The Grand Opening of Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo Cantina
in Lake Tahoe, NV 

by R. Scott Bolton

    Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo Cantina in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico has become a place of legend. When you think of the words "rock'n'roll party" you probably think of Sammy Hagar and Cabo Wabo. We had the good fortune to visit Cabo Wabo a few years ago and the place lived up to its reputation. Good food, great drinks, loud music. It's the kind of place you and your friends don't mind hanging out at all day long.

    A couple of years ago, Sammy announced that the magic of Cabo Wabo would finally arrive in the United States. Plans were made to open a Cabo Wabo cantina in Las Vegas, NV. Sadly, for whatever reasons, those plans fell through.

    But this is Sammy Hagar we're talking about here. And Sammy doesn't give up easily.

    Finally, Sammy Hagar has brought Cabo Wabo to the U.S. with the opening of the Cabo Wabo Cantina - Lake Tahoe, nicknamed "Tahoe Wabo." Tahoe Wabo had its grand opening celebration over the weekend of April 30th and we were fortunate enough to attend.

    Cabo Wabo Lake Tahoe is located in Harvey's Casino, directly across from Harrah's. Don't look for the restaurant on the gaming floor - you won't find it there. Instead, find the passage way that runs between Harrah's and Harvey's and take the escalator downstairs. Cabo Wabo sits at the bottom of those escalators. During the Grand Opening weekend, a series of balloon-adorned signs pointed the way (without those signs, we probably would have wandered around in circles - no one expected Cabo Wabo to be underground).

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    We arrived on Friday, April 30th, but missed the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony thanks to major construction on the highway leading into Tahoe (Thank God for Sirius radio and the Buzzsaw Channel for getting us through those interminable periods sitting in the car waiting for the sign to change from "Stop" to "Slow.") Still, upon our arrival we immediately caught up with Waborita guitarist Vic Johnson, who stopped long enough for us (and many others) to snap a picture. Mona, the Waboritas' bassist, also made an appearance and posed for a few pictures.

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    Cabo Wabo Lake Tahoe is nowhere near as large as the original Cabo Wabo. Basically, Tahoe Wabo consists of a small restaurant area to the left, a small bar to the right, a series of patio tables and palapas in front of the restaurant and, of course, the requisite gift shop. At the gift shop's main entrance stood a five foot, papier mache bottle of Cabo Wabo tequila. That bottle would mysteriously disappear later that afternoon, only to reappear onstage during Sammy's three scheduled shows that weekend. 

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    It had been a long drive from our hometown to Lake Tahoe (somewhere in the neighborhood of eight hours, total) and, damn, we were thirsty. So we managed to find a seat at the palapas in front of the Cantina and ordered a couple yard-long margaritas. On the rocks, of course, with Cabo Wabo tequila. The margaritas were excellent and, as we waited for Sammy to make another appearance, we downed a couple more smaller ones. When Sammy hadn't returned after an hour, and the line for lunch hadn't gotten much smaller, we decided to take a stroll downtown for some Wolfgang Puck pizza. There, we ran into Ted Nugent who had played Harrah's the night before and was scheduled to appear as Sammy's guest during the next three nights. Ted looked great and obviously enjoyed his lunch. "Good job, gentlemen," he told the Puck employees. "It was delicious." 

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    That evening, we decided to venture past the palapas out front and into the bar. It was packed to the gills, as you might imagine, and the bartenders were seriously overloaded. Still, we finally managed to order a pair of Waboritas that were nearly worth the wait and, in fact, became my drink of choice for the rest of the weekend. This despite the fact that the bartender, Paul, got a little pissy because he was so overworked and charged me $7.00 each for two Waboritas that didn't even fill half the standard glass. I hope things will get smoother, for Paul's sake as well as the customers.

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The next day, Saturday, we returned at about 3:00 PM. Cabo Wabo doesn't take reservations but there is a brief waiting list. We only had to wait about 20 minutes before being led to our table. I ordered the Popcorn Shrimp tacos. They were brought quickly and were excellent, if a little on the pricey side. Two tacos plus a plate of rice and beans were $10.95. Add to that another Waborita and a Hypnorita (a margarita made with Hypnotique brand liqueur) and I was suddenly looking at a $30.00 lunch - for just one person. Hey, you expect to get a little gouged when you go to a place like this. Still, the service was great (our server, Keith, was very attentive) and the atmosphere was fantastic. A surprise appearance by Sammy Hagar (welcomed with a surging cheer) and his lunch guest Jerry Cantrell made it all worthwhile.

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The gift shop was full of great stuff for Sammy Hagar fans. There were t-shirts available from virtually every Sammy Hagar album, special "Cinco de Cabo" t-shirts, commemorating the weekend, Sammy Hagar brand sunglasses and, of course, bottles of Cabo Wabo tequila and Sammy's CDs and DVDs. One section of particular note contained a dozen or so Hawaiian-style shirts that Sammy had actually worn on stage. These shirts were priced at a whopping $250.00 each, 20% of which was to be donated to the Tahoe Douglas Fire Department.

View from the mountaintop of Cabo Wabo location
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In the evenings, various guests performed on the postage stamp sized stage. If I had one complaint, it would be that Cabo Wabo Lake Tahoe is too small for a stage. Better to put a couple more much-needed tables there and put the stage elsewhere. Still, it is Cabo Wabo and, hence, live music is an important part of the scene. By the way, if you're wondering, Sammy played Harrah's South Shore Room and not Cabo Wabo. With about 1,000 people attending each of the three sold-out shows, it would have been impossible to squeeze 20% of them into the tiny Cabo Wabo. 

Sammy talks with local press about the new Cabo Wabo
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Cabo Wabo Lake Tahoe may not live up to the legend and, in fact, the reality of its predecessor in Cabo San Lucas but it is a great place to visit. We spent a great deal of our weekend there, enjoying Waboritas, looking for stars and people-watching.  Tahoe Wabo may not be as great as the original, but it's still a very cool place. We'll go back again ... and the sooner, the better.

For more information, check out http://www.redrocker.com

Some of the spoils of our weekend at Cabo Wabo, Lake Tahoe

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Copyright 2004 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 31 Jul 2018 23:38:08 -0400