The owners of Bluefoot Bar & Lounge in North Park knew they were taking a gamble.
Take a shabby, shithole of a bar on El Cajon Boulevard and make it a fun neighborhood place where everyone is welcome. But when Soda Bar opened in November 2008, it quickly became evident that a new direction was needed.
“I'm not sure they initially wanted to make it a full-on music venue,” says Peter Graves, booking manager for Soda Bar. “But once it opened, they saw the difference between the nights that we had concerts and the nights that we didn't. It became apparent that if we're gonna do it, let's really do it.”
But it wasn't easy. Unlike Bar Pink in North Park or Kensington Club, Soda Bar is in the no man's land between City Heights, North Park and Normal Heights, so there wasn't exactly a ton of foot traffic to rely on (unless you count the prostitutes). Plus, the bar's previous incarnation, Chaser's Cocktails, had a bad reputation in town. One online review described it as “the kind of place you go if you're looking to load up on rotgut well liquor and get smashed in the head with a beer bottle.” Nice.
“The place was a dump, and the people that hung out there on the regular were disgusting,” says Graves, but then catches himself. “Wait, I don't want to say ‘disgusting,' but the type of people who weren't gonna float a business at all.”
Graves was working at Cafe La Maze in National City (also owned by Bluefoot guys Adam Cook and Cuong Nguyen) when he was offered the booking job at Soda Bar. Since making the full transition to music venue, the place has become a hotspot for hipsters and, moreover, the place to see both national and local buzz bands that are still a little too under-the-radar to play places like The Casbah. Graves says he took his experience as a touring musician and applied it to booking bands.
“It always seemed to me that touring, regardless of the money, you'll gravitate towards the towns that treat you well.
There are a lot of venues in town that you go there and play and the people who work there treat you like you're putting them out. That's why a lot of touring bands skip San Diego. We try to make this a place where everyone will have a good experience and feel appreciated.” Soda Bar is located at 3615 El Cajon Blvd., City Heights www.sodabarmusic.com.