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Locals’ parties and pub crawls popping up everywhere

By Diane Armitage

As much as we love our tourists for their economic boost, we locals can’t help but feel a bit of happy happy joy when Labor Day creates that invisible cutoff day. 

While our city remains much busier year-round now, it’s still a welcome relief to be able to drive from one end of town to the other in less than 45 minutes. 

A pub crawl that’s actually become…sensible?

I’ve been fairly pelted with “Tourists Be Gone” party invitations these last two weeks.

I’ve also found it rather interesting that the old “Take Back the Town” locals’ pub crawl might be making a comeback, this time, though, with much greater sensibility: People are renting party buses instead of trying to drive or perambulate themselves through town. 

If you’re a resident long enough to remember, the annual event would start at the Royal Hawaiian in North Laguna, hit local favorites downtown (namely Marine Room and The Saloon), then slowly wind its way south to eventually stop at The Dirty Bird and Tortilla Flats (the latter of which Mozambique briefly inherited before the crawl was, ehrmm, laid to rest).

Locals parties Royal

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Guys toasting in bar at Royal Hawaiian

This last weekend, the Royal Hawaiian reported two “pub crawl” party buses, and they’ve received (gracious) calls warning them of incoming bus crawlers this coming weekend, too.     

Vino & Vinyl

For those of you not gifted with the organization gene for people and party buses, The Ranch at Laguna Beach is offering two events this week that would qualify as locals’ parties, too. 

Always on the first Tuesday of each month, it’s Vino and Vinyl on The Ranch’s patio. 

Mark Christy trundles out his turntable and speakers and treats patio guests to about three hours of monthly album picks from his personal collection. He makes a great DJ, explaining historical and personal history stories connected to each “theme” of the month. 

Guests staying at The Ranch always wander up for the event, but the patio primarily belongs to Laguna locals who regularly show for kibitzing purposes. It’s a super de-stressor and a unique effort on Mark’s part. It’s proven quite the sustainable, underground party. 

Lost Pier 

Then, The Ranch’s little sister – the Lost Pier Café at Aliso Creek Beach – is hosting a locals’ party tomorrow (Wednesday, Sept 4) from 3 - 8 p.m. I’m a big fan of the Lost Pier, even mentioned it in my article for best Labor Day picks last week! 

Locals parties Lost Pier

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Photo by Diane Armitage

There will be a sunset gathering at Lost Pier on Wednesday

On Wednesday, the café team is inviting everyone down for sunset with music, games, firepit s’mores, and more. 

Note: Keep in mind that even though we’re locals, the Aliso Creek parking lot doesn’t recognize our esteemed citizenship. Either park on the street and hoof it down on the handy path or pay the meters to avoid a parking ticket.

Get out of the burrow you’ve called home all these summer months and reconnect with your local pals. I’ll see you out there!   

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events, at www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com.


Slice Pizza and Beer introduces new box design by Laguna Beach ceramicist Sharon Hardy

Slice Pizza and Beer, owned by Suzanne and Cary Redfearn, has just released its second Laguna Beach artist designed box. Suzanne says, “In keeping with the concept of promoting community, we decided when we opened to have local artists design our boxes.” 

The inaugural box was designed by local painter and screen printer Cynthia Fletcher. It’s a depiction of two clasped hands and represents kindness and unity. The quote that accompanied the design (printed on the inside lip of the box) was by Mother Teresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Slice Pizza Sharon and Cynthia

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Sharon Hardy (on left) and Cynthia Fletcher

“Our new box is designed by ceramicist Sharon Hardy,” says Suzanne. “She used to live on Cerritos Drive and would wake each morning to the golden hills of Laguna and the soaring hawks. Her box quote is: ‘Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird.’ –Langston Hughes.”

Sharon Hardy is an artist who primarily uses clay to create wall and free- standing sculpture. The dualities of chaos and order, growth and decay, organic and mechanical are the inspiration for Sharon’s sculptures. Tension between parts and the whole, form, and patterns found in the systems of nature drive the ideas behind her work. 

Slice Pizza group

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Friends gather to celebrate passing of torch (box) with Suzanne Redfearn (second from left), Cynthia Fletcher, and Sharon Hardy

Sharon received her BFA from Arizona State University and studied ceramics at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado. She has exhibited throughout California including at The Richmond Arts Center, The Irvine Fine Arts Center, SCAPE Gallery, and Gallery 825. Her works hang in private collections throughout the U.S.

Slice Pizza and Beer is located at 477 Forest Ave. For more information, call (949) 715-3993 or visit www.slicelb.com.

For information about Cynthia Fletcher, go to www.cynthiafletcherart.com.

For information about Sharon Hardy, go to www.sharonhardyceramics.com.


Royal Hawaiian offers new twist on holiday parties

By Diane Armitage

Dear Reader, 

I know you don’t want to hear this, but Thanksgiving is less than 100 days away. 

It falls late this year, too, which can cause even greater stress for corporate event planners and family heads-of-state who want to secure a great holiday dining or party experience. 

All of Laguna’s restaurants are gearing up for holiday requests. Chefs across the city are telling me that bookings have already begun for those few prime days in November and December. 

And, while I’m sure every restaurant is happy to negotiate large parties and buyouts, I think it’s cool that the Molteni chef brothers at Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill have come up with a number of offerings for smaller, more interactive holiday parties, too.

“We’re booking catering parties and in-restaurant large holiday parties and buyouts for up to 150 people,” says Chef Maro Molteni. “But we want smaller companies and family gatherings to know they’re just as important to us, so we came up with some fun twists on the usual holiday party.”

Fun Twists for Smaller Parties

In addition to “Tiki Cocktail Parties” and holiday-plated dinners, the Royal Hawaiian has also introduced Rum Tasting Events, Rum- or Wine-Chocolate Pairing Parties and Tiki Cocktail-Making Classes for groups of 12 to about 20.

Royal Hawaiian rum

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Courtesy of Royal Hawaiian

A sampling of gourmet rums at Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill

“We’re working with a huge number of super-gourmet rums for our cocktail program,” says Royal Hawaiian Mixologist Sean Melia. “These events are a perfect way to teach our guests about the amazingness of higher-level rums.”

Chef’s Dinner + Lunches Too

After the initial success of their Chefs’ Dinners a few weeks ago, the Molteni brothers also are offering an off-the-menu, interactive Tasting Dinner for private parties up to 20. And, they’re opening the restaurant for holiday lunches and early cocktail parties (for all sized parties) from November through the end of January. 

Royal Hawaiian menus

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Courtesy of Royal Hawaiian

Tasting Dinners at Royal Hawaiian are off-menu creations

“The holidays are stressful enough,” says Chef Maro. “We want to do what we can to make holiday events flexible, easy and fun.”

Nothing wrong with using imagination and a little magic at the holidays, right? People interested in booking at Royal Hawaiian can email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com


Chef Craig Strong to serve as celebrity chef for Laguna Art Museum’s Gala 2019

On Saturday, Sept 21, Laguna Art Museum will launch its second century with its Gala 2019 event from 5:30 to 11 p.m. at the Festival of Arts grounds in Laguna Beach. More than 350 guests will enjoy performance art, dancing, exquisite wines, and fine dining by Chef Craig Strong. 

Craig Strong is Chef and Owner of Ocean at Main, the culmination of over 20 years of distinguished experience. The restaurant recently opened in Laguna Beach with chef-driven, seasonally changing dishes that highlight pristine ingredients. 

Laguna Art Craig

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Chef Craig Strong will serve a celebrity chef for LAM’s Gala 2019 

Chef Strong was the executive chef for nine years at Studio at Montage Laguna Beach, where he helped the restaurant garner Five Stars from Forbes. Previously under Chef Strong’s helm, the now-called The Langham Huntington in Pasadena earned a Michelin star for two consecutive years. 

Earlier in his career, Strong cheffed at The Arts Hotel in Barcelona and The Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead, Georgia, and served as sous chef at Glitretind Restaurant at Stein Erikson Lodge in Deer Valley, Utah. He studied at L’Academie de Cuisine in Washington, D.C.

The museum will recognize longtime supporters and community philanthropists Jane and Joe Hanauer as the Honorary Chairs for Gala 2019 and will honor the acclaimed and beloved California artist Lita Albuquerque with its Wendt Award. 

Proceeds from the event ensure operating support for Laguna Art Museum to continue its mission to be the premier museum for California art and a center of culture for Laguna Beach.

For more information about Gala 2019, including to purchase tickets, visit https://lagunaartmuseum.org/events/gala-2019/.

Laguna Art Museum is located at 307 Cliff Dr.


Brothers’ “Chefs’ Table” is double the fun at Royal Hawaiian

Story and photos by Diane Armitage

When the Molteni brothers purchased the iconic Royal Hawaiian in January, Laguna Beach was in for a rare treat.

While Chef Martin and Chef Maro have independently operated award-winning kitchens all over the world, they’ve also supported and created in each other’s restaurant kitchens for decades, wordlessly and inherently playing to the other’s strengths.

“We’ve worked together in kitchens since we were kids,” says Chef Maro Molteni. “So, every time we’re together again, it just locks in fluidly. It’s easy.”

Brothers Chefs duo

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Chef Martin Molteni, left, with little brother and Co-Chef Maro Molteni of Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill

This certainly proved the case this last Saturday evening when they chose to co-host a Chefs’ Table dinner in their revitalized private dining room at the Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill. The brothers scheduled two such dinners, with this coming Friday, Aug 2 still offering a few seats at 7 p.m.

A 10-Course Exquisite Dinner

Saturday’s Chefs’ Table was nothing short of extraordinary. Greeted at the door with a glass of Veuve Cliquot, it only improved from there as the brothers served dish after dish with cocktail and wine pairings for each.

True to their Royal Hawaiian duo-world menu that combines Argentinian coastal cooking roots with historical Hawaiian coastal favorites, Chefs Martin and Maro explained they would be doing the same for this dinner.

Brothers Chefs ceviche

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Geoduck Ceviche is prepped and ready for the Chefs’ Dinner

The menu started with a giant Littleneck Clam on ice, followed by a rare Geoduck Ceviche, fresh-caught Sea Bass Sashimi, Ahi Tuna Tartar and Sweetbreads. With each entry, the chefs explained the dish and poured fresh wine.

Already stuffed to our own human gills, a glorious Wagyu Empanada was followed by an even more glorious, melt-in-your-mouth Wagyu steak.

Brothers Chefs torte

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Rogel Torta brings down the house at the Chefs’ Dinner event

The brothers finished the evening with a duo of desserts – an Argentinian favorite, a magnificent Rogel Torta, and an “American favorite,” a flourless Lava Cake adorned in bright, fresh tropical fruits.

While there are no promises that the same menu will be in play this coming Friday, guests can be assured that this Chefs’ Table dinner will be a most memorable one and well worth the $100/person investment. Chefs Martin and Maro are world-class talented innovators. Grab the last of the Friday seats at their website at www.RoyalHawaiianLB.com.

 The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle.


What’s up with The Drake, Wild Taco, and Red Dragon: progress details and updates

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Residents have been eagerly anticipating the opening of three local restaurants – The Drake, Wild Taco, and Red Dragon. As reported, “City staff is aware of the following progress” on two of the locations.

The Drake

Laguna Beach’s Director of Community Development Greg Pfost says that construction is well underway at The Drake, and it will open when completed. While the restaurant may open as early as sometime in August, they do not have a confirmed opening date.

The Drake, located at 2894 S Coast Hwy, is the project of executive chef and ownership partner Paul Gstrein (formerly of Bistango and Bayside) and sons, including his sous chef son Nick Gstrein. The culinary team will feature modern California fare with global influences. The restaurant will also have a piano bar lounge, an enclosed firewall patio, and will feature live music nightly – jazz, R&B, and blues. 

Whats up The Drake

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Courtesy of Facebook

The Drake during construction – “Where great food meets great music”

The Drake, named after the famous New York City hotel, is an expanded version of the Tabu Grill space at the corner of Nyes Place and Coast Highway.

Wild Taco

 “Wild Taco submitted for a building plan check and the tenant improvement plans are currently under review by the City. Once the permit is issued, they may move forward and complete construction and then open. No opening date is available at this time,” says Pfost. 

Wild Taco, owned by Bear Flag Fish Co, is proposing a 56-seat fast casual restaurant (in the building formerly occupied by Johnny Rockets) serving Baja Californian cuisine with a farm-to-table style menu dedicated to sourcing the freshest ingredients from produce, farm-raised organic meats, and locally caught wild fish. There will also be beer and wine service. It’s located on the corner of Ocean Avenue and Coast Highway.

Whats up Wild Taco

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Wild Taco took over the building formerly housing Johnny Rockets 

The interior design will draw influence from Baja California and California surf culture. No alterations to the building exterior were proposed at the time the process began earlier in the year. 

Red Dragon 

Jim Conrad, local architect in charge of the Red Dragon project, says that the halt in construction has been a result of a disagreement between the City and Coastal Commission on exactly what is a minor and major remodel – and whether the demolition exceeds the limits. 

Before the new property owner Enshan Zhao bought it for three million dollars, the owner of the property at 680 S Coast Hwy – a location that once housed the popular Mosun Sushi & Sake and Club M – kept the place dormant.

Construction initially began in January of 2018.

According to Conrad, the Coastal Commission didn’t want to allow the construction to continue, but the City determined Red Dragon has not exceeded the limits and construction may be resumed. However, it must wait until after the summer, since it will require lane closures that would further bog down summer traffic.

According to www.reddragonca.com, Red Dragon will be a new upscale Chinese restaurant that will provide authentic Cantonese cuisine (meals and dim sum). The project will feature a fine dining restaurant, including private rooms, a terrace, an indoor bar and lounge, a rooftop bar and lounge, and an exterior patio dining area.

Stu News will continue to provide updates on these projects, including opening dates when announced.


Laguna Coffee Company announces new gluten-free, paleo-friendly partnership

Laguna Coffee Company, a micro-roaster coffee shop owned and operated by Rene and Tomi Miller, has partnered up with Lavender Lane Baking Co., an OC-based online bakery providing gluten-free, grain-free, and paleo-friendly indulgences. 

Laguna Coffee Company now has these goodies available for customers. Some of the new offerings include dark chocolate cacao brownies, blondie bars, and chocolate chip cookies (vegan or keto).

Laguna Coffee owners 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Owners Rene and Tomi Miller in front of Laguna Coffee Company

Lavender Lane Baking Co. was founded by Christine Bren and Sarah Butler with the mission of providing delicious indulgences to satisfy any sweet tooth without derailing your health goals or dietary restrictions. 

After extensive research and practice, Christine has perfected her recipes and is excited to be sharing them with Laguna Coffee Company’s customers.

Laguna Coffee Company is located at 1050 South Coast Hwy, B.


Las Brisas embraces new changes with updated weekend prix-fixe four-course brunch menu

With the restaurant’s revamped culinary program – now under the direction of Bay Area chef Michael Gaines, who grew up in Orange County – and the completed bar and lounge, Las Brisas is embracing new change all around. 

Since 1979, Las Brisas has welcomed families for their beloved weekend buffets, but timed to this year’s 40th anniversary, the restaurant decided it was time for a brunch makeover. 

Las Brisas breakfast scenic 

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Las Brisas’ new brunch menu with a view

Matching the property’s vibrant ocean setting, the new brunch prix-fixe menu offers plenty for everyone to enjoy, serving traditional brunch dishes with a Mexican-inspired twist. The prix-fixe brunch includes four courses and pairing options like the classic bottomless mimosas, or signature day-time cocktails. Las Brisas continues to serve Laguna Beach weekenders, and remains an ideal setting for unwinding and soaking up the views on the cliffside for many years to come. 

Weekend brunch is served from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

Las Brisas french toast

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French toast with a flair

Four-course brunch ($45) highlights include:

--Upgrade with bottomless mimosas or mix & match with signature cocktails – $15 

Starters

--Pozole Verde – pulled chicken, tomatillos, poblano peppers 

--Salmon Tostadas – crema, pickled red onion, capers, chives 

--Yogurt & Granola – seasonal fruit, Straus whole milk yogurt, coconut, agave 

Las Brisas bar

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Revamped bar area 

Entrée 

--Crab Scramble – scallions, crème fraiche, crispy potatoes, and fresh corn tortillas 

--Filet and Lobster Enchiladas – guajillo sauce, tomatillo sauce, black beans, rice 

--French Toast – seasonal fruit, cocoa nibs, toasted macadamia nuts, tangerine butter 

--Asparagus Omelet – asparagus, peppadew, goat cheese, avocado, cilantro, crispy potatoes

Dessert 

--Trio of Sorbet – coconut, mango, pineapple 

--Traditional Flan – with seasonal fruit 

Las Brisas is located at 361 Cliff Dr.

For more information, go to www.lasbrisaslagunabeach.com or call (949) 497-5434.


Selanne Steak Tavern awarded “Best of Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator magazine 

Selanne Steak Tavern’s wine list has again earned the second highest level of recognition – “2019 Best of Award of Excellence” from prestigious industry publication Wine Spectator magazine. 

Award winners will be featured in the August 31 Wine Spectator issue, which hits newsstands this month. Full award listings are found at www.restaurants.winespectator.com

“We are once again very proud of our wine collection, which has been supervised and maintained by Certified Advanced Sommelier Vito Pasquale since we opened in 2013,” said Selanne Steak Tavern owners Teemu Selanne and Kevin Pratt. 

They continued, “Vito and his team of wine experts provide our guests with the highest level of wine hospitality and always graciously guide diners to explore the wonderful world of wines that pair well with the chef’s menu and the particular occasion.”

Selanne Steak room

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Selanne Steak Tavern’s wine collection lands them top honors 

According to Wine Spectator, “The Best of Award of Excellence, granted to 1,244 restaurants in 2019, honors wine programs that take their commitment a step further; it recognizes lists that display excellent breadth across multiple regions and/or significant vertical depth of top wines, along with superior presentation.” 

It is an award only garnered by restaurants that typically offer 350 or more selections and are destinations for serious wine lovers – places that have a deep commitment to wine, both in the cellar and through their service team.

Selanne Steak Tavern has received this award based on its impressive wine inventory of over 3,000 bottles with list strength in selections from California, Burgundy and other French regions, Italy, and Germany.

The list includes over 425 global selections, Old and New World from Washington, Oregon, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Argentina, Germany, Austria, South Africa, Portugal, Canada, and Australia. While it is heavily focused on California cult wines with many highly allocated, low production, big scoring selections, it is designed to appeal to all wine lovers.

Selanne Steak Tavern opened in November 2013 and is owned by Hockey Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and local Orange County businessman Kevin Pratt. Housed in a reimagined 1934 historic home along the Pacific Coast, it’s an upscale contemporary steak house with an upstairs dining room, downstairs tavern and bar area, a wine room for more intimate dining, and two patios for alfresco dining. 

The restaurant supports local farms and fisheries that practice sustainability and humane practices. Menus feature the finest of steaks and seafood served with a variety of accompaniments enhanced by herbs from the restaurant’s herb garden. 

Along with its carefully selected California-focused wine list, craft signature cocktails are created from quality farmers’ market produce, homemade mixers, and top-notch shelf spirits. Selanne Steak Tavern is open for dinner nightly starting at 5 p.m. 

For reservations and more information, call (949) 715-9881 or visit www.selannesteaktavern.com.   

Selanne Steak Tavern is located at 1464 South Coast Hwy. 


VINO POP takes wine lovers on a Drive Through Napa with vino and food on Friday

Laguna residents and couple Kathy Lajvardi and Naushad Huda, founder of I Like Grape, teamed up with author Paul Hodges to produce the book Drive Through Napa: Your Ultimate Companion to Napa Valley’s Wine Regions. Out of this collaboration have come events including the upcoming VINO POP.

VINO POP, a unique Napa wine and food event inspired by the acclaimed book Drive Through Napa, will take place on Friday, July 12 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the GARAGE collective.

Lish Bradbury, founder of LisherB Events, is producing VINO POP.

Float through a Laguna Beach summer evening enjoying unexpected bites that surprise the senses and extraordinary wines featured in the book Drive Through Napa. The evening will be led by a certified wine expert who will walk guests through wines from some of the 16 AVAs (American Viticulture Areas) of Napa. Guests will learn about the unique characteristics of the wines that are derived from the unique lands on which the grapes are farmed. 

Vino Pop trio

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(L-R) Kathy Lajvardi, author Paul Hodges, and Naushad Huda

To add to the palette pleasing evening, VINO POP will feature one-of-a-kind small food pairings by chefs Wes Minichiello and Angela Samuels of The Hardware House Kitchen. The duo’s surprise menu will include a theme that threads the event. Additionally, the creativity of Tablo will provide a designed grazing table of charcuterie, cheeses, crudites, and artisanal breads.

“Our goal is to create unique, curated live experiences around wine. Last year we paired five Kanye West songs with five original art pieces, five Top Chef-driven food courses and five Spanish!” says Naushad.

While enjoying the food and wine, guests will wander through the chic indoor/outdoor space of the Garage Collective. The evening starts with a chilled glass of LVE Rosé by John Legend & Raymond Vineyards and concludes with the blind tasting of a wine from the classic Rombauer Vineyards. 

In the interim, guests will be poured beautiful and interesting wines from iconic Napa Valley producers Trefethen Family Vineyards and Tamber Bey.

Vino Pop two girls

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(L-R) Chef Angela Samuels of The Hardware House Kitchen and Lish Bradbury of LisherB Events 

“I’m excited about VINO POP. The event will give locals a chance to taste and learn more about California’s most popular wine region,” says Lish.

As an added bonus, in addition to amazing wines and distinctive foods, each guest will receive a signed copy of Drive Through Napa. The book has racked up accolades from casual wine drinkers to industry experts. Readers appreciate its bold design and user-friendly tone as it relays valuable information to visitors and drinkers of Napa Valley wines.

The Garage Collective is located at 1524 S Coast Hwy

For information and tickets to this 21-and-over event, visit drivethroughnapa.com/events or contact Naushad Huda at (949) 441-4832 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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