115 N. 2nd St.
Bar plus Margarita equals Bargarita. Pretty canny name for a margarita bar, I’d say. Baja Bargarita is the full name, coined by proprietress Jessi Briseno herself, combining the beachy vibe of the western Mexican state and the nightclub’s trademark beverage. A nice frozen margarita is pretty much the best way to cool down after a long blazing summer afternoon full of lying in the sun like a sizzling strip of turkey bacon and doing nothing at all but re-applying Coppertone and reading Stephenie Meyer novels.
According to Briseno, staff at Baja will make “any flavor of margarita you could possibly dream up and then some.” Her eyes widen with excitement as she improvises endless fruity possibilities using combinations of the already-lengthy list of base flavors, all of which can be made with real frozen fruit. “Peach-Guava...Mango-Lime…Banana-Strawberry,” she suggests. “Hucklenut Waterberry,” I offer, a combo of Huckleberry, Coconut and Watermelon. “Um...” her mouth puckers with the idea. “If that’s what you want babe, you got it.”
Briseno opened Baja in mid-June on 2nd Street in downtown Coeur d’Alene just south of Toro Viejo Mexican restaurant, after her brother-in-law helped convince her husband, Toro and Baja owner Junior Briseno, into letting her have a go at reinventing the space which hadn’t seen a lot of use lately besides occasional private parties. Jessi pays tribute to the building’s former occupant Sandra Kay’s lingerie shop by giving patrons a free beer if they toss their brassieres up onto the ivy-covered wooden lattice awning that hovers above the main bar area. It looks like she’s already had quite a few adventuresome ladies come through the place, as bras of all variety dangle from the heights of the pergola, a word I’ll now never forget thanks to Baja server Becky Diel who jumped on her internet phone and looked it up online when none of us could remember it.
I asked if it was okay for guys to come in wearing a bra just so they could toss it up there and get a beer. “Why not?” laughed Jessi, “We want to be a place where everyone can totally be themselves, even men in bras or whatever. In fact, a few drag queens would be fun to liven the place up.” Okay, but I was actually thinking of something a little more subtle, like just wearing one over my tee-shirt; I’d look awful silly with makeup and a goatee and I’ll never master high heels.
Clientele at Baja is varied for sure, and a lot of people have been coming in to check it out based primarily on favorable word-of-mouth. In fact, Baja has yet to even hang anything out front identifying itself, although mural artist Robert McNeil is nearly finished with an attention-grabbing sign for the exterior, featuring the silhouette of a shapely gal relaxing in a giant martini glass. Despite the lack of advertising, business has been brisk to busy every night. “Fourth-of-July was slamming, our busiest night so far,” says Briseno. “We’ve had a lot of regulars since then, including the Summer Theatre crowd who I adore; they come in and just let loose and have fun.”
At Baja, that’s easy to do. The atmosphere is distinctly relaxing and conducive to good times, replete with natural wood fixtures and comfortably open spaces like a giant beach cabana with a dance floor. The peach-colored walls and avocado green ceiling make you feel like you’re trapped inside a delicious tropical fruit smoothie. Along with the usual clutter of neon signs and beer placards hang a few items of classic kitsch, including a poster of Mexican film legend Jorge Negrete holding a giant rooster, several oversized wooden parrots on gold hoops, and an ugly abstract painting of some guy sowing his agave that is so reviled by Baja staff, they cheered when Jessi offered to give me the hideous thing. Hey, I actually think it’s pretty cool, and it’ll look great next to my black velvet Elvis.
People love to go bar hopping in downtown Coeur d’Alene, and it’s great to have another stop that’s a regular night club where people can hit the dancefloor and shimmy the night away under a spinning disco ball like a Solid Gold dancer. Or just jerk around arrhythmically, if that’s all you can do. DJ Benny provides the music, playing a mix of current hip-hop and rock hits, but I hear anything goes with Benny and that he’ll play whatever you request with no hesitation. If he doesn’t have your song ready to go, he’ll hop on the amazing interweb and download an mp3 and voila!
In hiring her bar staff, Jessi picked some of the most experienced mixologists around and basically stole them from other bars. Jason Blevins is most recently from the Torch Lounge and Chris Hagen formerly worked at both Mik-n-Mac’s and Parkside Bistro. Ask Chris to make you an Oatmeal Cookie shot, it’s one of the most incredible drinks I’ve tried, and she’s the only one I know who makes it taste like an actual cookie, complete with a cinnamon afterglow. With a full liquor bar, plus a massive selection of brews both bottled and on draught, you won’t be complaining about thirst. If you get the munchies, you can order anything you want from the Toro Viejo menu as long as they’re still serving, and chips and salsa are free for everyone.
Briseno plans on adding karaoke soon and is into to the idea of hosting an open mike night or having live music; she’s open to all possibilities. “When I’m in L.A., I love to hang out at a place called Chewy’s Bar,” says Jessi, pausing to say “Hi!” and wave to a couple of arriving regulars. “I want this place to have the same vibe, with motorcycles out front, a totally mixed crowd, with drinks and food and good times flowing all night long. I don’t want them to think it’s like every other place, I want them to remember it and come back.” If things keep going the way they are, she’ll have to attack bar-hoppers with a giant wooden parrot to keep them away. Baja is open Tuesday-Thursday from 4 p.m. to close, and Fridays and Saturdays from 2p.m. to 2 a.m.
Saturday, August 16, 2008