Throw a dart anywhere in San Diego and you’ll hit a suspender-strapped bartender mixing ice and alcohol in a shaker, and then pouring the sugared up booze into a glass and topping it with some herb sprig or shaven citrus. Spots like Polite Provisions, Seven Grand and Prohibition Lounge have all undertaken an ode to the ‘20s. Now, the trend has rooted itself in Hillcrest, but just masked as a tribute to the ‘30s.
Starting in August, legendary black hole of a nightclub The Brass Rail began a remodel that finished up the first week of February. Now rebranded as The Rail (3796 Fifth Ave.), it boasts higher ceilings, exposed beams and, of course, Edison bulbs, which is easily the most overdone accessory around.
Neither General Manager Dustin Santillan nor the designer Bailey Bishop are blind to the city-wide Prohibition trend, but both believe they have created something unique.
“There’s certain things that you may see like, ‘Oh, I’ve seen a bottle rack somewhere else before, I’ve seen people use Edison bulbs, and I’ve seen artwork and things like that,’” Santillan says. “Yeah, every place has something, but I feel like we did a really good job of making everything our own, and it’s very different from other places.”
The theme is a salute to the club’s first location in downtown, which opened in 1934, a time Santillan says is overlooked.
“The ‘30s is a lost decade for a lot of people...It’s the roaring ‘20s, and then it’s like the Great Depression, World War II,” he says. “There was some time in between. There’s the end of Prohibition where people went nuts and had a good time.”
But with art of a smiling Nat King Cole and Prohibition protesters, little diversity is shown between the decades. The Rail does experiment with splashes of lime green and cobalt paint, but that doesn’t scream ‘30s either. One wooden screen does have a graphic by pin-up artist Zöe Mozert whose fame launched in the targeted decade.
While these Gatsby-inspired joints have proven bankable, the nightclub’s loyalists seemed content pouring in for the ever-popular Latin nights in the sans frill venue anyway. Santillan says the remodel rewards long-time patrons but also aims to broaden The Rail’s audience. A new seven-day schedule and kitchen to cook up gourmet grilled cheeses might attract newcomers, but hopefully not at the cost of steadfast customers who value originality.