Thoroughbred racing begins July 21 at the Del Mar Racetrack. In honor of the 2010 racing season, we’re going to devote this entire edition of North County Insider to racetrack bars — the watering holes where many of the track’s well-appointed regulars go after the final post to either celebrate their victories, drown their sorrows, or simply burn through some more dough in the company of friends and strangers who appreciate the ponies the way they ought to be appreciated.
Perhaps the best-known racetrack bar is Bully’s North, a Del Mar landmark since 1967. With its red-leather booths and matching barstools, it’s the kind of place at which you drank your three-martini lunch in the 1970s. But during racing season it’s a steady favorite among the racetrack crowd, which often spills into the sidewalk between opening day and the season’s end two months later. Desi Arnaz, Victor Mature, Bill Shoemaker and scores of great jockeys, trainers and managers have made Bully’s North their watering hole of choice while in Del Mar, and its identity is so closely linked with the track that the black Bully’s North awning is emblazoned with white silhouettes of racing thoroughbreds.
1404 Camino del Mar, Del Mar
En Fuego Cantina & Grille
Just south of Bully’s North is En Fuego Cantina & Grille. It occupies the site of Del Mar’s original restaurant, La Tienda, a regular haunt for racetrack founder Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien, as well as the Hollywood elite that followed. These days En Fuego boasts a gorgeous outdoor bar, downstairs from the restaurant, that’s decked out with lots of red tile. This may not be where the racetrack hipsters come to be seen, but it’s certainly where they come to have some fun.
1342 Camino del Mar, Del Mar
Pamplemousse, Red Tracton’s Cocktail Lounge
Just across the racetrack, on Via de la Valle, are two great bars with vastly different atmospheres. Pamplemousse is a hip, airy bar that’s part of an award-winning restaurant, the Pamplemousse Grille. If the name sounds familiar, it should: The Pamplemousse is a famous racehorse owned by the same group of people who operate the restaurant and bar. The bar is known mostly for its expansive wine list, with upward of 1,800 bottles. During racing season, the crowd is youthful but well-heeled; scan the room and the words "trust fund baby" come to mind. An older, tamer crowd is next door at Red Tracton’s Cocktail Lounge, adjacent to the popular steakhouse of the same name. The entrance is flanked by a pair of miniature jockey statues; step inside and you’ll think you’ve been transported into a vintage men’s club from Chandler’s L.A., with maroon walls, dark woods and even darker lighting. It’s sort of an upscale Cheers for racetrack regulars; everyone seems to know everyone else’s name — and everyone’s favorite horse. The owners are very proud of this; the bar’s Web site unabashedly trumpets Red Tracton’s as "the Number One place to be and to be seen after the races."
514 Via de la Valle, Solana Beach
Red Tracton's Cocktail Lounge
550 Via de la Valle, Solana Beach
The exquisite Del Mar Plaza is home to one more cocktail lounge immensely popular with the racetrack crowd. Everything about Pacifica says "lemon drop martini." It’s stylish and trendy, catering to the young and the beautiful — and particularly popular with the lovely track girls who drive their daddy’s BMW and regard racing season as a seasonal fashion show. The décor is contemporary chic, with an 80-foot-long custom luminaire chandelier, a floor-to-ceiling light show, and a serpentine bar that seems to go on forever.
1555 Camino del Mar, Del Mar