Dionysus, god of wine, ecstasy and ritual madness, you are as dear to our hearts as you are detrimental to our livers. You, the Liberator, unshackle us from our inhibitions; you are the reason girls go wild, bros wear beer goggles and Seth Combs can't always remember how he got home. We dedicate these dens of debauchery, from the cork screws to the commodes, to your glory.
Best place to get Sideways
Napa's too ritzy, Santa Barbara's too far and Temecula's too touristy. What's a San Diegan with a passion for the fruit-of-the-vine to do? Head up to Escondido to Orfila Vineyards & Winery (www.orfila.com), the best regional winemaker you've never heard about. Orfila's gorgeous 70-acre winery is located on San Pasqual Road in the hills overlooking Escondido. (It also has a tasting room in Wynola, just outside of Julian.) The barn-like winery is truly massive, and at six tastings for $8, it's more affordable than many of the wineries in Temecula. If you're an Orfila wine-club member, the tastings are free. But wine clubs are for douchebags, right? Wait until you try the wine. (I recommend the Estate Ambassador's Reserve Merlot.) In addition to a vast selection, you'll find breads, cheeses and dipping sauces to help soak up the vino. The spacious patio provides plenty of places to sit, and there are wide expanses of green grass where you can have a picnic or simply relax while you take in the scenery. Just be sure to bring a blanket so you can take a nap before driving back to San Diego.
Best wine bar to be in during an 8.0 earthquake
When The Big One hits, and you're in the Hillcrest area, do yourself a favor and duck into Jake's on Sixth (3755 Sixth Ave.), the wine bar that opened a few months ago. Once inside, you'll find a mammoth concrete bar. Just crouch up next to that thing and you'll survive anything. If, when the rumbling stops, there's not too much damage and there's still a few unbroken bottles of vino, hop up onto a stool and order a glass or two. No matter how big that temblor was, the friendly staff will likely be unfazed and will offer tastes of wine until you find just the right one. Assuming the kitchen is still in working condition, they also hand you a menu with a decent selection of paninis, salads and appetizers. As you survey the scene, making sure no one needs medical attention, note how warm the room is with candlelight perfectly complementing the rust-and-brown scheme. You'll be able to talk with others about the shared traumatic experience because the indie-chill soundtrack will be at a perfect volume for comfortable conversation. Now, if you're nowhere near Jake's when the giant quake occurs, well, God speed, my friend.
Best jump, jive and java
Hidden in an inconspicuous parking lot between a 7-Eleven and a Shell station, Ciao Bella (5263 Baltimore Drive in La Mesa, www.ciaobellaetango.com) beckons with brightly strung Christmas lights, a glowing wi-fi sign and the smell of espresso. What it is, exactly, is hard to pinpoint until you enter through a dim doorway and find yourself thrust into a sensory overload of Lautrec-inspired walls, crimson upholstery and a French-country-meets-Italian-style décor that can be described only as thrift-store chic. Plates of specialty pastas in sauces of saffron and gorgonzola float by, followed by homemade desserts filled with chocolate and biscotti. No matter how deliciously distracting, the coffee and wine, the food and, yes, the wi-fi are all but a mere backdrop for the main event. The dance! Whether you sway to tango, jump to swing or just like shakin' it to some good blues and soul, Ciao Bella has a night for you. Live music and weekly lessons are available for tango, East and West Coast swing and The Hustle, but the best time to duck inside this hidden gem is after 9 p.m., when the dance floor fills up with truly talented movers and shakers and the wine, as always, is flowing.
Best promise fulfilled by a neon sign
There are three reasons you must speed east and spend an evening at the Riviera Supper Club & Turquoise Room (7777 University Ave. in La Mesa, www.rivierasupperclub.com). Well, there are more than three reasons, actually. Sure, the food is delish, and super-social since you make much of it yourself on a communal grill with other diners. The atmosphere is a throwback to the era of Mad Men, which will make you want to step it up on the attire. And the jukebox is the best in the region. But, really, you should sidle up to the sunken bar and enjoy the company of Josh, Doug and Patrick. Each will make you feel like a best friend before you feel the first buzz of the top-drawer cocktail they'll mix for you with expertise and hipster love. Josh makes the best “Esquire” (order it extra dirty with extra bleu cheese-stuffed olives) and is an expert muddler. Also, the boy knows his whiskey. Ask him anything you want to know about it. Anything. Doug is the tall, quiet, mysterious type who broods a bit when he's mixing but is always generous with a smile. And then there's dreamy, dimpled Patrick. With his curly hair and slightly naughty smirk, Patrick will accommodate your every need and won't keep you waiting. Ladies, you must visit the Turquoise room on a Wednesday or Saturday to help the newly single Midwesterner lick his wounds. If you're extra nice, he just might share his tater tots with you.
Best hotel-bar karaoke
Hanging out in the bar of the Ramada Inn in Hotel Circle sounds sleazy—until you add karaoke. Spend your Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays with the talented and diverse group of regulars at The Tickled Trout (2151 Hotel Circle S. in Mission Valley), and if you get too drunk to drive home, you can always rent a room.
Best DIY box seats
The box seats against the back wall of 4th & B are free to us plebes during concerts, unless VIPs are getting bottle-serviced, but a better vantage point is from the glass-fronted balcony above the stage, which is open during general-admission shows. Drag chairs from one of the cabaret tables over to the railing for perfect, unobstructed views and some room to groove. There's a dedicated bar and a lesser-trafficked bathroom, tucked in a back corner; it's the nicest, cleanest-looking spot in the place. The whole second floor's a haven for those of us who still like a rock show but are too damn tired to stand for three hours in the throng while unintentionally nestled up against the armpit of a sweaty guy who insists on repeatedly throwing horns.
Best music venue on the rise
When the guitarist for Mastodon (you know, the crazy redheaded guy with the tattoo on his face) was in town during Street Scene, he didn't knock back beers at Brick by Brick or Radio Room. Instead, he opted to go check out Rats Eyes at Tin Can Ale House (1863 Fifth Ave. in Bankers Hill). Yeah, we were crazy about this place enough to do a feature on it in our Bars & Clubs issue, but since then it's become quite the player on the live-music scene. From local band The Softlightes opting to play their last show of the year there to booking national buzz bands like Zodiac Death Valley, it seems likely Tin Can will soon give The Casbah and Soda Bar a run for their money. It's even started hiring DJs for “Young and Broke” nights, when sweet deals are offered on the nearly 75 varieties of beer in stock. The stage may be small, but the attitude is ambitious.
Best potential music venue
Back in the day, Pernicano's restaurant was apparently quite the hang on Sixth Street in Hillcrest. The place was a hit with locals and celebrities. But by 1985, the once-thriving restaurant had shut down. Also closing down at the time was its sister eatery, Casa di Baffi (House of the Moustache), whose name could take on an entirely new meaning in Hillcrest circa 2009. Taking down their sign was apparently too much of a hassle, but they did manage to erect a chain-link fence around the property. So, why doesn't owner George Pernicano just sell the eyesore? Because the guy is so old-school he apparently doesn't even care about the money he could make. It's a shame because the building, which comes equipped with a sweet parking lot, could make for a prime central Hillcrest live-music venue. I'm sure Tegan and Sara, Melissa Etheridge and Bob Mould would all be down with playing at the revamped Casa di Baffi.
Best North Park dive bar still standing
Used to be a time when every bar in North Park was a dive bar, but a lot has changed in the last few years. Buster Daley's and Scolari's Office became revamped clubs and brought in the hipsters. Now, True North and West Coast Tavern seem to be busing in the bros from Pacific Beach by the hundreds. And even though Bar Pink and Bluefoot are still pretty cool, they seem to be attracting True North's spillover. So what's a regular person to do if he doesn't want to be bombarded with Affliction shirts and ironic flannel? Some of us have been heading to Redwing Bar & Grill (4012 University Ave., www.redwingbar.com) on Saturday night. There are no über-hot DJs, velvet ropes or sceney photographers taking pics of half-naked sorority girls. Just stiff drinks and a karaoke booth. Like Shooterz back in the day, it's a mostly gay bar, but all are welcome on the gigantic patio in the back, which, unlike the local competition, doesn't seem to have a curfew. Check it out, but keep it like a secret.
Best dive-bar bathroom
Dive bars are like porn: Alluring yet repulsive and difficult to define. What makes a dive bar divey? Its location? The clientele? The men and women behind the bar? Is it miasma of pervasive hopelessness? Or is it the tranny in the corner sipping cognac through a straw or the drug dealer loitering out front? No one knows. Again, like porn, you simply know a dive bar when you see one. One nascent feature of dive bars is their atrocity-filled bathrooms. Some are so disgusting they have their own MySpace pages (Ken Club) or so awful that one's willingness to use them becomes a measure of how drunk you are, baños so bad that only the blotto dare drop trou in them: “Dude, you were so drunk you took a dump at the Ken!” (Yep, again the Ken.) But one dive bar dares to be different: Kadan (4696 30th St. in North Park / Normal Heights), a bar with a truly democratic, but no less horrifying, happy hour—those late afternoon $1 well drinks bring out a particularly committed class of dive-bar devotee—yet still manages to keep its restroom reasonably clean. Kadan (www.kadanclub.com) understands that humanity is horrifying enough, that we shouldn't have to contend with its shit and piss and puke.
Best practice-makes-perfect drink
Chanting, clapping and the tinkle of broken glass are sounds often heard on the private, twinkly light-lit back patio of Costa Brava, a Spanish tapas restaurant in Pacific Beach (1653 Garnet Ave.). They're from groups of revelers tippling from a porrón, a traditional wine decanter. This glass carafe has a thin, watering-can-like spout through which it's customary, and festive, to pour the contents inside straight into your mouth. Proper technique starts by holding the spout close to your open mouth and slowly lifting the carafe as you tilt your head backwards to accommodate the steady stream. It's fun, messy and more than a little pornographic. Costa Brava serves kalimocho, a Spanish red wine and Coke cocktail in these porróns, but you're better off with the light-colored garabato, a mix of white wine, beer and lemon-lime soda. Your lack of aim won't be so obvious.
Best place to meet bad influences
Breakfast, a pit stop on a dog walk, a meeting with coworkers: they all begin (and end) the same way at the High Dive—with shots of Jameson. I'm sure a few people have managed, but I can't figure out how anyone could leave this bar without a BAC of at least .29. Maybe it's because no one can refuse booze from a beautiful woman, and High Dive (1801 Morena Blvd. in Bay Park, www.highdiveinc.com) happens to have stacked itself with San Diego's finest and most persuasive. As the name suggests, it's got all the charm of a real dive without the smell or sleaze factor. Even the “bar food” has the perfect balance of grease and class. Diehard Chargers fans congregate on game days for the ceremonial lighting of the LaDanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles shrines.
Best place for girls to go wild
Greeks pretty much invented lesbianism, but Bourbon Street (4612 Park Blvd. in University Heights, www.bourbonstreetsd.com), with its Sunday ladies-night, perfected it. Gal-lovin' gals come out in droves to catch a screening of The L Word, indulge in $2 “pink pussy” shots, egg on contestants participating in the weekly booty shaking contest, stage a men's-room urinal takeover and, living up to its New Orleans namesake, partake in a “back by popular demand” wet-T-shirt contest. Frat guys trying to live out their Joe Francis fantasies take note: On a recent night, I overheard a sauced 60-something lady with a buzz cut threatening to get up there and show the crowd what a pair of “all-natural DDDD's” looks like. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Best place to throw up after a Chargers tailgate
It's near the trashcan at the Old Town trolley stop where the group of old folks and tourists are congregated with their families. It would be too rude to throw up while still riding the trolley but too neighborly to make it to the actual trash can 10 yards away. The pristine, well-manicured patch of grass directly adjacent to the trash can, however, screams, “I tried my best, but I still want to ruin your day with this steaming pile of whiskey-soaked failure,” especially if you laugh while you puke. You're giving the tourists a story to tell their friends or prime subject matter for a novelty action shot from their travels. You're giving old people on a Sunday stroll a verifiable reason to be bitter toward the reckless shenanigans of today's irresponsible youth (because everyone knows they live for any reason to launch into a “When I was your age” spiel). You're providing children with a concrete (albeit projectile) example of the negative effects of alcohol consumption. You're giving your friends the gift of laughter. You're making room for some of Old Town's finest tacos before you hop on the bus. However you rationalize it, you (and the upward surge of concentrated sin from your tummy) never really had a choice.
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