Rooftop restaurants and bars in San Diego are a sacred part of our culture. Because of our (almost) year-round warm, sunny weather, any time we can escape to enjoy tasty food and drinks al fresco, we’re there. So you can imagine our excitement to hear about the latest project from restaurateur Matt Spencer (FIREHOUSE American Eatery & Lounge, Vin De Syrah, Analog) and partner Tyler Charman, a Progressive American restaurant in Little Italy with a spacious rooftop bar.
Kettner Exchange is slated to open this fall, and this morning, we were invited on a private hard hat tour of the new 8,000-square-foot, two-story venue. If you've been around Little Italy over the past year, you've probably seen the sign for the restaurant. Here's what we found out on our tour:
When you walk in, the bar and lounge area will be directly in front of you with the main dining room to the right. Guests at the bar can sit around a two-sided fireplace in the center of the room or at one of the two high-top communal tables in front of glass roll-up doors that view out onto Kettner Boulevard.
One of the coolest features at the bar will be the option for three guests to sit on the same side as the bartender (off to the side) facing three more seats. Essentially it’s a private bar table for six that will only be available to you if the bartender gives you the wink-and-the-nod that it’s okay (it’s own speakeasy if you will). But to really get your own private dining experience, Kettner Exchange will boast a chef’s table in the kitchen. In the room, one wall will display wines, the other will showcase a white wall with black steel holding pickled vegetables and the third will be a glass window looking out onto the street, leaving passersby to wonder how you were lucky enough to score that table.
Fairly unheard of for the Little Italy area, a limited food menu will be served until 1:45 a.m. which will pair well with the live entertainment permit they were able to secure. “We feel like we can be like a later night [venue], so if I go to Juniper & Ivy and its 9:30 [p.m.] and I think, ‘Hey, let’s get a drink somewhere, let’s go to Kettner,” said Spencer. “We want to try to bring in a little bit of that late night crowd business without going overboard. We’re still going to serve our menu which will be limited late night…a scaled down version.”
In the semi-open kitchen will be Head Chef Brian Redzikowski who has worked for Le Cirque 2000, Nobu Matsuhisa Aspen, Joel Rubuchon at the Mansion in Las Vegas and Yellowtail at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino. Joining him as Beverage Director will be Adam Stemmler, who is a recognized Sommelier by the Court of Masters, a certified Mezcalier and a co-owner of Blind Tiger Cocktail Co. Kettner Exchange will be the first establishment in Little Italy to offer a rooftop bar and among its other impressive features it will also include an expansive view of the bay, an upside down hanging tree chandelier, a glass-enclosed telescope viewing room, a garden area and most importantly, a parking lot which will fit about 25 valeted cars.
Upstairs, the partially enclosed rooftop area will hold five cabanas with the largest one sitting in a separate corner with its own TV and more space for larger parties. Instead of bottle service, each cabana will come with a beer tap holding guests’ favorite brews plus a mini wet bar (can I get a high-five?). To operate your tap you’ll be able to easily swipe a smart card and pour at your leisure (the bigger cabana will hold two taps).
Lining the glass walls around the space will be all lounge furniture and a hanging bed with wine glass holders to one side. The rooftop will also include another fireplace for those (few) chilly nights in SD and a full bar which is anticipated to house barrels of aged wines and liquors. “If you’ve been anywhere where they serve barrel-aged cocktails, they’ll have a little oak barrel behind the back bar and they’ll fill it full of rum or whatever and they’ll let it sit for 15 days before they serve it,” shared Spencer. “[…] We’re going to take it to the next level and do 40 liter barrels.”
Under the enclosed portion of the room will be the upstairs dining room and a patio space off one side facing The Waterfront Bar & Grill. “What I like about this patio is that it kind of engages The Waterfront, I don’t care if you’re 21 or 81, you know The Waterfront and you still go there,” said Spencer. “I can advertise for days, but I’ll bet a lot of people will sit at The Waterfront drinking a beer and will be like ‘What’s that over there?’ We’re hoping it’ll get some more people in here.”
As you may have guessed, real estate in Little Italy doesn’t come cheap. The project was originally budgeted at $3.1 million and according to Spencer, because of liquor licenses, zoning regulations and codes (such as required rooftop pipes and drains that pump rain water into sewers and a full-size gurney hospital elevator), that amount has already been surpassed. But, from the looks of it and the kind of place it is expected to be, we are fairly confident that the extra costs will be worth the investment. We can’t wait to have our first meal there and continue our love affair with rooftop restaurants.
Kettner Exchange is slated to debut this fall and will be open seven days a week at 4 p.m. and will serve Saturday and Sunday brunch. Spencer and Charman are also building a donut shop next to the restaurant that will open a few months after Kettner, but we’ll save the sweet details for a later date.
Nicolle is an award-winning writer and Travel Editor using her expertise in the industry to write about luxury travel around the world. You can find her daily searching the web for the latest trends, best new hotels and most beautiful destinations to visit and share with her readers. She's been featured on The Huffington Post, Hard Assets, AMD Entertainment and Remy Martin. In 2014, she was v...(Read More)