Calistoga offers some hideaway bars with a little flair

Although it may feel like it’s in another state for most Napa residents, Calistoga has some great little hideaway bars and restaurants where you can easily disappear. I get up there every now and then, and when I have the time I really like to hang out at either Susie’s, Pacifico, or when I’m flush, I’ll drop some cash at Sam’s Social Club.

A few years ago I literally stumbled in to what turned out to be my favorite up valley watering hole called Susie’s. It’s hard to find on Lincoln Street, with nothing but an old small green sign suspended 25 feet above the sidewalk, and occasionally a sandwich board that on my last visit read “free beer, topless bartenders and false advertising.” The door opens to a long hallway, and your first thought is that you might be in the wrong place. However, you do finally make it through the wormhole to a big open space that looks somewhat like an old west saloon, with plenty of seating, two pool tables in the back and an additional upstairs space to hang out.

Susie’s feels good. “Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult is playing on the juke box, as I grab a seat at the bar and order a shot of Straight Edge bourbon, made by local winemaker Dave Phinney, and just one of over 50 whiskeys offered here. This joint really has everything. 12 killer beers offered on tap and many more in bottle, and some of the coolest little artisan produced gins I’ve ever seen. Frank tells me the place has the oldest operating liquor license in the Napa Valley dating back to 1944, and the new owners really cleaned the place up a few years back. But who is Susie? Ask.

For a low brow, low key, chill out like a local experience, check out Pacifico. A rather large Mexican restaurant, with a good mid-day group of professional drinkers and seat warmers at the long bar. I love the lady seated next to me drinking rum and cokes, busy writing a grocery list, with a jar of Safeway salsa on the counter and holding a bag of ice. Perhaps she didn’t care for Pacifico’s salsa? Three older guys sat down from her, one nursing an enormous glass of Chardonnay, while the other guy drank vodka cranberry with the sleepy man by his side slurping brown liquor on ice. The only margarita I saw was mine, and it was good. Especially for $5 during happy hour from 4- 6:30 where beers are $3 and that giant glass of wine will set you back $5.

I love the 1970’s look of the place, with the fake plants, a working waterfall and plastic beer flags hanging from the faux indoor mexican roofs and multicolored chairs. Looks like a set from the Three Amigos’ movie. There are two large rooms, one with the bar and one dining room, that leads out to a shady patio. Perfect for the hot summer days in Calistoga. I enjoyed the mostly shrimp-based ceviche and the spicy barbecued chicken wings were tasty, especially when they only cost $5 during happy hour and I could watch Venezuelan soccer on the TV. I will look forward to checking out the Mariachi’s one of these Friday nights, and writing my grocery list at the bar.

I’m going to end my exposé on Calistoga with a mention of Sam’s Social Club. It may be expensive and fancy, and you most likely will run in to someone you know, but this place has a good vibe, the drinks are very good and the staff is damn friendly. The whole thing looks like Solage to be honest, with the cafeteria ski lodge style dining room and a nearby exact replica of the outdoor patio area. Clean and minimal, with fancy plants in fancy pots and vintage swimming posters throughout the inside. But as you may have figured out, I like hanging out at the bar where I feel most comfortable.

The barman on the evening I was there is named Daniel, and he knows his drinks. And he knows his whiskey. I mean historically knows his whiskey. However, he’s not the type of obnoxious, know it all, twirly mustachioed, suspender wearing, incredibly boring windbag I have encountered at some of the other high fallutin’ restaurants here in the Bay Area, who will insist on teaching you a lesson on prohibition cocktails while making you wait 15 minutes to get a thimble of hooch poured over a gigantic clear square ice cube for $17. Daniel is cool. This guy turned me on to some delicious whiskey that he actually let me taste, and then mentioned a few brief, interesting stories about the people that made them. Turned out the lady sitting next to me was the sister of my son’s teacher at Browns Valley Elementary. Told you I would know someone here. If you’re hungry, the menu looks insanely delicious, and I instantly felt guilty after mowing down a grilled cheese sandwich, asparagus soup and mac and cheese. Perhaps the best grilled cheese I’ve ever tasted, and I should not have had that gooey, creamy, incredible mac and cheese. Nothing a glass of Fernet Branca couldn’t fix. More please.

I love going up valley. I walked around and felt like a tourist on vacation and I was extremely happy. Even more happy I had a driver. Thanks Lauren! NVL

Susie’s Bar
1365 Lincoln Ave | Calistoga
(707) 942-6710
susiescalistoga.com

Pacifico Restaurante Mexicano
1237 Lincoln Ave | Calistoga
(707) 942-4400
pacificomexicanrestaurant.com

Sam’s Social Club
1712 Lincoln Ave | Calistoga
(707) 942-4913
samssocialclub.com