Those are the words I said to Lulu as we drove through a seemingly endless residential area in Benicia. Let me preface this little tirade by acknowledging, especially to Ashlie, Sarah and Kay, that I realize that I’ve got it pretty darn good. I live on a boat with my truelove. We’re traveling to warmer climates and are, in fact, in a pretty darn warm climate right now. And, most of all, I don’t have to get up and go to work every day. Or any day for that matter. Okay, with that out of the way, I still have a complaint.
It started when we were on our way back to Benicia after visiting family in Marin County. It was early afternoon and I figured it would be nice to stop to get a bite before we got home. I started thinking about it in San Rafael but figured we should probably wait until we were a little closer to Benicia. What I didn’t realize was just how few places there were between San Rafael and Benicia. At least there were very few places that I could see from the highway.
So, naturally, I didn’t find anywhere to stop until we reached Benicia. Actually, I hadn’t found anywhere then, either, but we started looking. What we were looking for was a nice little tavern where we could get a really cold beer and maybe a cheeseburger or something. Shouldn’t be too tough. Although we didn’t expect to find anything, we drove down 1st Street which is lined with lots of little chi-chi shops and restaurants. Way down at the end of the street was a BBQ place that was a possibility as well as Frank-N-Stein’s Tavern which was also flying a sign for Frank-N-Burger. So, we drove over to the marina, parked the car and walked back to 1st St.
We took a look inside the BBQ place but there was definitely no ambiance there. It looked like it was primarily interested in catering. There were a few tables and chairs in an over-lit room that was not inviting at all. OK, down to Frank-N-Stein’s. We had great hopes until we looked in the door of Frank-N-Burger which turned out to be affiliated with, but not actually part of, Frank-N-Stein’s. Again, the place was too bright and not inviting. Disappointed, we walked back to the marina. We figured we’d seek out some local knowledge and check with the marina harbormaster.
After she got off the phone, we asked her, “If we were looking for a basic workingman’s tavern where we could get a cold beer and a cheeseburger, where would we look?” Her answer floored us: “Vallejo” she said. WTF? She said that, as far as she knew, there weren’t any bars in Benicia that served food. There were a couple that were affiliated with attached restaurants but that was about it. One of these was Frank-N-Stein’s. Another was affiliated with a Mexican restaurant and another with a Chinese restaurant. We told her about how nearly every tavern in Oregon now serves food and she said that it’s not like that in Benicia. We left disappointed.
I was determined to find something. Even a chain like Red Robin would be okay at this point. We headed back to the marina, hopped in the car, and started searching. We didn’t really want to have to drive back to Vallejo. We figured we could find something in Benicia. We figured wrong.
There’s a shopping center near the marina and we knew there were no likely spots there. There was another shopping center up the hill and I didn’t remember anything up there either. I figured if I could flank the shopping center and then drive down the whole length of the street it was on I would surely find something. Again, I figured wrong.
We drove down Military Avenue and then, when I figured we’d gone far enough, I took a right and planned to hit the street the shopping center was on which I was sure must be running parallel to Military. Wrong again. We ended up driving through residential area after residential area. The houses went on forever. There were times I didn’t think we were ever going to find our way out. When we finally did, we were back on Second Street, right next to the shopping center near the marina! I couldn’t believe it. How the heck is this town laid out?
But that’s not important. What IS important is that there doesn’t seem to be anywhere in Benicia that is:
a.) comfortable and inviting,
b.) serves ice cold beer, and
c.) also serves burgers and other tavern food.
Mostly I like California but this just sucks. If we ever decided to stay in the state, I have a pretty good idea what kind of business we’d open up.
So what did we do? We ended up getting a couple of bacon cheeseburgers and fries TO GO at Nation’s Giant Burger and took them back to the boat where we could have them with an ice cold beer in a comfy setting.
Maybe Benicia is an anomaly but, if it’s not, this is a warning, especially to Oregonians: don’t expect to find your friendly neighborhood tavern where you can have a beer and a bite in California.