Feb. 9th, 2011

The Best Bars & Nightlife in Downtown San Diego

Some amazing new places have opened in the past year and a half or so in San Diego, making quite an impression on locals and visitors alike. Establishments such as these have begun to truly shape the Gaslamp into a nightlife scene to be reckoned with… and we believe this is only the beginning. If you have yet to visit these powerhouse bars, be warned, they will quickly become your favorite new spots. Here’s a look at the establishments making a name for themselves in America’s Finest City.

Craft&Commerce is a collaborative effort between the owners of El Dorado, Noble Experiment and Neighborhood: three of the best joints in San Diego. This venue, located in Little Italy, brings together craft cocktails, craft and local beers as well as gourmet fare. Craft has a notably indoor/outdoor feel with the interior largely open along it’s entire length, which is wonderful on virtually any San Diego day. No amount of love and attention to detail is too much for the guys that run this eatery: fruit is cut fresh for every drink, a Kold-Draft icemaker creates perfect ice and menu items run the gamut from classic to tr?s chic. Mac and Cheese or Roasted Bone Marrow, anyone?

Noble Experiment
These guys know what they are doing and it shows. Not only do I love the drinks that are created behind these secret doors, I also purely enjoy how fluidly the bartenders work and hold a conversation at the same time. Have a passion for craft cocktails? This is THE place to be. I always recommend indulging in the Dealer’s Choice and trusting completely in the experts. They have yet to let me -- or any guest I have brought there -- down.

Vin de Syrah
So Syrah opened in late 2009…but it just had to make the list. There is just something about this place; I suppose the timing of it was just right. An Alice in Wonderland-esque theme paired with a down-the-rabbit hole set of stairs, a hidden door…and smart drinks once you get inside. By smart, I mean that I have been impressed by both their wine and Scotch collection. There are Scotches here you be hard-pressed to find anywhere else downtown. Plus, they hold wine tastings on a regular basis, perfect in this chic and simultaneously unpretentious atmosphere.

Prohibition is an old-style speakeasy. There are other establishments downtown that boast the same “secret door” theme, but none quite like Prohibition. If you are familiar with the Gaslamp area and have never been, the entrance to Prohibition is ON FIFTH AVENUE. Yes, you have walked by it over and over again. It’s been there, waiting for you to discover it. What I have love about going to Prohibition is the atmosphere; it is truly 1920s… it seems as if coppers could break up the party at any moment.

To be plain, I do not really consider myself a club-goer. However, FLUXX has had some major entertainers on its roster during 2010, so much so that it needed to make the list. What is also neat about FLUXX is that they change their theme every month, so you can continually return for a slightly different experience. One of the most popular nightclubs in San Diego, FLUXX has been referred to by some as a “Vegas-style venue with an SD twist.” So if clubbing is your scene, this is the place to be.

La Puerta
My first visit to La Puerta was on a warm Sunday afternoon; we wandered in, picked a table and had the sole attention of our enthusiastic server who educated us on the vast selection of tequilas behind the bar. These days, you will be hard-pressed to simply wander in…ever. Drinks (especially Margaritas) are fabulous and if you like great Mexican, the food is to die for. Be prepared for a slightly less mainstream version of the Latin fare, and if you can’t decide go for the carne asada fries or the surf and turf burrito.

Lincoln Room
The newest of all of these venues, we anticipate Lincoln Room to be a slam-dunk. Which is impressive considering that there are so many bars, nightclubs and restaurants in downtown SD. Previously the home of Confidential, Lincoln Room is a total departure from its modern and minimalistic predecessor: this is a laid back place to come, a bar for the locals. The newly re-vamped space features a log cabin-esque design with a markedly rustic feel, but the food is still just as modern as the fare featured and well-loved by Confidential’s clientele. In fact, the owners (who also happen to run the wildly-successful La Puerta) have chosen to carry over some of the same sophisticated dishes to their new venture. Good food, a great environment and laid-back locals, what could be better?

Quality Social
Pickle Back: Drink combination created by Quality Social that includes a shot of Jameson Whiskey followed by a shot of pickle brine. Yes, you read that right. While the combination may not be your cup of tea (or your drink of choice), it certainly says a lot about the ingenuity of the brains behind this establishment. Quality Social offers an array of artisanal meats and cheeses for nibbling and an innovative menu with fare like duck wings, Belgian mussels and more mainstream items like steak salad or barbeque pork. This is an ideal place to come for pre-dinner drinks and bites or even Sunday Brunch should you be in the mood for a burger topped with a runny egg. On a side note if vinegar or salt is your thing, like it is mine, the Pickle Back is in fact a stellar combination.

These are just a few of the best nightlife spots in Downtown San Diego; I anticipate many more to surface over the next few years. For those of us in the know, the opening of these establishments has been a source of pride as we see the Gaslamp continuously reinvent itself and grow into it’s own as a city with a nightlife scene to be reckoned with. For those of you planning a visit, be sure to make time to experience this fun and vibrant area of Southern California.
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