Wednesday, July 11, 2012

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Where to Get a Drink During Comic-Con

So you’re coming to San Diego for Comic-Con and you need a drink? I can help.

First of all, welcome to town. Second, the best place for a drink is town may well be my living room, but I simply can’t fit you all in, so I’ve put together a rundown of some of my favorite drinking holes in town. Below is a mix of beer joints, cocktail bars, and even — if that’s how you like to get your swerve on — the town’s friendly gay bars.

This is not an exhaustive list of where to drink or even my favorites in the entire county. It does, however, hit highlights in neighborhoods adjacent to, or nearby, the convention center, places that are easy to get to and serve good drinks.

San Diego is a fantastic beer town with lots of local breweries and plenty of bars that have those beers on tap. Let’s dig in.


Hamilton’s Tavern
Grab a cab and head over to South Park for a few pints at Hamilton’s. Almost 30 beers on tap and a few casks of rotating specials make one of San Diego’s most revered beer landmarks worth a trip. Current offerings are on the big black board and there’s a kitchen with usual pub fare — wings, sausages, sandwiches, burgers, fries, etc. Recent beers on tap include Ale Smith, Bear Republic, Ballast Point, Rogue, and Monkey Paw.
521 30th St.

Monkey Paw
A local favorite, close enough to the convention center for a long walk or a short cab ride, but far enough away to avoid the crush one might get in the Gaslamp neighborhood. Not a huge beer list, but what’s there is good; Chimay, Stone, Green Flash (alas, not a superhero, but a solid local beer), Coronado Brewing, and more. Fries, cheese steaks, and wings are on the menu here. Not the kind of thing a much-slimmed down How To Batman would eat these days.
805 16th St.

Small Bar
Small Bar is, quite literally, a small bar. No false advertising there. If, after your zombie adventures at Petco Park, your group needs a respite, try to grab the long communal table. The selection of beers on tap changes frequently at this University Heights place, but with 42 handles, there’s bound to be something to please even finicky beer drinkers. On Saturday and Sunday, the bar offers brunch specials that come either with a cocktail or a beer (your choice).
4628 Park Blvd.

Stone Company Store
Can’t make it up to Stone Brewing’s vast beer garden in Escondido? Make the trek over to the sedate South Park neighborhood for a taste of what’s on tap. No food to speak of, but you can buy a glass and sample any of the offerings by trading poker chips for each refill. Growlers, kegs, and bottles for take-out. Shirts and whatnot for sale if your bags aren't too packed with swag.
2215 30th St.

Stumbling distance from my old house, Toronado is the sister bar to San Francisco’s renowned beer Mecca of the same name. A wall of taps — as many as fifty — with free flowing beer from the left coast, Texas, other US hotspots, and Europe. Underberg bitters in wee, paper-wrapped bottles. 400 beers in bottles. The music can get too loud, but the beer is great and a kitchen will hook you up with basic eats such as sausages or macaroni and cheese.
4026 30th St.

As much as I relish great beers, a well-made cocktail is always welcome. In the interest of not writing a whole book on where to get a good cocktail in San Diego, I’ve made a short list of what’s good and nearby. Take heart. Eight years ago, this list would have been very short indeed.


Craft & Commerce
A recent addition to San Diego’s growing craft cocktail scene, Craft & Commerce quickly showed it had the chops to crank out good cocktails. You may hear that no vodka is on offer here, but I’ve spied a bottle of Karlsson’s Gold on the back bar more than once. Still, though, try something with genever or Campari. Why not grab a plate of mini corn dogs, house made pickles, or even a bowl of punch? Wines and beers for those who don’t trust themselves not to become Drunk Hulk with too much booze. Bonus; the men's room sometimes plays readings of Orwell over the speaker.
675 W. Beech St.

El Dorado Cocktail Lounge
$5 happy hour cocktails until 9pm? Yes, that is me you may sometimes spy at the bar. I like to drink and talk at bars, so I generally bail when the band starts tuning up. Sometimes there’s one here, sometimes not. You can get typical yard beers (PBR pounder, anyone?) but the cocktails are the draw. Get something with rye, pisco, or Chartreuse. Don’t go all douchey and play Stump the Bartender, but the staff know most of the classics and a lot of modern twists.
1030 Broadway

El Take It Easy
Jay Porter’s Baja-influenced eatery on the 30th Street stretch of restaurants has a proper sit-down menu, but grab a seat at the concrete bar and take in some of the cocktails and punches that are heavy with tequila, mezcal, and bourbon. Beers and Mexican wines also available (yes, Mexican wines; don't forget that Mexico is part of the local economy and wines from El Valle de Guadalupe are worth more than a cursory taste). A plate of thinly sliced country ham is just the thing if you’re down with swine. Thursday nights, the oysters are $1 each.
3926 30th St.

Noble Experiment
Across from the wall of skulls, bar man Anthony Schmidt holds court the stainless steel bar. You’ll need reservations. And you’ll need help finding it. Noble Experiment is hidden away within the (also great) beer bar, Neighborhood. Walking distance from the convention center. Head back toward the restrooms and start pushing walls. Once admitted, either tell Schmidt what you’d like or put yourself in his hands; he’s one of the few bartenders in town I’d simply let select something for me. A Yamazaki 18 Old Fashioned? Yes, please. If he’s not in, there’s a drinks catalog that’s over 700 items long. You’re bound to find something. Perhaps my favorite cocktail bar in town. No kitchen.
Please note: you must text for reservations (the lone fly in the ointment): (619) 446-0001
777 G St.

A bit like New York’s PDT in look and feel, Prohibition is hidden behind the door of a law firm, down a flight of stairs. I don’t routinely drink in the touristy Gaslamp, but I do make an exception here. Cool, dark, and quiet. Order at the bar, then move off to a table. Simple cocktails, done well. No fancy molecular mixology, but solid old school martinis, Italian amari, bonded apple brandy, and similar drinks with a bitters selection befitting a modern cocktail bar.
548 5th Ave.

One of San Diego’s first modern cocktail bars tucked away on a surface road hugging the 5 freeway. The drinks menu feels a little behind the times now, but it’s still a great place to grab a bourbon mule, a selection of Van Winkle whiskeys, Belgian beers, Pimm’s cups, swizzles, and sangrias. The kitchen serves, like a lot of the city’s cocktail bars, local foods with a menu that changes daily; house made pickles, fries, mussels, charcuterie, cheeses, roasted chicken. Good stuff.
3175 India St.

Get Your Gay On

If you’re after a couple of stiff drinks with an easy-going gay crowd, you’re in luck. San Diego locals exude a friendliness second only to New Orleanians. You can even show up in costume if you like and nobody’s going to think it odd. Well. Not too odd.

Fiesta Cantina
An import from Los Angeles, “Fiesta” is an open-air bar with the feel of a cheap Baja beachside resort. Which is not to say it’s not fun. Not a single craft cocktail to be found on site. One does not order a Manhattan or a whiskey sour here. The margaritas, however, are big, they are strong, and they sometimes come two-for-one. It’s one of the few places I break down and just order a Corona and lime. Not at all unusual to bump into fully costumed ComicCon attendees.
142 University Ave.

The Hole
A hike from the convention center, but if you’re spent on Sunday afternoon, still in town, and want to get away from the cosplay, go on and hit always-popular sun-drenched dive, The Hole (so named for its proximity to a golf course and its former handle of The 19th Hole). If you’re not through the door and down the steps into the open-air pit by 4pm, skip it; the line is insanely long. A definitely bearish crowd (and their admirers), so if 40-something, shirtless, hairy guys are not your deal, maybe it’s best you skip it. Rudimentary grill with hot dogs and burgers. Usual quaffs are basic cocktails in small pitchers or a respectable selection of craft beers in the same. Bring sunscreen.
2820 Lytton St.

Urban Mo’s
The Hole may have been around since the end of Prohibition, but Mo’s is one of San Diego’s anchor gay bars. Always popular, nearly always busy. Right across the street from Fiesta Cantina, so there’s some back-and-forth with the crowd. The inside is divided into a dance floor and two bars. Another bar serves the patio outside and waiters will bring basic appetizers and unpretentious food to your table — burgers, sandwiches, fries, salads, burritos, etc. You may get an excellent cocktail by mistake (a bartender once gave me an outstanding Old Fashioned when I ordered a Manhattan), but don't expect one. The real draw is the crowd and the music. On a early Sunday evening, you may find me there with an oversized plastic stein of hefeweizen in hand. Want one? Ask for a Big Ass Hef.
308 University Ave.

Grab a Little Something for the Hotel Room

Want a little liquid refreshment for the room? Four places are worth noting.

Best Damn Beer Shop
A convenience store that holds both a homebrew supply section (ok, you probably won’t be brewing during the weekend) as well as an excellent and massive selection of beers, ales, lagers, ciders, barley wines, perries, and more from around the world. A local treasure.
1036 7th Ave.

Yeah the grocery store. The selection is ok, but if you’re planning a room party, be aware of their standing deal: buy six 750ml bottles of wine or spirits and get 30% off each one. That turns out to be some pretty damn cheap liquor. And there’s one very close to the convention center.
101 G St.

Trader Joe’s
This store in the chain is in the Hillcrest neighborhood, so it may be worth a stop if you’re hitting the nearby gay bars and restaurants. I mention TJ’s for 750ml bottles of Bulleit rye for $19.99. That is the cheapest everyday price I’ve ever seen for a very respectable showing from the family better known for their bourbon (which is also $19.99 here).
1092 University Ave. (tucked away in a shopping center, near the Ralph's grocery store and a Starbucks)

Whole Foods
Also in Hillcrest, Whole Foods doesn’t have the beer selection of the Best Damn Beer Shop, but it’s got enough of a local selection (and some from Europe) to drop by if you’re in the neighborhood. Most of it is chilled, almost all of it is good.
711 University Ave.

Goes well with:
  • Tap Hunter’s Twitter feed gives regular updates on the beer menus around town.
  • Brandon Hernandez’s piece on San Diego drinking in the most recent issue of Imbibe.

1 comment:

Mieko said...

We enjoyed some great cocktails at the Lion's Share during Comic-con. They also had a decent beer selection, and is very close to the convention center.