Cuppa Sober-Up

Photo by James BunoanIt's 12:35 a.m. on Sunday when we arrive at the Harbor House Caf in Sunset Beach. Four twentysomethings sit in a booth, bickering over their bill and picking at the remains of their hamburgers. Their table is a mess of broken crayons and empty Newcastles, and it's no surprise when one of the four stands up, announces he's too drunk to figure out who owes what and staggers over to the waitress, passing her his credit card as he makes a beeline to the bathroom.

Ah, the Harbor House: where the cheese fries and peanut-butter milkshakes flow endlessly at all hours of the night, where bottles of Newcastle—as well as other imports such as Heineken, Guinness and Pacifico—run for just $3.45. Sure, you could get wasted at any one of the umpteen bars in Sunset Beach—Turcs and the Irish Mist are both within walking distance of the Harbor House—but at the Harbor House, you can enjoy a cold Rolling Rock (only $2.85!) with your steaming bowl of clam chowder; you can sit facing your friends—or your cute date—instead of speaking sideways at the bar; and when you need that cup of sober-up for the ride home? All you have to do is ask.

It's like a bar with better service; a pub with better food; and as we discover during our four-hour stay, a people-watcher's paradise.

“You just missed a group headed for a pimp-and-ho party,” says our waitress, Amber (name changed to avoid the curse of the Weekly!), whose cheerfulness doesn't show any sign of letting up before her shift ends at 6 a.m. It's 1 in the morning now and a group of five mostly rockabilly-ish pals are sipping Coors Lights and listening as one girl—the least rockabilly of all—talks about her tour in Iraq. She's up from Camp Pendleton, we eavesdrop, and the goggles she had to wear in Iraq to protect her eyes from the sand storms? They're a bitch.

Then 1:55 hits and two boys straight out of Modsville—all pinstripes and buttons and shags—stumble in. They fall into a clumsy sort of embrace across their table, wrist grabbing and whispers and the like, and we wonder if they're a couple. Turns out they're just drunk and propping each other up: “I'm about to puke on the table,” one mod says to the other, breaking the embrace to stretch out on his seat. A symphony of hiccups and burps ensues, and soon after, the boys vanish, leaving their uneaten onion rings to cool on the table next to their unpaid check.

Half an hour later and a synchronized dance appears to be in full tilt, with every other person performing the same stumble and run for the bathroom in two-minute intervals. “Ooh,” coos a sorta-sober punkette as one poor lad limps past her, “he's definitely dislocated his prosthesis.”

Gravity takes over at this point. Heads are feeling heavy and coffee cups even heavier, as demonstrated by a shit-housed older woman with glittery eye shadow and an Aqua Net-shellacked beehive who actually winces as she returns her cup to the table. By 3 a.m., the back patio sounds like a summer-camp mess hall, and we've lost the beehive lady—she's out cold, snoring with her chin on her chest.

“That's nothing,” Amber observes. “We have one regular who we always have to scoot to the last stool so he can fall against the wall when he passes out.”

The people start to clear out at 3:40 a.m., and we watch as a waitress chases a guy whom she suspects skipped out on a bill. “Sexual harassment!” someone yells at her. “That's sexual harassment because he's Hispanic!”

Minutes later, the beehive saunters out on her bill as well, and this time Amber gives chase. “She's probably drunk driving,” a waitress observes. “We can call the cops if we don't catch her.”

Four in the morning, and it's time for us to get going, too. We finish our eighth cup of coffee just as another wave of drunks stumble in.

“Hey, man,” says one guy, “I'll pay you $50 to drink that bottle of Tabasco.”

Amber clears our table, laughing. “I love this job.”

The Harbor House Caf is located at 16341 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (562) 592-5404. Open 24 hours; last call for alcohol is at 1:30 a.m.

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