I’m with my husband and some friends and we’re contemplating our next steps. Our original dinner plans have fallen through: seconds after arriving at a local restaurant we’d wanted to try, we were notified that it was not, in fact, open (despite its lit and blinking sign).
A decision needs to be made: do we continue walking south on Laurel Canyon Boulevard towards Magnolia? Or do we head back home defeated and in search of a quick, last-minute take-out meal?
Our friends are occasional regulars at in Toluca Lake; its pub-food-and-beer menu is a far cry from the decidedly more ethnic eatery we’d planned on dining, but we trust their judgment – after all, pub food is much less of a surprise than a dish on a menu mostly written in a different language. And we figured we’d step out of our usual Valley Village-NoHo Arts District comfort zone and spend some time a neighboring community.
Wednesday night after 9 p.m. means finding parking is a breeze at the pub-slash-sports-bar’s rear lot – it’s Thursdays when crowds start to build up in anticipation of the weekend.
The two-story bar is dressed in your typical pub interior design: New England-style exposed brick walls, wood paneling, vintage beer signs, framed Irish wall art, and plenty of flat-screen TVs with the sports game of the night. The pub is about 80 percent packed with people in their mid-twenties, thirtysomethings, and beyond. We easily found a spot by the window facing Riverside Drive.
It’s a busy night and our server is also juggling the second level’s bar, so we don’t give him too much grief when a bit of time has passed until his return to take our food orders.
We're able to get a round of beers (Allagash White, Allagash Curieux, and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout are a few of our picks) to hold us over until our appetizers arrive, and a man sporting a camera walks over and asks if we’d like a printed picture in a cardboard frame.
When we politely decline, he excitedly tells us that we absolutely need to return on a Tuesday night. From 8-11 p.m., there’s live Irish music – a group of eight to as many as ten musicians come together for a traditional Irish music jam session, he tells us. “There’s a bagpipe player!” he exclaims.
The table of about 10 behind us is laughing loudly and heartily enough that it sounds like there are more than a dozen of them. We entertain ourselves by eavesdropping on their rated-R conversations until our order of mozzarella sticks finally hits our table. They’re surprisingly much more savory than the typical frozen-and-baked fried cheese we’re accustomed to at most pubs.
The food arrives and at first, I'm confused with the tuna melt I ordered. Unbeknownst to me, the garlic bread listed in the dish's description is not a side, but rather the sandwich's bread. As a big fan of the smelly little bulbs, I have no reason to complain.
Our friend’s order of deep-fried shrimp – apparently, it’s on the pub’s secret menu – comes just as described. Our server had initially warned her that it might not be possible: “IF we have it, we’ll definitely bring it to you…” seemed to be the response of the night, but all was forgiven when everything arrived as planned. We figure he’d prefer to give us a gentle let-down than an unexpected disappointment later.
For us, our Wednesday rebounded from an unexpected disappointment to finding a new fail-safe, go-to spot. We’ve already made a mental note to come back and drink to the sweet sound of bagpipes.
is located at 10111 Riverside Drive in Toluca Lake. Business hours are Mondays to Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundas from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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