Photos by Torrey Bailey except where noted
There’s one word often used to describe Hillcrest: fabulous. It’s proudly flaunted by residents and written in rainbow across advertisements. This neighborhood is known for its personalities and pours, both of which are strong. Here, boozy brunches take place every day of the week at a slew of favorite stops such as Hash House a Go Go, Snooze or Fig Tree Cafe. Regardless of the time of day, locals are clinking glasses and bobbing heads to Top 40 remixes. An inviting energy attracts people of all shapes, colors and preferences to this noted LGBTQ community. Although now vibrant, Hillcrest was once home to a low-socio-economic, high-age demographic. As the ’60s came and went, so did that generation, creating a platform for change and sparking the onset of a movement. Aside from its affordability, Hillcrest was attractive because the mature population hadn’t generated much foot traffic, meaning there were fewer chances for anti-LGBTQ confrontations on the streets in a time of discrimination, according to the San Diego History Center. While northern Balboa Park popularized as a meeting ground for gay men, bars and restaurants started popping up nearby to cater to them. Each step contributed to Hillcrest’s role as an LGBTQ safe haven. Since 1993, it’s been the focal point of San Diego Pride week and, today, remains a year-round hub of acceptance.
Despite fuss over its 2011 makeover from pink neon tubing to LED luminosity, the red-and-white landmark neighborhood sign hanging above University and Fifth avenues marks the neighborhood’s core. Beneath it, couples stroll hand in hand, men jog shirtless and pride stands strong.
Grant Foreman — Go-Go Dancer at Rich’s
Monday through Friday, he's a personal trainer for his company Grant Foreman Fitness. But several Saturdays a month, he's onstage, rocking his scarcely covered hips to the thumping bass line at Rich's (1051 University Ave.), one of Hillcrest's gay nightclubs. He's been hanging there since he was just 16 years old, living in a studio behind the club and flashing his fake ID to get in. Now 34, he's been working the crowd professionally for seven years. "I'm the same person when I'm dancing on a box as I am dancing on the floor," he says. "There are other dancers who have names, but this is just Grant in his underwear." Although he says he moves his hips a lot, his go-to move is bending over and giving a little shake when he needs to catch a quick breath. "There's nothing worse than a bored stripper face," he says. His mastered moves aren't an invitation to cross boundaries though. He's talking to you, bachelorette parties. "At least once a night, I have to give the educational go-go speech, saying, 'All right girls, this is how it works.'" The dancers just want a dose of R-E-S-P-E-C-T to complement their hard-earned tips.
Chris Shaw — MO’s Universe Owner
Anyone who's been to Hillcrest would recognize at least one of Shaw's restaurants. Urban MO's, Baja Betty's, Gossip Grill and Hillcrest Brewing Company are all a part of MO's Universe, which was named after slang used in a famous TV show. "Everyone in Will and Grace would go, 'Look at that mo,' and we just kind of picked up with the 2000s kitschy word of 'mo.'" But this restaurant group is more than the sum of its parts. "We can't have a strong business unless we have a strong community," he says. "We kind of practice what we preach, so we're all involved in boards and committees and anything that we can do to better Hillcrest." This includes fundraising for the permanent Hillcrest Pride Flag at University Avenue and Normal Street, which was erected in 2012. "It was great to see one of our managers take it on and create something like that," he says. "You look at the flag and you feel proud that we have that symbol for Hillcrest, and it keeps our community our community. It has become a social gathering point." Moving forward, Shaw hopes to see the neighborhood with cleaner streets and shuttles that go between bars in Hillcrest and downtown.
Carolina Ramos — Chief Diversity Officer, The San Diego LGBT Community Center
"One of the things we've always said here at The Center is embrace all of who you are," she says. "That includes your culture, your religion, your sexual orientation, your spirituality." Ramos describes a one-stop shop of acceptance, where counseling, direct client services, education and support groups are at the ready. She specializes in Latino services, which she says is a family affair. "It's not like we just have José as our client. We have José and his mother and his siblings and las abuelas. That's the way we work." Whether the client is in the hospital, in hospice care or going to court, she's there, all the while being respectful of culture. "We never start a meeting without food because for us, food is important," she says. "That's where you break bread, that's where you talk about stuff that's very intimate and personal." Ramos also works to eliminate racism and promote equal human rights throughout the entire community. "We don't have the luxury of leaving our brown skin at the door, or our accent, or the language that we speak, or our spiritual beliefs."
Even with Revivals closing back in December, Hillcrest has a rep for upcycled fashion. Lost and Found, Flashbacks and Buffalo Exchange are known for their marked-down, gently used goods. But, there are also traditional, ultra-affordable thrift shops such as Goodwill or the Baras Foundation Thrift Shop (1455 University Ave.), which is where Jolene LaSalle was flipping through the racks on a Friday afternoon. "The only things I don't buy at thrift stores are underwear and shoes," she says. She holds an $8.99 purple evening gown from David's Bridal against her patterned blouse that she also got at Baras. "Even if I don't buy anything, I'm usually in at least one thrift store every day." But it's not only about getting a good deal for LaSalle. She's budgeting for her newly established womanhood and finds that the thrift store's $1.49 bras are a bargain. "Right now, with being in transition, the girls are still growing," she says. She's been shape shifting through multiple sizes in months, and the discounts allow her to expand her own wardrobe inexpensively. "I also am stocking up on grungies because there are days when you are working around the house, and you don't want to wear your Joan Collins," she laughs. LaSalle plans to donate and sell back the clothes she's outgrown since starting her transition in December, and hoping to help other shoppers feel fabulous and frugal.
With a slogan like "home of the three-fingered pour," Gossip Grill (1220 University Ave.) takes the cake as having the wildest, tounge-in-cheek-(or wherever)-iest drink menu in the 'hood. Staff writer Torrey Bailey and web editor Ryan Bradford tried some of their cocktails, and here are their thoughts:
First round: Ménage-à-Twat (piña colada) and Pussy Punch (vodka with lots of fruit juices)
RB: The Ménage-à-Twat is super sweet, super boozy. It feels like I could drink one of these every day this summer, despite it being my eventual cause of death.
TB: This Pussy Punch is very juicy.
TB: No, I mean, like, POG juice.
TB: Passionfruit, orange and guava.
Second round: Ginger Snatch (ginger-infused whiskey, bitters and ginger ale) and Clam Slammer (spiced rum and ginger ale).
RB: Ginger Snatch is really good! *hic*
TB: The Clam Slammer is strong. Maybe the name means it's gonna make you sloppier? Like, balls-slapping-type shit.
RB: *accidentally knocks over water cup*
“Dougie the Gnome”
CHALKING IT UP
Bartender and musician Andrew Barajas certainly didn't expect the "Before I Die I Want to..." chalkboard art installation on the side of Alibi (1403 University Ave.) to become as iconic as it has. "Seriously, I only thought it would last six months," admits Barajas. Resembling Bart Simpson's ever-changing punishment scene from The Simpsons opening credits, the mural celebrates its fourth anniversary this month. The chalkboard was inspired by a Candy Chang art piece that was originally installed on an abandoned house in New Orleans (the artist gave permission to others to duplicate the piece in other cities). Just as famous is Alibi employee "Dougie the Gnome," who dons a handmade gnome outfit and cleans the board daily. Barajas has seen a wide variety of wishful writings over the years, but his favorite will always be the first one. "My little daughter Emma was the first one to write on it," Barajas says. Her hope? To swim with dolphins. Awwww .
Some of the best, worst and downright entertaining musings from the "Before I Die I want to.." chalkboard wall:
Photo by Candice Eley
DIGGING FOR GOLD
If you're a vinyl collector, and you happen to find yourself on Sixth Avenue in Hillcrestóor, let's be honest, if you're just in San Diego County—rummaging through the endless rows of new and used LPs in Record City's (3757 Sixth Ave.) crates is a necessary addition to your itinerary. And if you're a crate digger from the old school, then I likely can't teach you anything; may you be on your record-hunting journey. But considering the recent resurgence in interest in vinyl, here are a few tips worth imparting for those looking to expand their collection. First things first: Save the new releases for last. Unless you're specifically seeking something out or it's a new release Friday, put that off. Go directly to the "Just In" bins, where the shop keeps its newly purchased acquisitions. This is where you'll find the sought-after rare jazz, funk, punk and other gems that get nabbed quickly. I recently found a copy of A Charlie Brown Christmas on vinyl—you're jealous. Next, look by genre—R&B, classic rock, metal, indie—it'll take some time to find the real gems, but they're in there. Only then, once you've exhausted your search, can you look through the new items. Chances are you won't be leaving empty handed.
SPOTTED AT THE HILLCREST DMV