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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

You Otter Been There: The Rebirth of Marina’s Neighborhood Bar

"Anderson - Hey there," the e-mail read. "My name is Corby Anderson. Corby M. Anderson, actually. CMA. You, it would seem, are Mark C. Anderson. MCA. Very interesting. Also, you are a writer, and, believe it, so am I. There are similarities in style and subjects as well..."

Thusly this Anderson introduced himself, referencing a common allegiance with the incomparable Ed Leeper in the process. Now he introduces Marina's latest hope for a serviceable night scene, loyal "Mariner" (to use his moniker) that he is:

On a typically foggy Marina night back in November, the Otters Den, long-time juke-and-pool sort of hang out for Marina’s working class that was previously known as the Undertow, was engulfed in a torrent of fire and smoke. Thanks to quick work by the Marina Fire Department and assorted fire crews from around the county, the conflagration was extinguished before the Reservation Road-located structure was totally burned to the ground. But the damage to the revered bar, and in many ways, to the already flagging Marina social scene, was done.

For the past year, thirsty Mariners with a desire to party into the witching hours were left to either migrate out of town or brave the wildlife that teems at cross-town bars where the cards, and often, the fists fly.

But at long last, out of the ashes of recent history there comes another option – one that should well suit those locals who dig watching games, playing pool, and clinking glasses in a, to quote a grand re-opening attendee, “un-skeezy” atmosphere. Owner Jim Bridges’ showed a dogged determination to not only reopen the Otters Den, which he had only owned and managed for a few short weeks before the bar caught fire, but to improve the entire operation and to provide a comfortable, upscale sports lounge to his clientele.

On a recent Friday night, it was clear Bridges’ hard work had paid off. Clusters of people gathered outside to joke and smoke. He and his staff welcomed what seemed like half the town of Marina into his refurbished watering hole. Indeed, it was the largest, and most amiable gathering that I’d seen in my hometown since the police line at the end of my street when my neighbors were arrested for armed robbery last Thanksgiving.

The first impression that I had during the grand re-opening was just how colorful and (yes!) lively the bar is in this new iteration. Gone are the dingy ceiling lights, the tired, predictable posters, and the placards advertising a spelunking experience several hundred miles away, and in their places are big, bright TV monitors that seemed as big as Cadillac hoods, a mesmerizing LED-lit back bar, retina-pleasing drop-down accent lights and the palsy-inducing pulse of a brace of DJ lights.

To add some VIP spice to the evening, Marina Mayor Bruce “Crazy Legs” Delgado attended, replete with ill-fitting Marina football hat (that man has a head of hair so thick that it rejects common hat wear) partaking in the action of multiple games playing on the Otter’s Den’s brand new HDTV monitors, and showing flashes of Riceian suavity on the dance floor to the thumping sounds of DJ Israel.

As a re-opening gift, Jagermeister, the German liver-tickler, was kind enough to send along two of its well-rounded representatives, one of whom drove several hours (from Napa, not Berlin) just to party Marina-style. They kept the crowd plied with a heap of swag – hats, shirts, and tin posters, and $6 Jager shot specials.

“Wait a minute,” I asked. “Isn’t that more than a normal shot costs?”

“I think so,” said the brunette. “But how often do you get to drink in a brand new bar in Marina?” And she had a point…

With their pleasance, good humor, and impressive stash of Jagerswaggen, the shot chicks brought along stacks of extra cups with which to stack. We Mariners are an easy bunch – give us something to stack, break (pool) or chuck (darts) and we’ll keep at it until the sun comes up.

Unless you count the barking of seals or the mating call of the rare (and vicious) snowy plover, live music has been almost non-existent in Marina for several years. But Otters Den owner Jim Bridges hopes to make that a thing of the past. And while DJ Israel does not quite meet the definition of “live music”, i.e., a band, he is very much alive, and was playing music, and though it was technically not even his, most of it was very good…and loud!

Atmosphere, and quality of imbuement, can really make or break a saloon. The new Otters Den is polished to a fine sheen, and chock full of brand new furniture, pool tables, bathroom accoutrements, liquor cabinets, and barstools. A new barstool truly is a wondrous thing. Unmolested by the masses of asses, springy, a welcome touch when contemplating a Sunday’s worth of football games. The Otters Den has a new slogan – “Purveyors of Fine Libations,” and a whole list of custom cocktails. On tap are some of the best beers known to man.

At closing time, the Den was still packed, an amazing site in a town that likes its sleep. Bridges and crew were worn out, having spent the day on last minute touches, and the night slinging the aforementioned fine libations.

“Pretty darn successful,” Bridges allowed in a moment of quietude. “We were packed from 9:30pm on.” And what was his impression of opening night? “It’s a major evolution from what it was. We’ve got a local, middle class, neighborhood sports lounge here, and it’s going to be a fun place to hang out.”