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An Unconventional Thanksgiving at a Saloon

The Swallow's Inn in San Juan Capistrano serves up a traditional meal in a nontraditional setting – for free.

Looking for a different kind of Thanksgiving celebration?

According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 30 million Americans enlist the help of restaurants for their Thanksgiving feast by dining out or using takeout.

But if you’ve done Marie Callender’s or Mimi’s Café, you may want to mix things up.

San Juan Capistrano’s Swallows Inn cowboy saloon does offer a Thanksgiving meal in old-West style. The fixin’s may sound familiar – turkey, ham, dressing, potatoes, gravy, pies – but the environment probably isn’t. Brassieres hanging from the ceiling tend to do that.

Even better, the meal is complimentary, according to the pub’s website. Celebrants are welcome to bring a side of veggies or a pie to share, but it’s not mandatory.

“You’re in it to make money, and that’s pretty much 364 days a year. But one day a year, it’s not like that,” said acting General Manager Cal Grimes.

The tradition has been going on as long as he’s been with Swallow’s, 18 years, Grimes said.

“We line it all up on the shuffleboard table and get a buffet going,” he said. The event, which starts at noon and goes until the food runs out – usually around 4:30-5 p.m. – attracts between 250-300 people, he said.

In Swallow’s Inn fashion, a band will be playing from 1-5 p.m. – to burn off the calories right then and there, Grimes said – and TV screens guarantee you won’t miss any football.

“Swallow’s Inn picks up the entire tab. It doesn’t matter if you’re a regular, a first-timer or homeless,” Grimes said.

You might think that kind of environment brings in the lonely-hearted, but couples make up most of the celebrants, Grimes said.

“It’s really good times. I wouldn’t blink my eye to bring a girlfriend or significant other to the Swallow’s for Thanksgiving.”

One small caveat: You must be 21 or older to partake. It is a bar, after all.

Renee November 21, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Many of the regulars sign up to bring dishes and the bar and staff make up the difference by bringing/preparing dishes for a well planned and rounded meal. The Manager Cheryl Krupp who's out now tending to a broken ankle said this is the 1st time in 20+ years she won't be making a huge amount of food for the event but may stop by to see how things are going. It's a very nice day and everyone has so much fun. It's not a soup kitchen, many patrons know one another because they frequent the establishment. Almost everyone brings something, their favorite recipe dip or dessert or stuffing. The result is variety and great food. New friendships get made, great dance moves get learned, all kinds of memories created and fun had by all.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) November 21, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Sounds fab!

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