It would take a large stretch of imagination to envision former President Richard M. Nixon visiting the Swallows, a popular, somewhat rough-and-tumble bar near the Mission in San Juan Capistrano.
Instead, when hanging out in the San Clemente Western White House, Nixon was frequently seen in the El Adobe restaurant across the street.
Generations of San Juan residents have grown up around meals and drinks in El Adobe--which was opened as a restaurant in 1948. The building itself is on the state historical register. The front wall of the lounge facing the street was part of the original foundation of the Miguel Yorba Adobe--a home that was built in 1797.
The interior is traditional Spanish-Mexican. The high, wood-beam ceilings, flat white adobe-style interior walls and tiled fireplace could have been decorated any time in the last five decades.
The lounge's more contemporary side shows in the names of some of its specialty drinks. A mere $3.50, for instance, buys Sex in the Cantina, a tasty concoction of vodka, peach schnapps, orange and cranberry juice.
This is a bar for the serious drinker. Order a Cape Codder and the drink will come back with barely a reddish tinge--an indicator of how much vodka is dominating the splash of cranberry juice.
The bar prices are generally reasonable. Beer starts at $2 with Budweiser on tap and such Mexican standards as Corona, Dos Equis and Tecate in bottles. Exotic drinks, such as their Long Island ice tea, cost up to $4.75.
Probably the best drink served at El Adobe is the South of the Border Margarita. Built from scratch starting with fresh lime juice, the El Adobe version features Cuervo 1800 tequila and costs $4.25. Anybody who has ever ordered a premixed margarita shot out of a fountain gun at a chain Mexican restaurant will appreciate the difference.
There are no price breaks for happy hour, but free hors d'ouerves are served between 4 and 6 p.m. Recently, the featured attraction was a tasty Mexican quiche. Appetizers on the regular happy hour menu include spicy calamari ($5.50), chicken or beef quesadillas ($6.25) and flautas ($5.25).
The lounge gets a little busy on the weekends, but most days there is plenty of room to relax and little noise to get in the way of a good conversation.
El Adobe, 31891 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. The cocktail lounge is open daily, 11 a.m. to midnight. (714) 493-1163.