In the beginning, there was Pete’s Wicked Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale, Sam Adams Boston Lager, Redhook ESB, Anchor Steam and a few imports. All on tap.
“What we didn’t have,” said Joe Austin, “were bottles of domestic beer.”
When Austin and Sam Chammas opened the Live Wire in October 1992, this lack of Bud tallboys was a problem — for traditionalists. But in 1992, Austin and Chammas figured that San Diego was ready for a dive bar that mixed indie music and craft beer.
Seems they were right. Despite the sign promising “cold beer and warm friends,” the Live Wire’s exterior remains as welcoming as a Nazi bunker above Omaha Beach. Inside, though, the lighting is low, the pleather booths soft, the bar polished, the hardwood floor — is that Pine-Sol? — scrubbed. And the beer selection remains, as always, excellent.
These taps were among the first to dispense Blind Pig, a bracingly bitter brew that established the hop-happy style Vinnie Cilurzo later perfected at Santa Rosa’s Russian River; AleSmith’s Speedway Stout, often ranked among the world’s best brews; and Bear Republic’s Racer 5, a classic West Coast India pale ale.
“In a time where everything was Budweiser and Miller and Coors, they had Boddington’s and Sierra Nevada and Blind Pig,” said Scot Blair, a customer since 1993. “This was the bleeding edge.”
The music, too, cut deep. From a stage wedged into one corner, Rocket From the Crypt, Inch, aMiniature and other local bands performed. When the ABC shut the place down in 1994 for hosting shows without a permit, groups formed “The San Diego Beer Drinking Music Community” and held two legal concerts to pay the $3,000 fine.
The Live Wire also inspired a new generation of beer-savvy bar owners. Blair, for instance, now runs four taverns, none of which is a bona fide dive.
Why not open one?
“Why should I?” Blair replied. “How can you do a dive better than Sam Chammas?”
Live Wire is located at 2103 El Cajon Boulevard -- livewirebar.com
A Live Wire Weekend
Later this month, the Live Wire — 2103 El Cajon Blvd., University Heights — will mark its first 20 years with a weekend of events. The schedule:
OCT. 19: Bartender reunion; 38 men and women who worked behind this bar are expected.
OCT. 20: aMiniature and No Knife return for a sold-out Live Wire 20th Anniversary Show at the Lafayette Hotel’s Mississippi Room, 2223 El Cajon Blvd., University Heights.
OCT. 21: Bicycle bar tour starts from the Live Wire at noon. Next stop? “That’s a secret,” Chammas said. But the tavern has rented a bus for folks who would rather ride than pedal.
Read Peter Rowe's full story and more on utsandiego.com
Pictured: Sam Chammas, left, and Joe Austin in their bar, Live Wire — Howard Lipin