By Amy Orr, Special to the Independent
The northeast corner of Coast Highway and Pearl Street has long been known for its welcoming warmth. For decades, Jerry Piper’s Laguna Auto Parts offered merchandise and friendly assistance. Loyal customers received top-notch service, and sometimes even a cold brew delivered by Piper’s well-trained pup.
When Tom and Michele Reynolds took over the site, they adopted a similar philosophy of hospitality.
The Reynolds opened Pearl Street General Market and began selling a curated collection of gourmet food items in 2013. In addition to the store, they dreamed of creating a neighborhood hangout, a place where people could stop by for coffee, cocktails, and conversation.
Questions about parking complicated their quest for a conditional use permit; however, the city recently approved the Reynolds’ plan for expanded service. And on April 22, The Seahorse welcomed its first patrons with oysters and drinks, Michele Reynolds said.
Near the front door, Pearl Street now boasts a full-service coffee counter featuring Verve beans brewed in state-of-the-art espresso machines. At the back of the store is The Seahorse, an intimate bar with wine, beer, and upscale food options. Bartender Chase Satrappe describes The Seahorse as a kind of speakeasy because it’s tucked away and relatively unknown.
“We have a really laid-back vibe with an awesome variety of drinks,” said Satrappe. “People love to come in because we have craft beers that can’t be found in most places.” He said The Seahorse’s selection of bottled and on-tap beers rotates frequently.
Satrappe grew up in Laguna with the owners’ son, Nick Reynolds. He said he enjoys seeing familiar faces come into the bar for happy hour, from 3 to 6 p.m. daily.
Liquor plays a role in the history of this location. The Pearl Street website describes a secret gay bar called the Seahorse Lounge which sprung up on this corner in the 1940s. Kelly Ware, the current owner of the property, said his grandfather, David Curtis Ware, leased a portion of his building to The Seahorse in 1946. Ware remembers going into the bar when he was a kid.
Ware helped the Reynolds retrieve the Seahorse’s original wooden bar from the basement of his grandparents’ home on Agate Street. The Reynolds fixed a few tiles and added a copper top to make the bar blend with the vintage décor of the new lounge. The back of the bar has a hidden drawer which once held the wedding rings of its patrons, according to Satrappe. But these days, the bar’s drawer is simply a storage compartment.
At 860 Glenneyre St., another local eatery has opened in a nostalgic location. Formerly the home of Café Zoolu, Roux now offers Creole cuisine to Laguna foodies. Owner Michael Byrne, who loved the Cajun cuisine at a restaurant near his childhood home, longed to recreate those flavors. When he met Norm Theard, a chef famous for his Creole excellence, Byrne knew it was a match made in heaven.
“We completely refurbished the site, modernizing the kitchen and adding touches of Louisiana,” his wife, Cindy Byrne, said as she described the building’s transformation. “It has the same feeling of warmth, but everything else is new.”
Byrne explained that Roux’s greatest asset is its authenticity. She said Theard’s mom was credited as one of the best cooks in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward. Theard grew up loving his mother’s food and he now uses many of her recipes, according to Byrne. Roux’s menu features Shrimp Yvonne as Theard’s tribute to her.
“In Creole cooking, sauce is the most important thing. Norm’s sauce is inspired by his mom. It’s very refined and subtle, so his dishes are amazing.”
Roux last week began dinner service from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. The eatery stays open until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Only a few blocks away, at 1100 S. Coast Highway Suite 202, Oak has sprouted. Perched above the intersection of Oak Street and Coast Highway, Oak offers sweeping views of the ocean.
“The owners gutted and redesigned the space, knocking down walls to create a very open feel,” general manager Claude Herscovici said. “We now have a 17-seat horseshoe bar and wrap-around patio dining.”
Oak draws a different crowd from the previous tenant, Olamendi’s Restaurant. Herscovici describes Oak’s fare as “rustic California comfort food.”
Specialties at Oak include calamari and duck, although desserts and drinks are also highlighted. With a full bar and liquor license, Oak features craft cocktails and wine on tap.
Since opening with dinner service on Aug. 3, Oak now offers lunch starting at 11:30 a.m. In September, Herscovici says, the restaurant will begin serving Sunday brunch.
Away from the busy downtown area, the owners of The Seahorse, Roux, and Oak designed establishments that tourists might never discover. But that’s okay, because all three locations offer enticing options that locals can appreciate year around.