Best Bud

The bruschetta combo at La Playa allows eaters to pick three from choices including (from right) salmon-pesto, wine-braised short rib and brie-apple with a balsamic finish.

It’s a mild summer Sunday evening in August as 70-something Emilija Breznikar marches into the hushed bar at La Playa Hotel (293-6100) in Carmel and, with a series of not-so-subtle nudges, worms her way closer to the crowded bar.

One local moves her stool to the right and another abandons his so she can sit.

She yanks a Ziploc bag of 50 dimes from somewhere, throws it on the polished wood bar and announces she’s buying drinks for everyone.

Anywhere else she’d get laughed out the building for thinking $5 in change could treat the 40-plus people present to a pop. Here and now – for 10 minutes at least – it’s more than enough.

So it goes Sundays 5-5:10pm, when the hotel treats everyone who shows up to drinks for dimes – and only dimes. Break your quarters.

Still, her generosity isn’t all that welcome at this precise moment, because she’s interrupting.

Lead La Playa barkeep Jevana Bouquin gently tells her she’ll have a chance to talk when Bouquin’s done introducing the weekly party.

That includes honoring the man who inspired it, and who bought and remodeled La Playa Hotel decades ago, making it a destination, Howard Bud” Allen.

“He was a beloved philanthropist, and a notorious prankster,” Bouquin says.

He was also the kinda guy you want to get a $0.10 drink with.

As his four surviving children wrote in his 2008 obituary, “Bud loved people and people loved Bud; he made friends everywhere he went.

“It didn’t matter how much you had or what you did as long as you were honest, upbeat and loyal,” they added. “Bud could just as easily be seen hanging out with a handyman or dining with a dignitary.”

They describe a man who gave generously to charities but more memorably gave to whoever he could help: housing for an employee, a truck for a contractor, a scholarship for a kid, his hat to someone who said they liked it.

There are other specials to like at La Playa. Monday locals night means Maker’s Mark Manhattans and Kettle One martinis for $8 (instead of $12-$14). On Tuesdays well drinks are $5 (not $10). Wednesday the bar team features a special wine ($8/glass). Thursday draft beers are $5 and flights run $12. Friday’s wine flight night involves three 3-ounce wines of your choice for $15.

Plenty of other elements further recommend it, including lush gardens and a giant chess board on the brick patio, where dogs are welcome.

Their limited food is underrated, including a tomato bisque and grilled cheese combo ($14) and a bruschetta triple play ($15) – brie with apple and fig, smoked salmon and pesto, Merlot-braised beef short rib.

~ ~ ~

Bud Allen famously owned and operated Bud’s Pub and Bud’s Pub Too. He led a bunch of civic groups. He’s credited with convincing Clint Eastwood to run for mayor. One of Allen’s favorite sayings: “Smile and the world smiles with you, frown and you frown alone.”

So Bouquin was on message with her intro on this summer Sunday.

“We want to honor that spirit of coming together and finding smiling faces and making friends,” she said, before they commenced service, which can draw as many as 130. “It’s about buying a drink for a friend.”

There are some ground rules. You can order a double, but no more than one drink per person at a time. The 10-minute window isn’t strict – the important thing is making sure everyone’s happy, which typically means two drinks. Tipping is encouraged (particularly by Breznikar), but not required. The three options, each manned by a La Playa staffer, are bottled beers (in this case Carmel Wheat and another), house-curated red and white wine (labels like Silvestri, District 7, Ryder Estates) and two-ingredient well drinks like vodka-tonics and whiskey-Cokes.

So no Camino Real with Bulleit Bourbon, balsamic simple syrup, basil, fresh lime and ginger beer from the artisan cocktail list ($14). Or any Mary’s Bloodys (with Square One plus housemade cucumber Bloody Mary mix, $14), named for another local institution (relentless Carmel reporter Mary Schley), who happened to be there.

Not that the rules apply to everyone.

Breznikar, a transplant from Croatia who’s lived in Carmel for three decades but retains her Old World accent – and only discovered Bud Allen Sundays recently – had her heart set on a draft. “I love beer,” she said. “But not in bottles.”

She eventually pulls wisecracking bartender and sommelier Duncan Llovio in with her tractor beam and talks him into tapping her one. When he later gives her a tiny taste of his favorite vodka, she teases him. “That’s teensy weency,” she says.

Hers would be a spirit Allen would appreciate. Not long before he died he sent his kids a card and photo of him in military-looking dress that might be his commodore uniform from Stillwater Yacht Club, holding a martini.

Here’s how it read: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming ‘WOO HOO what a ride!’”

This, Bud, is for you.

~ QUICKBITES ~

  • Restaurants can be so many things: sanctuaries, classrooms, dens of chaos. Carmel’s Brian Bajari hopes to create one that’s a lifeline for former child soldiers in a particularly war-torn part of Uganda. Get more info, and how to help, on the blog, www.mcweekly.com/edible.
  • Some of the early highlights at Cultura Comida y Bebida (250-7005) definitely have to be flaming queso and mesmerizing mescal cocktails.
  • The virgin voyage of Poke Lab’s food truck was a success, as was the wider event, Community Palette’s Timeless fashion-art-fun explosion. Whoa.
  • Dametra (622-7766) ranks #12 on Yelp’s list of best-reviewed restaurants in the country. Berkeley’s Cheese Board Collective took #2.
  • Sept. 10 brings a harvest party at McIntyre Wineries ($35, 626-6268).
  • Time-honored Epsilon Fine Greek Restaurant (655-8108) in downtown Monterey sold awhile back. Now new owners are taking over. Stay tuned.
  • Blue Aces Bake Shoppe (975-4714) in Salinas debuts edible art classes hosted by proprietor and pastry artist Adrian Jimenez for those looking to absolutely wow their peers at parties – royal icing! color blending! wet-on-wet applications!
  • Holman Ranch’s Fiesta de los Amigos ($50-$60, 659-2640), its 88th annual, gathers chefs, HR wines and entertainment 6-9pm Thursday, Sept. 8.
  • Hula’s Island Grill (655-HULA) dedicates 20 percent of Mahalo Mondays sales this month to Soberanes Fire Relief.
  • International Market & Deli on Lighthouse in New Monterey (375-9451) is a total treat, with obscure Turkish yogurt drinks, Russian cheeses, a range of pita styles and hot plates of popular schwarma. Sept. 1-4, to celebrate a year of new ownership, Gloria and Adil Altaminiserve free tea with bites of sweets like baklava; Sept. 2 there’s a light breakfast 10am-noon and a 1:30pm cooking demo on prepping nutritious, spinach-like mulikiya. 5pm-close Sept. 3 there’s a social hour with lots of her loyal DLI customers, languages and music.
  • Al Smith on Bud Allen“He is irrepressible, some say irresponsible. He’s a spur-of-the-moment guy, a piece of mercury, impossible to pin down.”

(1) comment

Lena Drake

Bud Allen was always fun, generous and good to people.

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