Hot New Nightlife
Our nightlife scene is on a surge. Here are 20 places that have opened since last year and are raring to entertain you into the wee hours——including Universal, hot off the block and conducting an interesting social experiment.
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TO QUALIFY for this list of best new hot spots, the venue had to open in January 2007 or later. That meant Basic Urban Kitchen + Bar, Beauty Bar, Johnny V’s and Lei Lounge (all born in 2006) didn’t qualify——but they do add to our burgeoning scene. Nor could we count bars slated to open later this year—a second Zenbu coming to Cardiff, another Basic going into Vista, Tommy V’s in Carlsbad and the shuttered Side Bar that’s five years old but revamping under a cloud of secrecy in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Side Bar was the first local effort by EnDev, the company that went on to create downtown’s Stingaree, the place to be, named by Condé Nast Traveler last year as one of the top nightclubs in the country. EnDev also is responsible for Bar West, Ciro’s Pizza, The Witherby (a private event space) and will reopen Top of the Cove restaurant in La Jolla in 2009, complete with a new lounge.
EnDev president James Brennan is keeping mum regarding the new Side Bar concept. “It’ll be a little bigger,” he says. “And it’ll be comfortable.” It won’t become a dive, and it won’t have synergy with down-the-street Stingaree, he says.
Brennan is much more loquacious about the new Hillcrest social experiment that is Universal. The 14,000-square-foot property houses a night club and a restaurant called Dish and will be adjacent to a Ciro’s. It’s opening this month.
EnDev wants to see if gay and straight patrons will mix in Universal. “We’re building in a heavily gay-populated area,” says Brennan. “But a lot of straight people live here, too. I’m a straight guy, and I have a gay brother-in-law. Universal will be a place where we can go and everybody will be comfortable.”
Some other clubs have gay and straight designated nights. That won’t be the case at Universal. EnDev looked at that concept, but Brennan feels it misses the point he wants to make. “This place is a political statement,” he says. “Times have changed. And people are more accepting every day.”
Creating a sexual-orientation melting pot wasn’t EnDev’s goal going out of the gate. But it’s become a mission now. “If you’re someone with bias, you’re not welcome at Universal,” says Brennan. “We don’t want you. We realize the majority of people coming here will be gay. That’s the neighborhood. It might be a challenge for some straight guys, for some guys who haven’t opened their minds.”
He notes that straight girls often frequent gay bars——so they aren’t pressured or besieged all night by male suitors. “So if a smart straight guy figures out where all the straight girls are going . . .” says Brennan, leaving it to the smart straight guys to finish his sentence.
To further mix the genders, some bathroom facilities have shared sinks for men and women. Universal’s club has two bars, a dance floor and tables on the perimeter for bottle service. The restaurant, Dish at Universal, features indoor and outdoor seating. There are two private dining rooms inside. In the outdoor courtyard, a fire pit will burn into the night, and the walls will eventually be covered with ivy.
The Dish menu consists of urban comfort food. Prices are more moderate than at the high-flying Stingaree. “For some obvious reasons, gay couples have a lot of disposable income,” says Brennan. “But they are bargain-savvy. Our research showed that Hillcrest bars serve a stiffer drink than downtown.”
So when in Hillcrest . . .
1337 India Street
Opened: June ’07
This megaclub/restaurant opened on the ground and mezzanine floors of MetroWork, an office-condo project on India Street, south of Ash. Metro Work developer and Anthology owner Howard Berkson designed the $15 million club as a major music venue showcasing pop music, jazz and big bands, as well as upscale dining. Renowned chef Bradley Ogden animates the kitchen in this chichi supper club. “People 35 and older today have been locked out of entertainment in San Diego,” says Berkson. “We wanted to create this New York/Chicago experience for older adults to come out, have a nice, relaxing, fine-dining experience and see and hear the best music around.”
Bar Pink ElephantNorth Park
3829 30th Street
Opened: August ’07
The relatively inexpensive Pink Elephant redefines “neighborhood bar” (think all the perks of a dive bar without the dirty bathroom). With jukebox jams and a cash-only bar, patrons can feel at home amid cheap drinks and a well-rounded beer selection. The dimly lit bar attracts hipsters, garage-band kings and their posses. Small and dark, the bar has a mellow demeanor, a forthcoming clientele and sociable bartenders. Pink Elephant patrons are a jumble of regulars and laidback locals looking for a place to throw a few back, socialize and play some pool (or pinball). Long live the cool neighborhood bar.
Bar WestPacific Beach
959 Hornblend Street
Opened: April ’07
Tucked into a discreet space off Hornblend Street, Bar West is a taste of downtown nightlife at the beach. The dance floor is the pulsing heart of the place, with resident and guest deejays who play hip-hop and house beats. Bars and booths border the 5,000-square-foot area, which also contains a cozier dining space serving up California cuisine that complements creative cocktails, such as the ginger mojito. Beginning this month, Bar West hosts house parties every Friday night, capped by a latenight-bite pizza from Ciro’s.
Bondi Bar & KitchenGaslamp Quarter
333 Fifth Avenue
Opened: January ’07
It’s easy to work up enthusiasm for the mates at Bondi, especially after trying a few glasses of imported Boag’s draft. The beautiful new Aussie restaurant/bar is known for its fabulous décor, including metal sculpture, red iron-ore walls imported from Australia and 110 works of blown-glass art on the ceiling. Go up, up and away in the beautiful balloon-shaped booths; the seats and tables give guests the feeling of being suspended in space for a caged bird’s view of this enormous, visually captivating place. Even so, the décor can’t quite compete with the too-cute Down Under staff.
Currant AmericanBrasserie & Bar
140 West Broadway
Opened: August ’07
The renovated Sofia Hotel’s Currant American Brasserie & Bar aims to redefine San Diego’s up scale-hotel dining/bar scene. The ground-floor establishment shows elite hotel lovers and restaurant connoisseurs that Sofia offers more than just a place to sleep. Currant (the name refers to a small, sweet berry used in baking) is very Miami–meets–San Francisco in an urban-chic way. The space is small, but a splash of Parisian brasserie style and a touch of class are key ingredients. Old World meets New in simple, contemporary elegance. Thin, vine-like twigs serve as the backdrop for the semicircular bar’s vast wine collection. Currant’s bar and eatery clientele are a pastiche of downtown denizens and hotel guests.
200 Harbor Drive
Moved: November ’07
For seven years, Dizzy’s jazz club was in a downtown warehouse on Seventh Avenue. The venue has moved to the ground floor of the Harbor Club high-rise at Second Avenue and J Street. Dizzy’s is part of the backside of the building (facing the convention center) where the San Diego Wine & Culinary Center uncorks its brand of fun. Local jazz players such as Peter Sprague, Gilbert Castellanos and Joe Marillo perform here regularly. The club is an oasis of improvisation and spontaneity, and the tagline says it all: Where the Music Matters Most.
East Village Tavern & BowlEast Village
930 Market Street
Opened: September ’07
One of the best signs of the neighborhood’s gentrification is this sporty hot spot. A line to get into a tavern? Yep—come early on Friday and Saturday nights. And if you want to get a table to eat breakfast or lunch and watch the Chargers game on Sundays, come even earlier. The bar—staffed by hotties—is surrounded by large-and-in-charge flat-screen televisions. In between your downing of draft beers and lemon-drop shots, take advantage of a sports-bar rarity—the EVT’s colorful, fully automated bowling alley.
The BartenderJackie Guenther, East Village Tavern & Bowl
> Guenther is from Buffalo, New York. The 25-year-old has been tending bar for eight years and has been at EVT since it opened in September.
> She says the most annoying drink to make is a mojito. Fortunately, they don’t serve them at EVT. A bloody Mary is annoying, too, but it’s Guenther’s tastiest cocktail.
> Best thing about bartending: “Meeting new people. No two days are the same. Each night is like a show, and I love watching people . . . progress.”
> Number of drunks she’s had to cut off over the years: 60-70.
> Best way to get her attention: “Eye contact. I’m always scanning the bar. Be ready, and be alert when I get to you.”
> Worst way to get her attention: “Avoid all quick and loud movements. Don’t wave and don’t yell, and do not snap your fingers at me.”
> Biggest tip ever: $200.
> Biggest tip at EVT: $70.
> Please don’t ask her to run a credit card for just one drink.
> How many patrons has she dated? “One, at my first job. Never again. People aren’t the same outside the bar.”
Firehouse AmericanEatery & Lounge
722 Grand Avenue
Opened: June ’07
Located beside the Pacific Beach Fire Station, Firehouse American Eatery & Lounge offers a classy downtown lounge vibe—complete with swanky leather sofas—minus the sass. Firehouse sticks to its laid-back beach roots, encouraging patrons to enjoy casual conversation and breathtaking views while seated around the rooftop patio fire pit. Specialty drinks like Firehouse Sweet Tea and Ladder 21 Lemonade grace the menu alongside more traditional American finger foods. On Monday nights, join in free Nintendo Wii sports league play and earn bar tab credit, or jam out with local deejays Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights.
Hard Rock Hotel(Moonstone Lounge and Sweetwater Saloon)
207 Fifth Avenue
Opened: December ’07
The Hard Rock Hotel actually lives up to its extensive hype. It’s cool—from its techno-inspired check-in area to the sensational sushi at Nobu. Both the ground-floor Sweetwater Saloon and fourth-floor, open-air Moonstone Lounge were created by the Gerber Group. Sweetwater is dark and ornate. Some tables come with their own beer taps. Moonstone includes a big covered bar, poolside cabañas and a large open area used for concerts (the Black Eyed Peas played for the hotel opening). Bottle service ranges from $300 to $780. Cocktail waitresses sport skimpy bikini tops and low-rise white sweatpants.