Food & Drink

San Diego’s 12 Most Beautiful Bars

Published On 10/26/2015 Published On 10/26/2015
Courtesy of LYUDMILA ZOTOVA

San Diego has no shortage of attractive people to drink with, so it’s only fitting that it should have an abundance of attractive places where you can meet said people for a drink. From retro spaces your dad would totally dig to two-story stunners with private cabanas, here are the most eye-catching places to catch a buzz in America’s Finest City.

Soda & Swine

Liberty Station

Local designer Paul Basile (the same genius behind many of CH Projects’ other venues, including Ironside, Polite Provisions, Craft & Commerce, UnderBelly, and Juice Saves) really went all out on the design at this meatball-centric eatery that also has a solid cocktail program. The imaginative space is chock-full of creative elements like a 20ft foosball table that conveniently doubles as cocktail seating, hand welded double-S steel barstools, and a quilted brass bar inspired by an airplane wing (a reference to the flight path directly overhead).

Courtesy of Water Grill

Water Grill

East Village

Technically, there are three bars in this stunning space on the edge of Downtown’s East Village: a large, copper-topped number in the center of the restaurant flanked by super-comfy leather swivel seats, a lively oyster bar, and a quieter upstairs hangout. No matter where you choose to sit, you’ll see that every cent of the multi-million dollar redesign was well-spent on the space, from important details like lots of big windows on the first level to unique, nautical-themed touches like globe pendant lights wrapped in rope and tiles cut to mimic fish scales.

Courtesy of Zack Benson

Noble Experiment

East Village

The proverbial cat is out of the bag about this so-called “hidden” speakeasy tucked behind a wall of beer kegs in the East Village, but that doesn’t make it any less cool. Inside the snug space, elements like dark mahogany paneling, soaring ceilings accentuated by Renaissance artwork, a gigantic Swarovski crystal chandelier, and a wall of gold-plated skulls create a spooky and stimulating environment where anything seems possible.

Courtesy of Jsix

Jsix

East Village

Last February, this California coastal spot in Hotel Solamar got a much needed makeover. Warm design features like exposed brick walls, metal fixtures, and patterned tile make the dining area feel relevant to the past and present in equal measure. It’s cool without being too trendy and classy without with slightest whiff of pretense.

Courtesy of Zack Benson

Ironside Fish & Oyster

Little Italy

You’ll need to walk by this completely transformed former warehouse in Little Italy dozens of times before the wow factor wears off even the slightest. Inside, it’s packed with fun, decorative elements like a impossible-to-miss "SHIT HAPPENS" lighting installation near the loo and a wall plastered in hundreds of faux piranha skulls. A massive overarching steel trellis inevitably draws your eyes to the bar, where you can swing out a barstool and sip some seriously good cocktails.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

Kettner Exchange

Little Italy

The neighborhood finally received its first rooftop bar when this bi-level drinking den opened in late 2014. Easily one of the sexiest spots in the city, it’s full of all manner of cozy nooks and comfortable perches to enjoy a beverage, including plush cabanas (each equipped with its own wet bar, flat-screen TV, and a tap for a private keg), wingback chairs facing a fireplace, and bar seating on both levels.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Liberty Station

Point Loma

This historic building in Liberty Station (a former Naval training center) was completely transformed into 55,000sqft of beer amazingness with over 40 different craft brews on tap (plus hundreds of bottles sourced from all over the world). The medieval-industrial decor and over-the-top design elements -- like giant fireplaces and a water feature that runs right down the middle of a communal table -- make the sprawling space unlike any other bar in the city (and perhaps the universe, for that matter).

Seven Grand

Seven Grand

North Park

Whiskey is king here, so the hunting lodge decor (plaid carpet, dark wood, and taxidermy) is right at home. Get comfortable in a booth presided over by a friendly jackalope or sit at the bar and take in the “International Wall of Whiskey,” fully stocked with a mind-boggling (and possibly numbing) array of the brown stuff.

Grant Grill

Grant Grill Lounge

Downtown

Rich mahogany paneling (is there any other kind?!), crisp white tablecloths, and glittering chandeliers create a luxurious, Art Deco-inspired atmosphere with a hint of intrigue at the storied restaurant and lounge within the US Grant hotel. James Bond would absolutely drink here, and you should too.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

Sycamore Den

Normal Heights

When you feel like drinking like a '70s dad, here’s where to do it. Yellow-tinted lighting, lava stone accents, a huge fireplace, and oversized orange booths create a wall-to-wall retro environment that’s so well-executed, it feels like a 1970s-era Burt Reynolds could walk in at any moment.

Starlite

Starlite

Mission Hills

Enter through the hexagonal wood-paneled entryway and you’ll find yourself in a cozy den complete with stone walls and plush, black leather booths. Legend has it North by Northwest, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best-known action thrillers, served as design inspiration... which makes sense in a way, because after one or two mules, you’ll be flush with anticipation for whatever comes next (even if it’s a solo Netflix marathon).

Courtesy of Zack Benson

Polite Provisions

Normal Heights

Ornate tiled floors, cast-iron stools with soft velvet cushions, and gleaming brass columns make this Normal Heights boozery resonate with an old apothecary vibe. Behind the 100ft marble bar top there’s an intense, 46-custom-tap system that pours everything from craft beer to draft cocktails, wine, and a selection of craft sodas and egg creams.

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Erin Jackson is San Diego-based food writer and photographer who loves sharing her latest finds. Follow her on Twitter if you enjoy food content, random thoughts, and cat photos.

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1. Soda & Swine 2750 Dewey Rd #104, San Diego, CA 92116 (Point Loma)

Soda & Swine offers indoor and outdoor dining in a stylish industrial chic space. For eating and drinking, they have an extensive bar (where you can get a beer float) and a menu full of small plates, such as meatballs, fried pizza knots, soft-serve ice cream, and pies. The outdoor patio is equipped with heat lamps and overhead lighting.

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2. Water Grill 615 J St, San Diego, CA 92101 (East Village)

This resto is heavy on seafood, and offers a shrimp bánh mì that you absolutely must try. Plump and juicy tempura-battered shrimp hangs with cucumber salad, daikon sprouts, pickled red onion, and sweet chili sauce on this non-traditional but totally tasty bánh mì sandwich served with house-made chips. Bonus: it also happens to be one of the most budget-friendly lunch or dinner items going.

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3. Noble Experiment 777 G St, San Diego, CA 92101 (Gaslamp Quarter)

This speakeasy inside Gaslamp Quarter eatery Neighborhood is so popular, you won't be able to get in without texting for a reservation several days in advance. But trust us, it's worth it -- what looks like a stack of kegs by the restaurant's bathroom is a door that'll lead you to a bar that, in decorative terms, can only be described as vampire's-lair-meets-French-catacombs. In a tiny yet decadent space decked in wall-to-wall gilded skulls, you can order from a simple menu of handcrafted cocktails, or take a chance with the Dealer's Choice -- a bartender will make something for you based on your personal tastes, and they almost always nail it.

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4. Jsix Restaurant 616 J St, San Diego, CA 92101 (Gaslamp Quarter)

This resto places emphasis on locally-grown ingredients in its seasonally-inspired cuisine. There's even an herb garden on the roof, which is about as locally-grown as you can get.

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5. Ironside Fish & Oyster 1654 India St, San Diego, CA 92101 (Little Italy)

With a gorgeous interior, a fresh and delicious seafood menu, and a cocktail program that's almost as imaginative as its interior, Ironside Fish & Oyster proves to be another sterling example in a growing collection of successes from Consortium Holdings (Soda & Swine, Polite Provisions).

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6. Kettner Exchange 2001 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101 (Little Italy)

This Little Italy spot's named after the highly held William Kettner, a democratic governor of San Diego in the early 1900s, and its theme does him justice. A sleek and welcoming space with a vague nautical theme hosts a slew of modern twists on American classics like roasted chicken, New York strip steak and Maine diver scallops. After dinner, head up to the rooftop bar to peruse the long wine and sprit lists or order a house cocktail like a spiked egg nog or the PD Collins with blood orange, cinnamon and peach bitters.

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7. Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Liberty Station 2816 Historic Decatur Rd #116‎, San Diego, CA 92106 (Point Loma)

At Stone Brewing's Liberty Station location, you can expect great beer and bocce ball courts in a massive outdoor space.

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8. Seven Grand 3054 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104 (North Park)

Seven Grand prides itself on its extensive whiskey selection and properly poured drinks, so come here if you're looking for a good, stiff drink.

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9. Grant Grill 326 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101

This Downtown San Diego restaurant is decked out in mahogany wood, fleur de lis banquettes, and white tablecloths. They offer changing, seasonal fine-dining menus and an extensive wine list & craft cocktail selection.

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10. Sycamore Den 3391 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116 (Normal Heights)

If the San Diego backdrop of beaches and palm trees has somehow got you itching for a getaway, look no further than Sycamore Den. This masculine, woodsy bar feels like a hidden hunting lodge getaway right on Adams. The '70s vibe comes complete with mounted guns, stone and wood lining, and polished leather booths, and the drinks match with a menu that's got a heavy emphasis on whiskey, rye, and bourbon (in craft cocktails and on their own).

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11. Starlite 3175 India St, San Diego, CA 92103 (Little Italy)

Once you're inside Starlite, you just might forget to order something. The tasteful and elegant interior screams such good taste that you'll get your fill before you open the menu. But once you do, you'll find plenty of delicious craft cocktails and delectable dishes like pan-roasted Jidori chicken and a simple but sweet strawberry salad.

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12. Polite Provisions 4693 30th St, San Diego, CA 92116 (Normal Heights)

This bar in north San Diego sticks to its creative guns with a vintage-pharmaceutical space and menu. Polite Provision's got inventive cocktails that take full advantage of its stock of more than 50 bitters, a 46-tap rotating selection of draft beer, and a hefty selection of sprits including bourbon, mezcal, and single-malt scotch, all at a price worth making the drive up for. If you want to fuel up before the real fun begins, you can order a round of slider or appetizers from next-door neighbors Soda & Swine (a smart move, if you ask us).

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