This is a story of loss and acceptance. Bear with me.
We first went to Pepe's in La Cañada in late 2004. I was picking up my snowboard from Sport Chalet (the original!), and my lady and I asked them for a local restaurant recommendation.
"Well, people sure seem to like Pepe's, next door," someone there said.
For good reason. Pepe's was old-school (built in the early 70's, I'd guess), small, and idiosyncratic. It always felt like what a Mexican ski lodge would be, if such a thing existed. It was a warm, cozy getaway from Los Angeles, and totally unlike anyplace else. It featured a cast of odd characters (both servers and customers) who we saw week after week and to whom we assigned various and sundry nicknames, all affectionate.
My favorite was "The Turtle." If you were there on Friday nights, you know who I mean.
And man, the doctor there made good margaritas.
We were loyal customers there until New Year's Eve 2006/2007, when we pulled up to find Pepe's closed for good. We'd been warned that this day was coming, but that didn't make it any easier. Resigned, we drove quite a ways further east to Pepe's sister restaurant, Margaritas.
There we found more friendly people, but a space that was far more utilitarian and brightly-lit than Pepe's. We would implore them to turn the lights down, and they'd often indulge us.
"Soon the new Pepe's will open," we assured each other.
The new Pepe's opening got pushed back from October 2007 to January, February, and April of 2008. Today it finally opened, at 2272 Honolulu Avenue in Montrose.
On the good side, all the great people are back. The food is the same lovable, trashy, affectionately-prepared L.A. Mexican you've always known and loved. The doctor is in, and his margaritas are as fine as you remember.
On the very, very bad side, however, the room itself is a complete disaster. It's a huge, barren, generic box with zero charm and less warmth. Imagine a Motel 6 bathroom, but even more brightly lit. I've felt more romance and magic in a dermatologist's examining room.
The upside to Pepe's taking as long as it did to re-open is that it let us get most of the way through the Kübler-Ross model of grief. All we needed was acceptance, and we sure got it tonight.
Fare thee well, Pepe's. We're moving on.