Los Angeles ends at County Line Beach. Cars perpetually round the blind corners of this strip of Pacific Coast Highway—Porsche Carreras, rented Camrys, beat up Volkswagens with longboards strapped to the roof—any of which could brake abruptly to snag a spot on the shoulder so that their driver can jump out and into the waves. On one side, County Line is rocks and rotting staircases you have to negotiate to get to the water. On the other, brush and hillsides that are prone to erosion and fire. There is also one restaurant here, at the overgrown border of Los Angeles and the rest of the world: Neptune's Net. It's a crumbling and colorful building that is mostly patio: a daytime watering hole for bikers, local surfers, and other divorcees who are married to the sea.
The parking lot smells of cigarettes and sea breeze. Topless construction workers lean against truck beds and sip from six packs they've purchased inside. Tourists pose next to the iconic sign, with its whimsical font. Immediately beside them are stalls where the Harleys park. On your way up the steps of the outdoor patio, a sign asks (and then tells): "First time? Here's the plan," and instructs you to claim dibs on a seat before ordering from one of the place's two sides: seafood or restaurant. This is the core of Neptune's Net's philosophy: All are welcome. Now act like you've fucking been here before.
The "restaurant side" is the original part of the building. It was built in 1957 and has housed the same deep fryers in the same location for the past 50 years. The back wall is a long refrigerator filled with rare IPAs and seasonal microbrews. As might be expected from a restaurant where shoes but not shirts are required, domestic tallboys are the hot ticket item. After you've grabbed your own drink, you head to the counter, where a laid-back cashier in a t-shirt will ring you up for that and whatever greasy bullshit you've decided you deserve.
Signature menu items on the restaurant side include fish & chips, a crab cake burger, and clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. The chowder bowl is the only meat I've eaten since becoming a vegetarian at age eight. When I was a teenager ditching school there with a surfer I had a crush on, he convinced me to try a bite, on the grounds that clams don't have faces. I helped him eat the entire soppy bowl.
Neptune's Net is, and always has been, a safe place to play hooky. No one will ask what you're doing on the patio, where you can hide outside with the other outsiders. You take your time dipping fries in ketchup or tartar sauce, which, of course, you pumped yourself at the metal counters, where you also got your own plastic utensils and opened your own bottle too. The ocean is directly before you, framed by cliffs and that gravel artery the PCH, where, on weekends, bikers from Germany and France and the hills above roar by, popping wheelies for show. A few times a year, lucky audiences on the patio catch a high-speed police pursuit or other evidence of what the world has to offer while everyone else is busy following rules.
The beach break that is Neptune's Net's front yard is surfed mostly by locals, who will be cool with interlopers so long as they don't try to steal their waves. To get back and forth between the beach and the restaurant, you have to jaywalk across the highway. There is a steady flow of foot traffic in each direction. Coming in: surfers with wet stringy hair and half-unzipped wetsuits. Going out: voyeurs carrying tacos they'll eat while watching others in the water below. County Line is world-famous: The Beach Boys sang about it. Bodie surfed it in Point Break.
The restaurant itself is also featured in Point Break and many other movies, including The Fast and the Furious and Iron Man 3 (which didn't film there, but replicated it as part of a fake Malibu that was actually shot in Florida). TV shows like Gossip Girl and The Hills have shot there, and, according to one employee, Keeping Up With The Kardashians has planned to film there multiple times, but always backs out. In the most recent iteration of Grand Theft Auto, you can wander around a video game version of the Net called Hookies (the game did not get permission from the owners), complete with accurate depiction of the outhouse restrooms, which seem to be there less out of logistical necessity than as a way of weeding out patrons who are too good to cop a squat and hold their breaths.
For all of its unapologetic, undusted ceiling fans and pigeon droppings on the outdoor rafters, it is not unusual to spot a celebrity at Neptune's Net. Barefoot counts and countesses who have eaten at the place include Pierce Brosnan, Owen and Luke Wilson, Cheech Marin, Pink and Carey Hart, and the Neptune's Net of stars: Pamela Anderson.
The aggressively relaxed people who are indigenous to the area may come for the "seafood side"'s colorful crab, lobster, and clams, which are chilled on ice and sold at market price. All of it is quality. None of it is fancy. In the background, the turning over of motorcycle engines punctuates the soundscape like a series of on-schedule trains.
In the summer, as many as 10,000 tourists will line up in a single weekend to order things like the peanut butter stout and vanilla froyo float, but as long as the line may get, as much weight as the cement patio may bear, Neptune's Net belongs to its regulars. Ten to 15 locals show up here every day, with such consistency that employees worry if they don't see them. Another 50 or so can be counted on to stop by at least one or two times a week.
When I was last there, two regulars, both gray-haired and in leather vests, sat together in the far rear corner. They played dice and smoked cigarettes. Two other regulars, a dad and his school-aged son, arrived. They said hi to the old men. Both parties were pleasant and brief, like friendly co-workers. It was time for the kid to start his homework, for the dad in the cool sneakers to get himself a beer, for the men in the leather vests to roll their dice again.
· Curbed Features [Curbed LA]