored spirit first commercialized in the 1800s "” but banned in the U.S. for the past 95 years "” is also served out of an original antique fountain into 19th century-styled glasses, the traditional way.
"We are excited to serve several drinks made from absinthe," said Salinas. "I would recommend Dancing with the Green Fairy but I won't spoil the fun by telling you what all is in it."
This month, the first part of an $18 million project will be completed with the reopening of Jolly Boy. After $2.1 million in renovations to the restaurant alone, this historic landmark is making a comeback at 4016 Wallace St. in the Plaza del Pasado in Old Town. For more information, call (619) 291-3200.