Follow him wherever he may go…It is guaranteed fun!
Lou Caviglia has an uncanny knack for remembering people. I should know. I float in and out of Santa Cruz like the tide. Sometimes I am absent for years at a time. I often run into people who have no idea I left, even though I may have been gone for years. They just say, “Hi! How ya doin’?” like they saw me last week. In some ways, it’s comforting.
When my friend, Anne, asked if I wanted to go have lunch at Gilda’s on the Santa Cruz Wharf, I had NO idea the floodgates that were about to open.
Anne, who flew for Trans International Airlines with me in the 70s, said “It’s loads of fun. The lunch special is a to-die-for cioppino, and the bartender, Lou, is a good friend of mine. He makes it all the more fun!
“Lou? I used to know a Lou who owned Clouds Downtown, my favorite spot before I left.”
“Yes! That’s him! Lou, who used to own Clouds!”
“Oh wow! Great. I don’t think he’ll remember me. It was a long time ago.”
“Are you kidding? Of course, he will. Lou remembers everybody and what they drink. He’s amazing!”
So, we made a date for a Friday lunch, when the special cioppino is offered. There are daily specials, but nothing tops the cioppino – such a deal! What’s funny is I had been to Mosaic, the restaurant in Clouds old location and saw Lou’s beautiful wife, Christi, working there a few nights prior to our planned lunch. She looked happy and explained to me both she and Lou were thrilled to not be restaurant owners anymore!
When Anne and I walked through the front door of Gilda’s, she got a twinkle in her eye. “Follow me. We’re headed for the secret bar!”
We went through an obscure doorway and the ocean sparkled like diamonds beyond the almost full bar. Lou’s smile brightened as he announced, “It’s time to do the Gilda Shuffle, folks, Anne is here! Everybody, slide to the right.” As the local crowd slid one seat over to make room, Lou did a double-take. “Carole Connolly! Where have you been?!”
He came around the bar onto the floor to greet me with a hug and smile, “Chardonnay for you?” Oh my, welcome home!
As Anne and I sipped wine waiting for the feast to arrive we reminisced about all the places Lou and Christi had created. It started in 1976 when he was involved with the Santa Cruz Hotel in a place that is now the Red Room. He opened Sea Cloud in 1984 and I clearly remember the opening! The high sheen on all the nautical wood was breathtaking, especially sitting right over the water as if on a boat.I felt like we could just sail away to foreign ports at any moment. As I recall, the house Margaritas could send you most anywhere.
Sea Cloud was so successful, they branched out and opened Clouds Downtown in 1995, another roaring success. The decor was upscale so I felt like I was in San Francisco and not our sleepy lil beach town. Santa Cruz professionals gathered there for after work cocktails with Friday night Happy Hour being a veritable “Who’s Who” of our little city.
A trip to the Big Easy put a bug in Lou’s ear. After nearly two decades of running his beloved Clouds, it was time for a change. Clouds Downtown morphed into Louie’s Cajun Kitchen and Bourbon Bar in 2013. The food became renowned, but it was the bourbon that fascinated Lou. Somewhat of a history buff, he dug into the origins of the various liquors and stocked his bar according to the stories attached to the booze.
Anne and I, along with regulars, John and Jill, were fascinated as Lou held court about the olden days of whiskey. We heard about Rye from Canada, one hundred percent tax on booze, how he stocked sixty-five types of whiskey, and, of course, had to sample each and every one. I like the part about how the French people were running away from Napoleon and ended up in New Orleans making booze.
I also learned that white lightning is made from corn and bourbon is fifty-one percent corn. Who knew? Well, Lou does. If you want to know more or just have a fabulous time, go see Lou at the secret bar in Gilda’s. Oh, but hurry – there are only eight seats at the bar. After Anne and I take our two next to John and Jill, there are only three left. If it’s Friday, that’s where we will be. Come on down! Lou will be there with a warm greeting and lots of stories. It’s good to be home..