Saloon in Laguna Has a Leg Up on Competition

What? A stand-up bar in Laguna Beach?

A joint with a bar rail, for goodness sake, and no stools at all, in a town bristling with cafes and bistros and trendy little boites and ferns and ferns and ferns? A bar in the middle of all that, on the most laid-back stretch of PCH south of Malibu, where you're actually compelled to drink on your feet, just like Wyatt Earp used to do?

Believe it. There are a couple of tables near the door at The Saloon, and some tiny snugs set into the walls, but most of the people who wander in from the traffic do their drinking fully at the vertical. This makes for a lot of conviviality, because there are basically only two things you can do when you're on your feet: you can stand or you can walk.

This, according to bartender David Elstad, means that the patrons tend to circulate after they've switched their feet on the bar rail a few times, with the result that the place becomes more like a cocktail party and less like a watering trough.

The place is made for the quick drop-in drink. It's small and skinny, with a fairly high ceiling, brick walls and a mahogany bar that dates to 1906 (it originally supported drinks in a Wisconsin hotel). The room itself was once part of a pepper mill (Partners Bistro next door was another part).

For locals out strolling on a hot summer day, The Saloon is irresistible. You don't have to ask for--or, God help us, wait for--a table, or mentally prepare for a long sit-down. You simply take a couple of steps through the front door, order up and . . . bingo!--instant cold beer, glistening right in front of you.

It's no meat market, says Elstad. The Saloon is known for the sort of loosey-goosey atmosphere that doesn't support the smooth pickup line. On the pub-cocktail lounge continuum, The Saloon is decidedly on the pubby end.

The Saloon, 446 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. Open Sunday through Thursday noon to midnight; Friday and Saturday till 1 a.m. (714) 494-5469.

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