Nightlife and Entertainment
CityBeat feels that social psychologist Abraham Maslow overlooked a few basic human needs-namely, the need to listen to really loud music and the need to get laid. For our hypothesis, we turned to the environment of a San Diego archetype known as Nocturnamus.
Easiest place to get cornered by a grizzly
While there are interesting dive bars in San Diego, none take the cake to town better than Scolari's Office. The personality-drenched watering hole in North Park draws in hipsters on the weekends with live music offerings, but regulars own serious barstool real estate at this joint. Milling around on some of these free musical weekends are some grizzly looking older fellers that don't give a good-god-damn if you don't wanna talk "cause this is their territory you've encroached upon and they'll be damned if they don't get to hit on one purdy girl or another. So the hipster chicas sit and listen and politely decline rides home and free drinks for the chance to land a hipster boy.
Best place to hit on USD chicks
It's Thursday and you're feeling a little sassy, thinking that maybe tonight is the night that cute bartender over at the Beachcomber finally notices you. After $40 in tips and a few shots of Jagermeister, you're no closer to scoring than that white guy on the Lakers. Time for Plan B. Cross the alley over to The Pennant and try your luck on some honest-to-goodness daddy's girls on USD college night. Drinks are cheap from 8 to 10 p.m., so by 11:30 the place is filled to the gills with both blondes and fake blondes alike. Most of the girls are traveling in packs, so like any good hunter, pick one out of the herd and concentrate on her. Tell her she has beautiful eyes and that you have a beautiful bank account. Your ugly ass will start looking better faster than you can say "University of Spoiled Daughters."
Best place to hope for fire sirens
It may not seem funny now, but before San Diego turned into hell incarnate, The Gathering had a "Fireman's Special." Anytime a fire truck left the adjacent station with its siren blaring, drinks were half price for two minutes. In light of the recent tragedies, they've suspended the special, but I say bring it back, dammit. After all, if my house is on fire, I'd like a bar full of tipsy patrons raising a glass and toasting to the firemen who'll save my ass. That cheeky special is one of the quirks that make The Gathering the best feel-good, middle-class, homey joints for cocktails and eats in Mission Hills. The flamboyant, mustachioed lounge singer with his boom box also helps. The dude who does magic at the tables ain't half bad either. The food's damn near top-notch (even if the rosemary bread tastes like Palmolive sometimes) and the servers, barkeeps and owners make it a point to know your name.
Best dirty martini
The magic ingredient in a dirty martini is olive juice (or "brine" as some people call it). Down too much of that stuff and it's no kiss for you at the end of the night. For olive lovers, though, it's a fair tradeoff. While it's obvious that a cocktail is only as good as the bartender and the materials he has to work with, the best dirty martini, so far, is at Karl Strauss Brewery downtown. They have an "ultimate" dirty martini, which is a bit pricey for anyone who tries to keep their individual bar tab under $20. The regular dirty martini is practically just as good, a couple bucks cheaper and you get your olives on a little plastic sword-two olives, mind you. We'll have none of this one-olive business.
Best high-brow heights
The W Hotel is without doubt the most grandiose trumpery in town, but the hotel's lounge, Rice, has a bitchin' bar upstairs referred to as "the beach." The heated rooftop sand bar is a melodic milieu of jazz, cocktails, leather-cushioned accommodations and an amazing, sparkling skyline. It's A-plus one-upmanship on Mr. A's-best for those who want to impress, I guess.
Best place to catch the downtown street parade
Downtown on a weekend night is a fascinating place. Even with all the different offerings on tap in our city's center, the corner of Market & 5th is special. Partly because it's a major intersection and partly because of the big bay windows of the 5th Quarter nightclub located there, an eclectic crowd always gathers, making for a great evening of people watching. Spend any length of time at the corner and you'll be able to spot all the hottest trends amongst the sea of humanity and you'll start to realize just how conformist everyone really is. No matter how outlandish, silly or "unique" a clothing item or look is, you're guaranteed to see it go by time and time again. For best entertainment value, check it out on Saturdays when house band The Disco Pimps takes the stage, visible from the street. You'll be treated to the spectacle of the yuppie tourists inside attempting to shake their groove thing, while those outside gawk and occasionally burst into spontaneous sing-a-longs.
Best beachside punk hangout
The beach is known for a lot of lifestyles-trust-fund collegiates, beach-bum lifers, flower-hawking hippies and wealthy patrons of leisure. What it isn't known for is punks, the sort of people who'd rather listen to a little Black Flag and drink a pint over a smoke. Punks usually congregate in the less-expensive, less-beautiful areas to the east. That's why The Liars Club is such a bastion of tattooed refreshment in Mission Beach; it's an expatriate loner among a bevy of bright 'n' happy drinking establishments. The L.C. is a small place-sometimes overpacked with rough-edged alternative types who, for some reason or another, have found themselves living at the beach. The burgers in this joint run a close second to Rocky's or Hodad's, dripping with greasy goodness. The jukebox ranks right up there with the Live Wire and Nu Nus, and the servers look as though they'd rather sleep with Keith Morris than Kelly Slater. And that, my friends, is righteous.
Best 6 a.m. cocktail
If you've just got to have a cocktail at 6 o'clock Sunday morning, there's only one place to be: The Star Bar downtown. Betty (who declined to give her name but was betrayed by one of her slurring regulars) is of the watering hole's coterie of cutie bartenders and Sunday's standout happy-hour slinger. Her sense of humor's typical of the place. "I'm the Goddess of the universe... and I work at the Star Bar," she says. Those needing an early Sunday morning refresher will find $1.50 Bloody Marys and $1.25 Screwdrivers. Should you show up at the Star Bar after 10 a.m. on Sunday, Marsha, a witty lass from Thailand, might just be slinging the drinks. Her standing bet: if she can't remember your name the next time you're in-no matter how long between visits-she'll do anything for you.
Best back bar
Its official title is The Atari lounge at The Casbah, but those in the know refer to it as "the back bar." In fact, it's even mentioned as such in the lyrics of a song by the Dragons ("Three Steps to the Bar"), whose leader can often be found back there, mingling with a myriad of local songsmiths and scenesters on any given night-though the weekends are best for underground hero-spotting (a personal highlight: drinks and conversation with the Supersuckers and ex-Beat Farmer Joey Harris). For almost a decade, it's served as inebriating grounds for so many bartender-rummy heart-to-hearts and famous, infamous or anonymous bull sessions that a reality TV show could easily be based on the Atari's goings-on. With the only three or four bar stools in the entire place, one black pleather booth, four old-school video games and a usually-working pinball machine, the creature comforts here are not the draw-it's the off-colorful regulars. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, stop by and say hi to Hammer, the bartender whose real first name is Brian and who knows just about everything there is to know about David Bowie. On Friday nights, it's bartender Bob at the back bar, who has a story to tell about almost everything in the universe-and ain't the least bit shy about sharing it with you.
-Will K. Shilling
Best Bar Jukebox
Pacific Shores in Ocean Beach is one of the coolest beach bars in town, and not just because of its underwater theme, which comes complete with giant clamshells. The drinks are cheap ($2 beers are standard!?!) and the bartenders are surly-but in a good way. The jukebox is the cherry on top of the double-scoop hot fudge sundae that is the bar. The Pac Shores jukebox gets the nod because more often than not, you'll hear the swinging sounds of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass blaring through the bar's sound system long before any Metallica or Foreigner makes its way on to the playlist. Not too hard, not too soft, but just the right groove for a hard night of drinking.
Best Español rock joint
For a city that culturally overlaps with one of Mexico's largest urban populations, San Diego's nightlife can sure seem Minneapolis-white sometimes. But for the last year or so, Chula Vista's Over the Border has served as a local foci of the recent rock en español revolution. Monterrey, Mexico's Kinky played there months before their gig on David Letterman. Venezuela's Los Amigos Invisibles, who usually sell out large venues in other U.S. cities, stopped there. As have Chile's Lucybell and Columbia's Juanes. Three hundred people can pack into the joint, saddling up to the horseshoe-shaped bar or spilling onto the smoking patio outside. But brother-sister owners Martin Sauerman and Guadalupe Vasquez run a tight ship-no tennis shoes or shorts allowed. That means a well-dressed clientele of Latino and gringos boogie'n the night away to bands who feel like rock 'n' roll may've been invented yesterday, but its Latin heyday is now.
Best thing rockin' the wheels of steel
DJ Rat Star's Bad Brains approach to the tables has weekly residency at Bar Dynamite, Landlord Jim's, LiveWire and Onyx Room's upstairs bar, Thin. "Ratty" creates mix-master mantras of funk, soul, rare grooves and roots with the finest flow-think mandatory Melodica. Besides rousing relentless rhythms all week long, he's the only guy we know with a personalized engraved putter that doubles as a pipe-and you can't beat that wit a bat-so get with this, 'cause this is where it's at.
Best place to relive the glory days of Jazz
San Diego is lucky to have a number of clubs with eclectic booking schedules, but few cover the sheer range of Dizzy's, 344 Seventh Ave., downtown. Located in the shadow of the new ballpark, this intimate nightspot offers everything from singer-songwriters and blues acts to the occasional country performer, but they are best known for their jazz offerings, from traditional sounds to experimental. It's closely placed candle-lit tables make for the perfect concert ambience, giving first-time attendees the feeling of walking onto a classic movie set depicting the good old days of jazz. Proprietor Chuck Perrin, an artist in his own right, strives to put together a calendar full of challenging music, with a no-alcohol policy placing the emphasis squarely on the music. Best of all, the lack of liquor makes the club accessible to all ages and a shining beacon for underage music fans.
Best midnight sporting event
For those in the post-adolescent set and older looking for an alternative to getting trashed or renting a second-rate movie on Friday nights, there's finally an alternative to designer drugs, dive bars and Blockbuster. For some time now the stadium tennis court at Morley Field has been the site of epic, hours-long midnight dodgeball games on Friday nights. Games usually start around 11 p.m. and hit their peak around midnight, with up to 70-that was the high water mark, set in early October-people of varying ages and backgrounds getting it on with wicked strategy and a stinging red ball. The dodgeballers "got rolled" by the cops a couple weeks ago, the game's "organizer," Jason, told CityBeat. "Don't park in the parking lot-that'll get us busted. That and be quiet in the residential part of the neighborhood, where you park." Aside from that, it's Game On, Friday's at midnight. (P.S.-don't go telling your police officer friends).
The best American Idol farm league
Never mind the meathead at the door checking IDs as though The Lamplighter is Studio 54. Once inside the trashy, messy, bad-carpeted love-lot that is the citadel of karaoke, it would take a hardened sonofabitch to not find him or herself singing along as some drunken postal worker belts the lines to "Bust a Move." That's right-non-stop karaoke, with countless bush-league Clay Aikens plying their questionable craft. Some of the regulars take this rock-star-in-their-own-mind stuff so seriously you'd think the dude slobbering into his Budweiser was Simon and the bro fondling the hottie near the pool table was Clive Davis. The best are the good-natured hacks-people who so gloriously butcher a perfectly good tune without so much of a blush that you can't help but give them a standing ovation. It's the best time you'll ever have with the cheesiest people you swore you'd never hang out with-and I'll bet they're saying the same thing about you right now.
Best place to suck down a pint of creamy Guinness
A lot of places around town serve Guinness, as well they should. The Field in the Gaslamp does it the best, hands down. First of all, a real-life Irish guy takes your order from behind the bar. Second, he pours the Guinness correctly, filling the pint only half full, letting the nitrogen rise and not allowing the beer to become too carbonated before topping it off. Third, they draw a shamrock in the foam with the beer tap. How cool is that? Survey says: "Super ultra-sweet!" And fourth, they use the 20-ounce English pint glass rather than the paltry 16-ounce American version. It is the best-tasting Guinness in town with the best authentic Irish atmosphere in the Gaslamp. And they make a mean Irish Car Bomb, too.
Best place to spot a boob job
La Jolla plastic surgeons could tromp on down to Pacific Beach Bar and Grill on a Friday night and spot a few of their results in action. A longstanding beach hotspot, The Grill offers a popular weekend destination a couple strides from Crystal Pier for falsely endowed female patrons and their Hawaiian-shirt-clad escorts. If you don't want to have to enter to see the bazooms, check them out from the street by glancing into The Grill's outdoor patio. The bar's Club Tremors operates on weekends for many scantily clad young'uns to take in the bass and look out onto the crowd on the patio. Bring your pen for writing down numbers because you'll forget them all by morning.
Best underground hip-hop spot
Bar Dynamite's corner move on Mission Hills has kept it tucked away as the perfect median between downtown hype and the city's sedative dives. With suitably named energy, this red-lit gem's dynamite dance disposition and sociable scene has become a launching pad for local deejays, such as the Tribe of Kings, Ikah Love and Rat Star.
Best Neil Diamond impersonator
Friday and Saturday nights at the fabulous Imperial House bar in Bankers Hill, Rick Lions props his keyboard atop the bar's baby grand, kicks on the backing tracks and belts out Neil Diamond tunes better than the Jazz Singer himself. His version of Cracklin' Rose ("Play it now! Play it now! Play it now, my bay-beee!") will have you shaking your ass in the leather seats, and "Coming to America" would make ex-pats flock back to the motherland. Lions' other tunes-'60s and '70s staples-are equally fine, but once you get to Neil Diamond, what else is there?
Hottest trend in a music venue
The crowds gathered in the Casbah are losing the hue of the sunny California blonde and taking on more of the industrial edge. Black hair dye is flying off the shelves and into hipster hands before any big night out, and the trend is especially widespread among the Converse and band-shirt crowds that frequent the Casbah, "Canes, SOMA, The Scene, Belly Up, Epicentre, 4th and B, Brick by Brick, Che Café and even the high-heeled haunts of the Gaslamp. Who knows where it started-its roots could arguably be traced back to the Goth revolution of the late-'80s-but who cares when we can all act depressed and disdainful with a simple hair color? Want to ruse your way to indie cred without ever researching the part? Dye your hair black and wear a hip thrift store t-shirt-easy as 1-2-3.
Best place to drink before a show
Sometimes the older punk rockers want to take a little time to warm up before the show-away from the wanting eyes of their underage up-and-coming anarchists. Stuart Anderson's Black Angus, just a stone's throw away from SOMA, is just the sort of place to sit back with a Texas-sized beer and munch on some potato skins or chicken fingers before going apeshit in the pit. This place gets triple bonus points for the juxtaposition of punk rock and 1950s Western nostalgia within the same cattle brand-adorned walls. Where else in town can you throw on your chains and fishnets and meet your similarly dressed buddies for drinks at a family steak house? They don't tolerate those kinds of shenanigans at Morton's.
Best Intersection for partyin' in PB on a Wednesday night
Forget PB Bar and Grill or Moondoggies. The real deal on Wednesday nights in Pacific Beach is at Garnet and Everts. Start off the night with some sushi at Hanaoka Sushi bar and Grill. Head next door and it's Dollar Beer Night at The Dog. Yeah, that's right-booze for a buck. After you drop a cool five on brews, it's off to Metal Shop at Typhoon Saloon, one of the only places in town you can let your hair-metal flag fly without losing all of your friends. When you're all done rockin', head across the street and pound down a few more at The Tavern. After all your corner-bar hopping, all you'll be left with is about $4 and a pocketful of fake phone numbers, so cross Everts one more time and hit up Los Alazanes taco shop. It's deep fried for the drunk guy, and that's all you can really ask for.
Best after hours meeting spot
Done with the bar scene for the evening but still not ready to go home? For years the in spot for the late-night wrap up, as well as a quick bite to eat, has been the La Posta Mexican food stand at the corner of Third and Washington in Hillcrest. For many local scenesters, the rolled tacos from this fine establishment are such a regular part of their diet they might as well be home cooking, but it's as a meeting spot that the eatery has become indispensable. Friday and Saturday nights right around 2 a.m., just after the bars have closed, are always the busiest, with a wild mixture of club kids, locals and musicians making this a regular stop on their way home. It's a great place to run into old friends, but, on the other hand, you might find someone you've been trying to avoid.
Best music venue for losing yourself in the moment
The Belly Up Tavern's warm atmosphere and lively choice of bands makes it well worth the drive to see a show in Solana Beach. A more seasoned crowd of listeners takes a chance with the Belly Up and abandons most inhibitions for a great dancing atmosphere and an even better place to get someone to buy you a drink. In addition to 4th and B, the Belly Up has done the best work at booking a variety of hip-hop and world-beat artists as well as hosting nights for local bands that need a break, which, in turn, attracts charming and open-minded people that enjoy charming and open-minded bands. A killer sound system and artsy-fartsy Design District décor add panache to the place. Seeing a band here can easily make you forget that you're among neighbors and pull out the "70s-era lawnmower dance move or, God forbid, the electric slide.
Best way to dust off an old standard
A charming bastion of the University Heights community is a mostly male meeting of tomfoolery and fraternity. "Gay Bingo" on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. and Saturdays at 7 p.m. features, as host, the lovely and charming Nicole Murray Ramirez, posing as a nun who's not afraid to put the occasional dirty twist on the old-time game. Prizes range from kitsch (blow-up dolls) to lavish (a new TV set) and the games go fast-and it's all free. The fun is held at Bourbon Street bar, a Park Street fixture that's a dead-on likeness of something you'd find on a Louisiana thoroughfare's brick walkways. The bar is bustling all week long if you can't make it for bingo.
-Jaime Davis & Kelly Davis
Best bar/bartender pairing
Bars can be intimidating enough without a surly dude mixing it up. The Whistle Stop's Jimmy is not only an all-around stellar guy, he tends the cozy South Park dive like he owns the joint. He makes a tasty white Russian and, if you're on a sweet-tooth kick, something called a chocolate cherry. Sundays, you can usually find Jimmy presiding over Keep It Like a Secret-San Diego's best reason to start Monday with that fun post-weekend hangover.
Best place to see a big band in a small venue
If you're tired of seeing your favorite band get lost in the floodlights and seas of people at larger venues, try a show at 4th and B. The venue's cavernous floor makes for a concert atmosphere with a lot less of the showboating hassle. Better audio quality and vastly improved sight of the band on stage help audiences enjoy the experience 10 times more than pushing through a crowd to a seat where you can barely make out how many people are on stage. Get a seat in "the back" for a more controlled experience or jumble your way through the crowd to enjoy a band closer up. Great acts make their way through to the venue that maybe don't want to try to sell out Cox Arena but still want to play a high-profile gig in San Diego. Slayer, Spiritualized, Rusted Root, Cowboy Mouth, Cracker and Duran Duran all make appearances in November.