Sacramento, CA 95837
Ahoy, mateys and avast thar. Shiver your timbers. Better yet, shiver me timbers. Begad! Ye scurvy swabs ought to be at Swabbies, splicing the mainbrace. Maybe a bit of grub, as well.
Tucked under Interstate 5 as it vaults over the Sacramento River near Sacramento International Airport, Swabbies has way more to do with water than Dive Bar on K Street. Swabbies is an overly sunny summer day and an ol’ Jack Tar pulling up dockside, or a lubber arriving by land securing a place at one of the brightly colored outdoor picnic tables named after famous vessels—“Argo,” “Bounty” and so on. (No “Pequod.”) Once anchored, me hearties, it’s time to handsomely start digging the live tunes and guzzling grog.
By land miles, the shortest route to Swabbies is through the airport, following the signs for Garden Highway. Without care—or GPS—the somewhat ambiguous signs can lead ye to circling Terminals A and B, like a jolly boat before a whirlpool.
Mainly, the cinder-block walls of Swabbies are decorated in early free promotional booty. Neon and mirrors proffered by a goodly number of the 19 varied brews on tap. In one corner is a tableau of a male buccaneer leering down at a reclining female pirate mannequin dressed in the traditional Antiguan cutoffs with open ruffled blouse and visible brassier. On a later visit, the inviting diorama is ditched to add more indoor seating.
The season’s cold doesn’t translate into a flotilla of patio traffic. Another cigar-storelike pirate with bandana looms ominously beside the front door. His brethren have been sighted outside knickknack shops on Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row seafood restaurants.
Swabbies’ exterior is primarily distressed palm frond. A few errant holiday ornaments stuck in some of the not-exactly-thriving planters are still present, several months after said holidays. Maintenance eradicates them by a future visit. But it’s the picnic benches, garishly painted, nautically named or otherwise, that animate Swabbies. On a cold gray winter day, it’s difficult to feel the powerfully positive vibrations that must emanate from this riverfront space after June 22. Laughter. Crowd noise. Live music. Libations. Toasts. Quaffs.
And eating. Swabbies rightfully showcases its prowess at tacos. And while ye might quibble with the depth reached before hitting the requested stuffing—as several fellow corsairs do—the tacos are wondrous complements to beer. Without hesitation, the barkeep recommends the shrimp tacos. Others, over various visits, try shredded beef, ground beef and chicken. The barkeep knows her Swabbies tacos. The crunchy shell encloses cabbage, a secret sauce with a patina of heat and the shrimpies, tasty despite not perhaps landing in the kitchen directly from the locker of Davy Jones. After the first bite, no sounding is needed as to the depth within the shell where the shrimp begins, the desire to consume every speck of taco overwhelms rational consideration. All tacos can be gotten in shares of one, two and three. Three is a struggle to complete. Two might be about right, although mateys at a later visit are content with one apiece. Part of the success is a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese on the shells. It doesn’t really register on the palate, but the cheese adds an ineffable bit of something that elevates these tacos to being worthy of Swabbies’ bragging.
A number of other items appear on the menu. Tacos, in these tastings, stand out as the best. A Philly steak with fries is so sodium-soaked that if offered to the salt-eating critter from the original Star Trek, the beast would benignly eat out of the giver’s hand and gladly perform cartwheels on command.
Swabbies scores strongly with its quirky river-rat, Brethren of the Coast atmosphere and its obliging serving lasses. Other than tacos, though, ye may feel a bit hornswoggled by the menu. Unless ye be three sheets to the wind, Bucko.