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Pop’s Liquor Cabinet Finds a Downtown Niche

The tiny cocktail bar is big on charm and good drinks


J.J. Licari behind the bar at Pop's Liquor Cabinet. | Photo: Kelly Davis

It’s rather amazing that something like Pop’s Liquor Cabinet exists in San Diego, a city that—to be honest—could do better when it comes to embracing quirky-cool stuff.

Tucked between two Gaslamp nightclubs, at 540 F St., “cabinet” is an accurate way to describe Pop’s: there are four seats at the bar, two high-top tables for two and enough room left over for maybe three or four people to comfortably hang out. Maximum capacity is 12.

Given the kitsch factor—the size and the fact that Pop’s is decorated like the home bar grandpa had back in the early 1960s—you might not expect the drinks to be as good as they are. But Pop’s is easily up there with any of San Diego’s more well-known cocktail spots.

“We wanted to be the bar downtown that doesn’t feel downtown,” says Christina Licari, who opened Pop’s with her husband J.J. in 2014. (Pop’s will celebrate its second anniversary in October.)

The menu includes 19 classics that range from approachable (French 75, Old Fashioned) to more sophisticated offerings (Last Word, Vieux Carre, El Presidente). Through August, they’re making a really nice Jack Rose (applejack, housemade grenadine, lemon juice, and Angostura bitters) with proceeds benefiting the Seany Foundation.

Pop’s is open from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily (Sunday, Sept. 4, they’ll open at 5 p.m. and host a pre-Labor Day barbecue). One Monday a month, they invite in a guest bartender and feature a couple of specialty cocktails (most recently, it was Herb & Wood’s Will Van Leuven making La Niña mezcal cocktails).

You might assume that based on its size and location, Pop’s is always packed. It depends, J.J. says—sometimes they’ll open at 9 p.m. to a line, while other times it’ll be just a few folks until 10:30 or so. And you can always call ahead to reserve a bar stool.

And some people still don’t know what to make of a tiny, mellow cocktail bar in the middle of the Gaslamp. “A lot of people walk in, then they walk out,” J.J. laughs.

Got suggestions for a future column? Write to 2kellydavis@gmail.com.

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