Pearl Harbors at Carlee’s Bar and Grill, Borrego Springs

Pearl Harbors at Carlee’s Bar and Grill, Borrego Springs

Pearl Harbors at Carlee’s Bar and Grill, Borrego Springs

  • 2 oz. vodka
  • 1 oz. melon liqueur
  • Pineapple juice
  • Maraschino cherry and pineapple for garnish

The Pearl Harbor is a “tropical” drink that, I have found, most urban bartenders do not know how to mix. I stumbled onto it by accident myself.

Summertime, I enjoy cold, fruity cocktails because it’s hot outside; it is especially hot in Borrego Springs, where it averages 115 degrees during the day and 90 degrees at night. The popular watering hole is Carlee’s Bar and Grill, center of town near Christmas Circle.

Summer 2002: wildfires west of Borrego made it dangerous to get out via Ranchita or Julian, so instead of evacuation, everyone stayed put. I had been drinking Midori Sours. At Carlee’s, packed with firefighters taking a dinner break, I wanted a Midori Sour with an extra kick, so I asked the bartender to add a shot of vodka.

“That’s almost a Pearl Harbor,” he said.

“Drive that car by me again?”

“Never heard of it?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

“Do you want me to make you a Pearl Harbor?”

“Why not.”

I watched the bartender make the drink.

My friend Larry stepped up to the bar counter to get another Cadillac Margarita, his favorite that summer. Gazing at the drink being made, he said, “Something that fruity needs an umbrella.”

“Yes!” I said. “An umbrella! That’s the ticket!”

“One umbrella coming up,” said the bartender.

“What the hell is that?” Larry asked.

“A Pearl Harbor,” both the bartender and I said at the same time.

“How is it?” the bartender asked.

“Perfect,” I said, and it was, for that moment, though maybe it had too much pineapple. I still preferred a Midori Sour with a shot or two of vodka, but such a drink had no name. So I gave it a name: a U.S.S. Arizona.

Creating drinks on the fly was a game Jordan, the singer in my old rock band, and I used to engage in. This was when we were in our 20s and full of protein and adventure. O haphazard youth: we’d create drinks and ask the bartender for that drink and then give the bartender grief for not knowing it. “What?! Every bartender knows what a Black Iguana is!”

Black Iguana: one shot of Cuervo Gold, one shot of Cuervo White, and one shot of Don Julio, mixed with Coke. An expensive drink: every shot was a $5 charge.

With the Pearl Harbor, I would create variations at various bars, from the U.S.S. Arizona, the Tora!Tora!Tora! (rum replaces vodka), the December Seventh (gin replaces vodka), and the Day of Infamy (apple juice replaces pineapple).

For each of these drinks, I required an umbrella. I was convinced that without an umbrella, the drink lost its kick and umph and texture on the tongue. One night I was at Nunu’s, and they had run out of umbrellas.

“No, this can’t be happening to me,” I said with doom and gloom, as if Armageddon were knocking on the door.

The waitress groaned. “How the hell does an umbrella make a difference?”

I hesitated to open my mouth. How could I give her an answer that would make sense and not cause her to grab that fork on her tray and stab me in the tongue? I knew she was having a bad night, just as I had to face the prospect of having a Day of Infamy (which she said she’d never heard of) without my umbrella.

“It just does,” I said.

“Well, we’re out,” she said. “How about an American flag? We have those left over from last week” — left over from the Fourth of July.

“I’ll give it a shot,” I said.

She brought back my Day of Infamy with a flag in it. My heart sank as if I’d gone on a Match.com date and my date did not look like the person in the profile photo.

“Well?” she said.

“Perfect,” I lied.

“Good for you, jerk,” she said, and walked away.

“She used to work at Pac Shores,” someone told me. “That’s where she picked up the attitude.”

Pac Shores! That Ocean Beach bar opened on December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. The problem here is I didn’t order the right drink.

“I found them!” the waitress yelled, running up to my table. She had a handful of little umbrellas. “Now you’ll be happy,” she said.

“Get me a Tora!Tora!Tora! next,” I said.

“A what?”

“You never heard of…?” Maybe playing this game with her wasn’t a good idea. “A Pearl Harbor, mayhap?”

She brightened. “Oh yeah, it’s almost the same as your Day of Infamy. I can get you that.”

I have been unable to find a bar in San Diego that can make the perfect Pearl Harbor, however, except Carlee’s Bar and Grill. Every time I head out to Borrego Springs, this is what I order, and they always have plenty of umbrellas. They know how to make a damn good drink out there in the desert of the real.

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