More often than not, The Pike is the dark, punk-rock-slash-nautical-themed hole I wander into on blurry nights when I do not mind drinking in a crowded room of hipster egos along Fourth Street's dive-bar corridor. Once inside the piercing blue neon lighted structure, the busy decor inevitably falls out of focus as the Jack and Cokes start flowing, and only after it is too late into the DJ's swerve game (midnight during the week, 1 a.m. on weekends) do I remember that The Pike's well-reputed kitchen is something worth trying out.
So for the first time ever, I took the advice of the several friends who swear by The Pike's tacos, fish 'n' chips and seafood appetizers and wandered into my local watering hole during jukebox-only daylight hours.
Thankfully, The Pike (not to be confused with the Long Beach's old seaside amusement park or the corporate-filled mall monstrosity of the same name) during the day is a completely different energy -- one that doesn't require heavy booze to tolerate. Windows -- a rarity in themselves in most of Long Beach's bars -- let in enough light to fully illuminate the wooden interior and with every inch of the walls covered in framed black-and-white photos, music memorabilia and historic local signage, the place almost looks like a Long Beach punk version of Harbor House.
Sitting on the patio and along the long, U-shaped bar were (also thankfully) not The Pike's nighttime crowd of Orange County cred-seekers and Cal State Long Beach try-too-hards. Instead, the lunch crowd at the restaurant and bar owned by the drummer of Social Distortion was, for lack of a better word, normal. Aging tattoo artists with no coolness left to prove, next-door neighbors seeking a daytime glass of wine and construction workers chowing down on their break all converge on The Pike when the sun is up. An alternate universe from the late-night PBR-drinkers, to be sure.
The menu is also a diverse array of fish tacos, pasta dishes, burgers and sandwiches -- typical pub food at first glance, but I am assured by the bartender/server (who I also recognize as being the hip-hop expert employee at Fingerprints) that nothing is dingy pub-food quality.
I order the mahi mahi fish taco plate and a side salad, intrigued at the Baja-style Mexican food options which are sadly a rarity in Long Beach (Hole Mole's fish tacos are eh and Wahoo's doesn't count!). The salad was fresh, full of leafy, bitter greens and topped with two giant cucumber slices. I slathered it all with their chunky blue cheese dressing (defeats the purpose of a salad, I know), thankful to not be eating a bowl of some food wholesaler's "iceberg mix."
Tacos came to me, two on a plate, along with a side of light Spanish rice. Knowing I was a Pike taco virgin, I was offered a serving of the house "chipotle sauce" which looks like a grainy salsa roja but is less spicy and more smokey -- a perfect topping, I discovered, for their stellar tacos filled with light, grilled fish topped with crunchy cabbage.
With minimal competition in city limits, I can easily say that The Pike has the best grilled fish tacos in Long Beach, an unexpected conclusion I came to while staring at the Social D backstage passes and ticket stubs stuck under the bartop while intermittently watching Blazing Saddles on the bar TV.
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Knowing that this place is more than just a booze-y receptacle for the city's tragically hip and perpetually cool has given me a whole new respect for The Pike. And after chowing down on a moderately priced, superior-quality lunch at what was once my local dive bar, I'm looking forward to consuming even more meals before the witching hour, when the closest thing to a vibe-killer is the regular who plays all The Clash the jukebox has to offer.
The Pike Restaurant and Bar, 1836 E 4th St., Long Beach, (562) 437-4453.