2nd Floor Is Surf City Gothic
To get an idea of what to expect at 2nd Floor in downtown Huntington Beach, imagine Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas spliced with an episode of LA Ink. This may be the most macabre, Gothic, tattoo-inspired art gallery/restaurant above a surf shop found anywhere—and I mean that in a good way. The art showcased on every inch of wall space revels in Día de Los Muertos imagery, replete with coffins and skeletons. The rest of the gorgeous paintings celebrate the female form, often as exaggerated, hypersexualized cartoon creatures with prominent breasts. The waitresses are canvases for art themselves, with ink covering any skin not sheathed by something black or lacy. But if the 2nd Floor is anything, it is unfortunately a bar of the same ilk as any on Main Street, which simply means it has the requisite supply of LCD TVs perennially tuned to sports.
Despite its punk, Goth and boozy roots, 2nd Floor tries to be all things to all people. Every Tuesday during the weekly Huntington Beach Street Fair, it hosts a kids-eat-free night. On Mondays, an Industry Night offers discounts for those in the bar, restaurant, surf and skate industries, which about covers almost every worker in Surf City. And on Wednesday evenings, it brings in a string quartet to cover rock tunes. It's almost distracting enough to make you forget the food offered.
The menu is full of dishes named after musicians. There's a salad called Greens Day, desserts named James Brownie and Pearl Jammin' bread pudding. The chef hired to devise the menu was previously with the House of Blues and also managed food services at Arrowhead Pond. As such, you should not expect to see her cooking your burgers in the open kitchen: The crew that operates there under her direction does so with the urgency of short-order cooks, and the food produced is on par with what you'd expect from bar food.
The so-called "colossal" burgers are what the crew is most proud of; along with ground beef, one can contain everything from pulled pork to mashed potatoes to hot dogs. All are structurally unviable as sandwiches because of their height, and I've not yet seen anyone leave without more than half in a doggy bag. There are smaller, more right-sized options, but even those are lacking something. One night, the Nirvana Burger, which promised a patty stuffed with pepper-jack cheese, turned out to be a plain burger with a hole on top, through which I suspect the stuffing had escaped during cooking. Served open-faced on a curiously dense bun, its defining feature became an excessive amount of sliced, pickled jalapeños that you'll scoot to the side to prevent inevitable indigestion. That was still better than the Avenged Dog Sliders. Not only do they contain Nathan's hot dogs, possibly the saltiest wieners in existence, but they're buried under piles of barbecue-sauce-covered pulled pork, bacon, Swiss and pickles, all lashed together with overzealous squirts of yellow mustard.
And it wouldn't be an exaggeration to describe 2nd Floor's house nachos as unreasonable, a ridiculous amount of tortilla chips for six people, let alone two. Even if it didn't feature flavorless nubs of carne asada, toothless pico de gallo, thin guacamole, cheese sauce tasting as though it came straight from a movie-theater concession stand and a mild chili that did most of the heavy lifting, this is a dish designed to never be finished. If you are there to eat rather than drink, it's best to stick to the tried, true and fried rather than anything ambitious. The Confused Salmon entrée becomes a self-indictment of itself, its pesto clashing with the lemon-butter sauce, the add-ons not helping a piece of overcooked fish.
Perhaps the best time to come is Sunday mornings. Do this not for the breakfast, but for the irony of it all. It's then that you'll witness the paradox of the Goth/punk, naturally nocturnal waitresses attending to shirtless blond surfers sunning themselves on the balcony. If this still isn't enough to forgive the restaurant for its sins of serving a baked French toast almost turned to a crouton or undercooked eggs (with still-watery whites when you specifically asked for over hard), much less pouring your orange juice into a glass filled nearly to the brim with ice, remember: You're in a bar surrounded by people who don't think twice about washing down pancakes with bottles of Bud at 9:15 a.m.
This review appeared in print as "Surf City Gothic: Go to 2nd Floor in Huntington Beach for its booze and kooky art, not so much the food."
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