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Cocktail Time in San Diego

The 10 best spots to get a drink


Considering the upheaval at City Hall over the past month, we could all use a drink right about now. So we sent out one intrepid imbiber (who also happens to be a local bartender) to find the 10 best spots to belly up to this month. Here’s the list. Salut!

1. Polite Provisions

4696 30th Street, Normal Heights


The scene: Gibson Girl soda shop meets hipster hotspot. Marble bar and tabletops with shiny gold trimmings. Bartenders in pageboys and customers in skinny jeans. What you’re having: The Kentucky Buck, with bourbon, lemon juice, strawberry, and ginger beer. Best night to go: Stop by mid-week (it‘s packed on weekends). Happy hour is from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday–Thursday, and features mixologist Erick Castro’s Five-for-Five lineup (five classic cocktails for $5 each).

Starlite Mule
Starlite Mule

2 Starlite

3175 India Street, Mission Hills

The scene: Decidedly un-Mission Hills. Pass through the adobe hexagonal entrance and head toward the outdoor area in the back. What you’re having: Starlite Mule, with Rain organic vodka, ginger beer, lime, and Angostura bitters. Served in those damn irresistible copper mugs. Best night to go: Sunday or Monday: $15 bottles of wine and $6 mules.

Cowboy Star Mollie Monroe
Mollie Monroe

3 Cowboy Star

640 Tenth Avenue, East Village

The scene: Exposed brick and wood at this polished steakhouse (and butcher shop), where bartender Garth Flood’s cocktails exhibit a kick of Old Western grit. What you’re having: Something seasonal. For summer, try the Mollie Monroe with Plymouth Gin, pomegranate syrup, sage, and fresh lemon juice with a fried sage and pomegranate seed garnish. Best night to go: Monday. Fewer crowds and the nightlong happy hour make for jolly drinkers.

Sycamore Den

4 Sycamore Den

3391 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights

The scene: A broad spectrum of transplant hipsters and Normal Heights locals share cocktails crafted by Eric Johnson in this space modeled after a ’70s-era basement. What you’re having: The Wolf Ticket, with bourbon, Orchard Peach, lemon, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters.  Best night to go: Friday. Sycamore Den partners with local food trucks while Ruth, the ghost piano, serenades during happy hour.

Seven Grand Auchy HighballAuchy Highball

5 Seven Grand

3054 University Avenue, North Park

The scene: Catch whiskey nerds gawking at the four-tiered wall of 200 international whiskies. It’s lodge-y, carpeted, and full of flannel. What you’re having: The obvious answer is an Old Fashioned. Not so obvious is the Auchy Highball, with housemade cucumber soda and Auchentoshan Classic. Best night to go: Wednesday or Thursday. Each nip is accompanied by live jazz, Motown, and rock music.


Why So Serious?

These cocktails mean business. Their names, on the other hand, might leave you giggling

  • Monks Gone Wild
    {strawberry-infused Pimm’s, Green Chartreuse, lemon, and ginger beer}
    ➻ The Lion’s Share

  • Hunter in the Rye
    {High West Rendezvous Rye, lemon, and blackberry liqueur}
    ➻ Small Bar

  • Banana Hammock
    {white rum, lime, and banana syrup}
    ➻ El Dorado Cocktail Lounge

  • Absinthe Minded
    {rye, absinthe, Punt E Mes, maraschino, grapefruit, cane syrup, ginger beer, and mescal}
    ➻ Roseville Cozinha

  • Milan Rouge
    {Jim Beam rye, Campari, and barrel-aged grappa}
    ➻ Alchemy

  • Mayan Concubine
    {reposado tequila, lemon, apricot liqueur, and bitters}
    ➻ Polite Provisions

  • Tokyo Love Hotel
    {house-made sweet tea, vodka, agave, and pressed lemon}
    ➻ Herringbone

  • Mr. Miyagi
    {vodka, sake, pomegranate, lemon, and agave}
    ➻ Bang Bang

  • Cobra Clutch
    {tequila, mescal, pineapple, lime, cane sugar, absinthe, and mint garnish}
    ➻ Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant

  • The Angry Czech
    {Jelinek Fernet, hazelnut syrup, Velvet Falernum, and lemon}
    ➻ Urban Solace


The Case For Waiting

Good drinks are worth the time.

The bartender, flaunting a bowtie and a visible sense of purpose, is not making eye contact with you. He’s crafting. He has a process. Call him an artist, but unlike the sandwich artists at Subway, his work of art costs more than $5. Therefore, he can wield that jigger and emulsify that egg drink for as long as he deems fit.

You might be desperate, parched, anxious, stressed, bored—all those things that land us in bars in the first place. And you haven’t even ordered yet.

But patience is a virtue. Cocktails take time. There’s a difference you can taste, if only you’d slow down.

Drinks must be executed with unwavering consistency. Jiggers are used to exactly measure the precise components of a recipe. The “perfect ice” mitigates temperature increase and dilution. A citrus zest adds aromatics to the top of a drink, and certain garnishes function similarly. If there’s a luscious mint sprig surrounding your straw, don’t remove it—taste is 95 percent smell, and it’s 100 percent there for a reason.

Don’t hate the bartender for doing his job and working conscientiously. If your bartender is just an ass and not acknowledging you, then take it up with the manager. But don’t take it out on that cocktail. It’s craft. —EM, NM

Grant Grill La Granade

6 Grant Grill

326 Broadway, Gaslamp Quarter

The scene: An ode to hotel bars past, complete with Tiffany glass and chandeliers. Out-of-towners and socialites alike are dazzled by bartender Jeff Josenhans’ culinary-inspired cocktails. What you’re having: US Grant Centennial Manhattan, with High West Rye, Dolin dry vermouth, and Fee Bros Bitters, blended and aged in oak for 100 days. Best night to go: Thursday. Bypass crowds and listen to live music.

Photo by John Dole

7 Prohibition

548 Fifth Avenue, Gaslamp Quarter

The scene: Pomaded pompadours and little black dresses abound at this red-hued jazz lounge speakeasy. Sure, there’s a dress code, but reservations are no longer required. What you’re having: The Bottom Feeder, with Flor de Caña rum, Aperol, Velvet Falernum, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, and grapefruit bitters. Best night to go: First Monday of the month. Bartender Ian Ward creates cocktail-album pairings: specialty drinks that accompany each track as you listen to an album in its entirety.

Prepkitchen The Proverbial We
Prepkitchen The Proverbial We

8 Prepkitchen

1660 India Street, Little Italy

The scene: Brothers Eric and Adam Lockridge sling cocktails with housemade you-name-its from this second-floor restaurant overlooking Little Italy’s main drag. What you’re having: The Proverbial We (TPW), with bourbon, golden raisin brown sugar syrup, rhubarb liqueur, and decanter bitters. Best night to go: Saturday. Deals are unheard of on weekend nights, but the late-night happy hour (10 p.m.–11:30 p.m.) dishes discounted apps and $8 specialty cocktails.

Cusp Remember the Mayans
Remember the Mayans

9 Cusp

7955 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla

The scene: Equal parts restaurant and bar with a splash of luxury. Evenings, the dining room is coated in a sunset orange hue. What you’re having: Remember the Mayans, with partida, cynar, ginger syrup, fresh lime, Sriracha, cilantro, and cucumber served over pellet ice. Best night to go: Thursday. Bartender Nate Howell and staff offer bourbon ($16) and single barrel ($22) whiskey tasting flights. Plan to take a taxi home.

10 Noble Experiment

777 G Street, East Village


The scene: A dark and intimate speakeasy that’s garnered so much attention, it’s not so secret anymore. But we still love the wall of gold skulls and creepy portraits. And even though it’s gimmicky, that fake keg-wall entrance is pretty darn cool. What you’re having: Dealer’s choice. Don’t worry, you’re in good hands. Bartender and “drink scholar” Anthony Schmidt was making craft cocktails in SD before it was a thing. Best night to go: Any night you can get a reservation, which should be made a week in advance (619-888-4713).


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