It’s sad but true, summer is officially over.
Sure we’ll miss bikini-clad ladies prancing around pool parties and shirtless and shaggy haired men paddling around in the surf, but there’s something to be said about those hot nights spent indoors…
As the sun sets to make room for autumn wind and winter drizzle (hopefully!), we invite you to ride the elevator back down from rooftop lounges and re-discover San Diego bars and clubs with cool enough interior décor to keep you warm and entertained, no matter the weather.
Welcome to a new season of San Diego nightlife.
From the goth-glam allure of club Voyeur to Side Bar's risqué draw and the subterranean intrigue of Syrah and Prohibition, step inside these cool venues to stay hot until summer returns.
San Diego’s original super-club, Stingaree, still boasts one of the sexiest interior design concepts in town. The Restaurant at Stingaree, complete with a swanky lounge area, meets the street level bar where vibrant orange bar stools sit before a white and blue striped wall, gazing up to the mysterious and chic Mezzanine. Ascend either of the staircases to reach a central second-floor landing pad pierced by a gorgeous waterfall. Floating above the dance floor, a bridge takes you to the 2,500 sq. ft. Mezzanine Lounge. The highlight of the second level is the baby blue and sterling Penthouse, the ultimate in private exclusivity that accommodates up to 50 people with its own bar and bartender. Catch a warm night this winter? Head upstairs to the third floor rooftop lounge. (pictured main)
Side Bar – Downtown
After its two year nightlife sabbatical for modern renovations, Side Bar is back on the Gaslamp radar and showed off its splendor all summer. Side Bar’s red hot look oozes sophistication while preserving a sense of intimacy and eclecticism by integrating vintage trinkets and curious flea market finds all around its sassy new space. Although it’s hard to avoid fixation on the giant LED lit birdcage that confines the DJ booth, it’s even harder to avoid being caught staring at the nude pin-ups pictured on the giant light fixtures above the bar. If you’re caught in the act, just tell them you were staring at the giant emu statute dressed in pearls. We think that’s awesomely wacky and totally understandable, too. (pictured)
Bar Pink – North Park
This bar acts as a truce between the battle of the sexes. With always free cover, sweet cocktails, $3 wells, live local music, and pool tables, there’s something for anyone who stumbles upon this done-up dive. But of course what we love most is what Bar Pink offers us aesthetically. Paintings of dainty pink elephants in martini glasses adorn the walls while bubble shaped light fixtures hang above the bar. But to learn the inspiration behind their quirky and cute décor you have to stick around for last call when the lights are dimmed down and the music turned off while the psychedelic “Pink Elephants on Parade” scene from Dumbo plays in its entirety. When the parade is over, regulars know it’s time for their own march home to begin.
Insider Tip: Try the “Sneaky Tiki” cocktail – it’s delicious and sweet, but its contents sneak up on you pretty quickly!
This goth-glam haven has redefined Gaslamp light. Machine gun lamps line the appropriately named AK-47 room and a life-size horse lamp greets guests at the door. Golden skulls pierce the walls in every direction, and the ceiling light show of submarine reality makes us wonder if we’ve confused this two-tiered electro asylum with an upside-down submerged pirate ship. And that’s before the false walls are opened up. Guests can’t help but be hypnotically drawn to the 40 sq. ft. LED light wall that blinks, glitters, and flashes according to the DJ’s whim. The chaos is reaffirmed through Voyeur’s unrelenting sound system that continues the controlled trance that has taken over your senses. (pictured)
El Dorado – East Village/Downtown
Like a lone glow stick in a dim room, El Dorado’s neon green beams light up the dark Broadway corner, and draw you inside. The décor pays tribute to the Western Frontier era, with paintings representative of the period lining its dark-stained wood walls, including the bison wall fixture, affectionately named Otis. A few contemporary edits to history include red leather booths that replace stagecoaches and a juke box that upgrades the player piano. Wall sconces with light-up bubble-filled tubes are also pretty out of context, but nonetheless pretty cool. The bar stretched the length of the venue, and on each side are two tiny TVs playing whichever random VHS tapes were selected for the evening, including the classic Beetle Juice movie. Whether it’s because El D continues to book, almost psychically, underground DJs who become Gaslamp sensations just weeks later, or the word has spread about their expertly crafted cocktails they dream up daily, the secret is out.
Discover Tip: Although the boys behind the bar are big bourbon and rye fans, order the spicy and refreshing “Serrano Mojito” for an invigorating sip with an extra bite!
A juxaposition between the urban world – characterized by loud pipes, hot air, and an array of colorful and gaudy poster-laden walls – and the fascinating world behind a seemingly secret corridor paved in lush greens, makes for the whimsical experience at Syrah. Michael Soriano designed Syrah to evoke a not so subtle allusion to Alice and Wonderland by intertwining enchanting décor with a downtown urbanist vibe. A sense rarity comes from the unusual black rabbit-shaped lamps that light the way to exaggerated high-back booths. The ceiling offers even more surprises to please the eyes, with dainty umbrellas that glitter and dance above and aged and preserved grape vine braches wrapped with lights. (pictured)
Air Conditioned Lounge – North Park
This posh yet unpretentious North Park lounge keeps its contents chill by keeping its coolness discrete. From the outside, Air Conditioned Lounge, or A/C Lounge for those in the know, is as grubby as can be, with a tired old light-up blue sign out front that reads “Air-Conditioned” atop a plain white door. Inside, groovy décor from the ‘60s mixes with just the right amount of ‘70s swank. Posters along the wall, featuring a young Sean Connery as James Bond, demonstrate the cool manner by which we should conduct ourselves. If you chose bottle service over the cheap stiff drinks served during happy hour, you’ll find yourself seated in the Freon Room: an electric blue getaway for those who prefer to be pampered, complete with a pole for potential visual delights and drunken escapades. Mellow nights surrounded by retro-modern design make this glam spot a must stop – but keep your snobby friends in the car, or else you’ll kill the chill vibe.
The mysterious excitement doesn’t end once you’ve found the door. Say the password, and the intrigue continues underground at Prohibition. Reminiscent of the “dry” era, set beneath glowing red lights, local men and women turn into criminals as they sip seductive cocktails in lush booths or hovering at the bar for quiet networking. Lined along the dark wood panels are a collection of authentic, autographed head shots of iconic Hollywood stars that defined the era. Our favorite antique in the joint? On the way out, look up to see an authentic whisky hatchet, used to hack open barrels containing the illegal “strong water” back in day.
Lei Lounge – University Heights
For those seeking refuge from the Gaslamp hustle, stopping at Lei Lounge is a must. Serving up tapas from all cuisines and cocktails by the stem-less martini glass or pitcher, this University Heights hot spot offers a sinfully delightful experience for all. A serene waterfall with a bronzed backdrop behind the bar adds to the chic tranquility, while ambient house music fills the aural soundscape. Outside on the patio they even have cabanas with white leather seating that radiates with a soft pink hue come nightfall. This neighborhood retreat offers a laid-back tropical vibe that attract local street traffic and designer-clad fancy folk alike. Lei Lounge is the perfect place for those desperate for a taste of sunny paradise during dreary winter nights.
Insider Tip: Call to reserve the cabanas at least three days in advance for weekend nights as they fill up fast!
Jake’s on 6th – Hillcrest
This new wine bar has an innate sense of warmth and graciousness. This family owned and operated space provides a setting that is intentionally romantic, with candles and dim lighting throughout, but that is also very open and convivial. Choose to sit at the bar or on the sofas which line the wall on the opposite side, perfect for encouraging intimate one-on-one chit chat or accommodating crowds around low-set coffee tables. Huge window-paned doors leading to al fresco dining on the patio are kept open to enjoy the last few hours of light at dusk and give the lounge an added sense of space. But Jake’s on 6th is anything but laid back come night fall, as upbeat house and electro music sets the tone for the night social setting.
Insider Tip: The cheese boards are accompanied by an array of delicious fruit and fresh in-house baked bread made daily, and are great for sharing! All under for under $10 bucks too!
Discover more cool interiors at San Diego bars and clubs, including Bar West, Pearl Hotel, Suite & Tender at Sé Hotel, 207 Lobby Bar at Hard Rock Hotel, Lucky D’s, The Fleetwood, revamped Grant Grill at US Grant Hotel, Cardiff Wine Steals, new Eastlake Tavern and Bowl and Envy Nightclub at Ivy Hotel.