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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
1. Soda & Swine2750 Dewey Rd #104, San Diego
2. Water Grill615 J St, San Diego
3. Noble Experiment777 G St, San Diego
4. Jsix Restaurant616 J St, San Diego
5. Ironside Fish & Oyster1654 India St, San Diego
6. Kettner Exchange2001 Kettner Blvd, San Diego
7. Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Liberty Station2816 Historic Decatur Rd #116, San Diego
8. Seven Grand3054 University Ave, San Diego
9. Grant Grill326 Broadway, San Diego
10. Sycamore Den3391 Adams Ave, San Diego
11. Starlite3175 India St, San Diego
12. Polite Provisions4693 30th St, San Diego
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.
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.
Noble Experiment calls itself a speakeasy, but it's not much of a secret. The popular drinking den inside Gaslamp Quarter's Neighborhood is so popular that you won't be able to get in without reserving a spot a few days in advance. Trust us though, 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's best described as vampire's lair meets French catacombs. Order from a simple menu of handcrafted cocktails or take a chance with the Dealer's Choice -- a bartender will concoct something for you based on your personal tastes, and they almost always nail it. Don't let the wall of gilded skulls freak you out, it's all part of the charm.
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.
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).
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.
At Stone Brewing's Liberty Station location, you can expect great beer and bocce ball courts in a massive outdoor space.
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.
San Diego big shots have been flocking to Grant Grill to wheel and deal since 1951. Leather seating, white linen-topped tables, and mahogany wood floors create an executive dining room setting that's amped up by seasonal dishes like foie gras torchon, roasted duck breast with Brussels sprouts and figs, and local sea bass with spinach cavatelli. The cocktail lounge pays homage to Grant Grill's past as San Diego's original speakeasy, with timeless selections like the Smashing Pumpkin and the US Grant Centennial Manhattan.
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).
This cocktail bar and late-night dining spot satisfies with a seasonal menu that marries American and Mediterranean tastes. The phyllo strudel is glutted with gold potato, artichoke, spinach, onion, and feta, then mortared with layers of pastry that crumble as they make the treacherous journey from plate to mouth. Meanwhile, Starlite's brioche burger gets an extra-rich dose of flavor from a blanket of Gruyere cheese. Reservations are recommended -- especially if you're looking for a seat on the outdoor patio.
Operating in an apothecary-themed space, this north San Diego bar calls itself a manufacturer of local tonics, elixirs, and cures. Polite Provision makes inventive cocktails from its stock of more than 50 bitters and spirits like bourbon, mezcal, and single-malt Scotch. Draft beers rotate through the 46 taps, and if you want to fuel up, order a round of mac & cheese, crispy polenta, and other appetizers from neighbor Soda & Swine (a smart move, if you ask us).