It's not Pacific Beach, it's PB. Anyone who says otherwise isn't a local or hasn't romped around its raucous streets enough. The shore-side neighborhood was born in the late 1880s with the advent of railroads; oceanfront property used to sell for $350 a lot. Now, thirsty 21-year-olds are stoked to split a one bedroom for that price, even when it's 12 blocks from the sand. They're trading in Sigma Alpha Kappa Phi Epsilon Beta Tau Omega mini hotels for beachside apartments. The result is an overwhelmingly young, attractive and rowdy population that has found itself in the local, and even national, headlines. San Diego was the last So Cal city that allowed alcohol on its beaches—that is, until 2007 when Labor Day drinkers were labeled rioters, attracting police officers and tear gas. Cue the creation of Floatopia, where partiers bobbed in the ocean on inner tubes to sidestep drinking on the beach. But the law came down on that, too. Somewhat calmer heads prevail these days—but PB does still thrives on a constant-party mentality. Goldfish races happen at PB Shore Club (4343 Ocean Blvd.) on Wednesdays and Taco Tuesdays at Duck Dive (4650 Mission Blvd.) are wild enough to seem like Saturdays. PB is where the perma-vacation vibe lives on, in spite of The Man.
With Garnet Avenue running west into the water and Mission Boulevard being the last perpendicular street before the boardwalk, this intersection is an obvious gathering ground. By day, throngs of beachgoers head to the sand with oversized burritos or Baked Bear ice cream sandwiches in hand. By night, the same crowd throws 'bows to wedge its way to the front of the industry line at one of a hundred local bars.
Dennis Miller and Dry Rot—Dynamic duo
"I'm sure he thinks he is a little green human," says Dennis Miller, owner of a parrot named Dry Rot. The yellow-naped amazon was in a dire state of health after being smuggled in from Mexico, hence his name. "Usually they put a little tequila down them, and they'll go to sleep and if you use too much, especially when they're chicks, they won't survive," notes Miller. The Vietnam War veteran first met Dry Rot when the bird was four months old, recovered and vibrantly green. Now the tag team can be spotted on the PB boardwalk most days. Miller speaks to the 32-year-old bird like it's his child, knowing when he's thirsty or if he wants some cheesy scrambled eggs from Kon''s. Meanwhile, Dry Rot talks back in memorized mantras. He used to know up to 35 different phrases, but in his old age it's slimmed down to about 12 favorites, including "Hi Babe," and, "How are you?" Sometimes he tells Miller who's the boss, saying, "I'm the bird man."
Ciara Guedesse—Former president, Beach Bar Guild
Miller's Field, Margarita Rocks, Society, Cabo Cantina, RT Longboard's Grill, Thrusters Lounge—she's worked at them all. Not to mention being the president of the Beach Bar Guild until it dissolved about a year ago. As a leader in the industry, she's had plenty of fingers pointed at her for PB's reputation, but she thinks regulating alcohol on the beach would have been more beneficial than banning it. "I've seen a huge decline in tourism," she says. "We're not getting the big summers we used to have." Despite seeming like the bad guys, the Beach Bar Guild worked as a safety net around town—alerting other bars of inebriated customers, finding jobs for the employees of closed restaurants and raising money for workers without health insurance. She calls it her second family, the former members of which are now trying to hand over the reins to the rookies. As she transitions out of the industry, she says the "new crop" should be warned about the summer ahead of them. "I've lived all over the U.S., and there's no place like this little bubble," she says. "It's crazy. It runs itself."
Jack Frostie—Manager at Mr. Frostie
Okay, his real name isn't Jack Frostie. It's Jack Conca, but it might as well be considering the old school ice cream shack, Mr. Frostie (1470 Garnet Ave.), has been in his family since 1949 with the exception of a few years. Jack has worked here since he was about 10 years old. "We didn't get allowance growing up," he says. "We got a job." Mr. Frostie's prices are low enough for anyone with an allowance to buy a cone. Jack says his grandparents scooped up this business because it was recession-proof. "They both lived through the depression, so they wanted to have a business that was still affordable, and if there was a kind of economical crisis, people could still splurge on the small things." He says the storefront overcomes PB's rising prices and turnover rates by treating customers as friends, not dollar signs, and earning their respect in return. "PB has that stigma of being the drunken frat town, and I grew up down here so I get it," he says. "But for some reason, even when people are wasted, and they get in that line, nine out of ten times they just become sober. They get their ice cream, then they go and be drunk somewhere else."
OH, YOU FANCY, HUH?
For those who are tired of waking up on a dew-soaked front lawn the next morning, there are several spots in P.B. to drink with dignity. Here are three bar/restaurant combos that will restore your faith in the neighborhood.
723 Felspar St.
Hotel, JRDN sports arguably one of the best ocean views in the area and has a pricey, but delicious menu to match. Most of the dishes are of the surf-and-turf variety, with a popular feature being the customizable "Butcher's Cut" steak options where diners can choose their own rub and sauce. Our recommendation? New Chef DJ Tangalin's raw, spicy sea urchin dish.
Patio on Lamont
4445 Lamont St.
Escape PB staples such as Long Island Ice Teas and vouch for mature mixes like a Sex Panther, Mr. Chow or Brown Derby here. After a couple rounds that sunburn won't hurt so much. Then satisfy those drunchies with small plate options such as a slow-braised short rib or Spanish octopus with pork belly.
1653 Garnet Ave.
What's the key to making things more adorbs, and therefore better? Make them smaller. Costa Brava's menu fits this criterion with its selection of shareable Spanish tapas. A cup of gazpacho, calamari and patatas a la brava are just a few classy alternatives to the endless line of cheap fish tacos in PB. Wash it down with an Estrella or a pitcher of Sangria.
If you've driven north on Ingraham Street and glanced right just three blocks before Grand Avenue, you've seen the dirt lot where an antiquated farm scene is set up...in a beach town. It's outfitted with a rusty truck, a windmill and a barn. Maybe youíve missed it because there was a bikini-clad babe strutting on the other side of the street, but it's there, and the brick building actually used to be a dentist's office, Dwight A. Oate's Dental Office (4251 Ingraham St.), which is closed now. But, a peek through the front door window will persuade you that's a good thing. There's definitely no fish tank inside. Instead it looks like a pioneer's log cabin with a creepy clown toy, an old cot and a wagon wheel lying against the wood paneled walls. When nobody returned our phone calls, we just assumed the clown attacked the owners.
SO FRESH AND SO CLEAN
If you lived in San Diego between the '70s and '90s, then you know the iconic Velvet Touch marketing slogan: "This man wants to clean your clothes," accompanied by an illustration of the smiling visage and bushy, spherical hairdo of Roy Rosenwald. The business itself was a humble mom-and-pop dry cleaning operation, which remained open until 2001 when Rosenwald sold the business. But the ubiquitous grin of the cartoon face embedded Velvet Touch into a local piece of pop culture. Rocket from the Crypt paid homage to the laundry shop with the song "Velvet Touch" in 1991; Tim Pyles posted a sketch of his own face with added afro on 91X's website; and Enigma Piercing in Normal Heights nods to Velvet Touch in their own ads, with the caption: "This man wants to pierce your nose." You can't get your clothes cleaned by Velvet Touch anymore, but the face lives on: You can still buy Rosenwald's face on a t-shirt, courtesy of the Internet.