April 30 2012 06:48 PM

Underground bar offers refuge and tasty cocktails

The Ruby Red Coat
Photo by Tyson Wirtzfeld

Its Saturday night in the Gaslamp. Bachelorette-party girls are teetering on high heels, out-of-towners are walking too slowly and theres a bunch of drunken people dressed in neon.

At 835 Fifth Ave., theres a stairway leading underground, its walls papered with posters of down-turned thumbs. At the bottom is The Propagandist. Husband-and-wife owners Brian and Jessica Divine soft-opened the bar last fall before opening officially on March 31.

The Divines have a love / hate relationship with the bars location. Brian managed the space during two of its previous incarnations—Faces and Blonde Martini. When the owner of Georges on Fifth (upstairs) offered him the chance to turn the space into a new bar, he and Jessica knew that while the location wasnt ideal, they could make it something cool. The interior lacks pretense, with its brick walls, lots of seating (some of it old church pews) and lighting thats dim, but not too dim.

When you walk down those stairs, this is like another world offering refuge from whats up there, Brian says. To bring reluctant folks Downtown, the Divines have started hosting art shows and live music. On Wednesdays, theyll screen films. And, they just launched the Grandfathered In happy hour on Fridays. Show up at 5 p.m. and your drinks are $5 until 9 p.m.; show up at 6 and theyre $6 and so on.

Brian insists that The Propagandist isnt a craft-cocktail bar. Feel free to argue; the cocktails are mighty fine. The Thomas Edison, made with Basil Hayden Bourbon, Cherry Heering, Velvet Falernum and blackberry brandy, tastes how good bourbon smells—smooth with just a hint of sweetness. The Mango En Fuego, made with Titos Vodka (Propagandists well vodka; Google it), has a nice amount of heat (muddled fresh habanero peppers) balanced by fresh-pressed mango juice. The El Viejo—described as a Mexican Old Fashioned—was made interesting with a hint of chocolate bitters. The Ruby Red Coat (Plymouth gin, St. Germaine, aperol and fresh-pressed grapefruit juice) includes a basil leaf held in place by perfect squares of ice so you get a whiff of basil with each sip.

Its our job to get you into the drink; its the drinks job to implant a memory, Brian says. It has to have that wow factor.

Email kellyd@sdcitybeat.com or follow her on Twitter at @citybeatkelly.


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