August 11, 2020 – Faced with the state’s continued closure orders, Monterey’s hottest cocktail bar has turned into a coffee shop.
But Pearl Hour co-founders Katie Blandin and Chris Garrecht-Williams say don’t fret—it’s all going according to plan.
“The coffee shop was part of our master plan in the beginning,” explains Blandin.
“From our first conversations, I thought of it like a European model where you’d never have a bar that doesn’t have an espresso machine,” adds Garrecht-Williams.
With Bright Coffee across the street, Pearl Hour shelved its original plans for coffee service, “We weren’t going to open a coffee shop across from a coffee shop,” says Blandin. But when Bright shuttered earlier this summer—and the state shutdown on bar service dragged further on—the pair realized the time was right for coffee.
Serving serious speakeasy vibes, head down the alleyway between Pearl Hour and neighboring Pocket Change restaurant and step through the blue door into a secret courtyard.
A hallmark of the After Dark gay bar here in the 90s, this space had been relegated to storage during Carbone’s tenure. Blandin had had her eye on it to expand Pearl Hour’s capacity, but plans for freshening the space had been on hold while the new bar found its footing.
Forced to close during shelter-in-place orders, Blandin and Garrecht-Williams saw an opportunity to expedite their plans to remodel this cozy patio and backyard bar. “I think it would have taken us years to get this space ready otherwise,” says Garrecht-Williams.
The remodeled backyard bar now boasts a 15-foot bar clad in pops of purple with black-and-white stripes, plus a couple cozy nooks to sip Pearl Hour’s signature concoctions. The space had its trial run for cocktail service for three days in July when the state and county briefly allowed bars to reopen. Now, it doubles as a coffee bar.
There’s socially distanced seating on the courtyard—complete with a fire pit for overcast “Fogust” mornings—and coffee is available for takeaway too. Wi-fi is also available for anyone looking for a change of scenery while working remotely. Since Pearl Hour is still legally classified as a bar, do be mindful it’s a strictly 21+ coffee shop. And like the cocktail bar, coffee service is cash only, though contactless payment by Venmo is also accepted.
“It’s been really nice to have people back in this space,” says Blandin, a smile beaming beneath her face mask. “It was really hard in the months we were closed to have this beautiful area that was so charged with life just be shut down. This is a community space and nobody was here! It feels good to have people back.”
Coffee options includes espresso—on its own ($3.25) or as a macchiato ($4), cappuccino ($4), cortado ($4) and latte (small $4, large $5)—or pour-over single-origin with choice of light or dark roast ($4) from local roaster, Acme.
The orange breve—a double shot of espresso with steamed half and half and a twist of orange peel ($4)—has emerged as the popular pick. “It’s simple, but it’s luxurious,” says Blandin. There’s also an off-menu espresso tonic ($4) with espresso floated on sparkling Fever Tree tonic water and finished with a twist of lemon peel.
Eventually, Blandin and Garrecht-Williams tease coffee cocktails inspired by European traditions. “It’s not even so much that I like to drink them, but I really like the culture of different countries in Europe that each have espresso with a little something,” explains Garrecht-Williams. He envisions selections like a French café calva with calvados apple brandy or Italian caffè corretto with grappa.
Tea selections include chai ($4), black tea ($3), Earl Grey ($3), matcha ($4), plus house-crafted mint and lemon verbena ($3) and iced hibiscus with California bay laurel ($4).
But herbal elixirs and tinctures set Pearl Hour apart from local craft coffee shops.
These tonics leverage Blandin’s studies at the Berkeley Herbal Center, where she completed a yearlong certification in herbal foundations. Her schooling has helped her understand how plants can improve our health. “I wanted to apply that to the cocktail bar, but in the beginning we could only churn out so many new ideas at a time. This has been nice for me to have an outlet to make the concoctions and offer them to people—and it doesn’t involve alcohol.”
Oxymel shots feature various herbs and botanicals infused in equal parts Big Sur honey and apple cider vinegar, finished with sparkling water ($7). Offerings include Chill (chamomile, lavender and poppy), Heart Charmer (rose and Dandelion Chocolate cacao), Liver Love (dandelion, gentian, milk thistle and fennel) and Digestive SOS (ginger, lemon and mint).
Tinctures feature fresh organic herbs extracted in alcohol and served in still water ($7), and selections include lemon balm to calm nerves and digestion, yarrow to harmonize blood flow and ease menstrual cramps, turmeric to combat inflammation and elderberry to support the immune system.
Snack on croissants and other treats from Monterey’s Parker-Lusseau Pastries, plus savory herb focaccia from Seaside’s Ad Astra Bread, with expanded food service on the horizon depending on customer demand and the state’s reopening requirements for bars.
Pearl Hour’s pivot to coffee doesn’t mean Blandin and Garrecht-Williams are paying any less attention to spirits. Like many boutique cocktail bars across the state, Pearl Hour now doubles as a bottle shop.
Open for retail sales on Friday and Saturday from noon to 8pm, the bottle shop is a natural evolution from the delivery service Pearl Hour debuted at the start of shelter-in-place orders this spring.
Blandin and Garrecht-Williams offer a unique selection of spirits for sale. “A lot of the things we have behind our bar you can’t get at other liquor stores around here,” says Blandin. She points out Italian vermouths and bitter amari as some standout spirits, and Garrecht-Williams recalls swift sales for recent arrivals, “We got a few in and they went right out the door because they’re hard to source.”
A longtime advocate for cocktails crafted from local terroir, Blandin has curated a selection of spirits from California distilleries, like St. George from the San Francisco Bay Area and Ventura Spirits from southern California. Customers can also stock up on Blandin’s bitters, tinctures, shrubs and syrups made with local botanicals.
Cocktail kits were bestsellers from Pearl Hour’s delivery service and are now staples of the weekend bottle shop too. “We looked at our menu to see what were the best-selling drinks and what would be the easiest to make it home,” explains Blandin. The kits include bottles of spirits to recreate classic cocktails and Pearl Hour’s signature sips at home. Most yield about a dozen cocktails or more.
Spirit selections are available at pearlhour.com and follow @pearl_hour on Instagram for updates on new arrivals. Delivery will continue in a limited capacity. Pearl Hour’s bottle shop is cash only or pay with Venmo.
As Pearl Hour starts this new chapter—and readies for its first anniversary next month—Blandin and Garrecht-Williams both emphasize how appreciative they’ve been of the community’s support during these tumultuous times. “That support from the regulars, from the community, feels really important and really special,” says Garrecht-Williams.
Pearl Hour • 214 Lighthouse Avenue, Monterey • 831-657-9447, pearlhour.com • Coffee service 7am-3pm Wednesday-Sunday, bottle shop open 12-8pm Friday-Saturday