It was Marx who said that religion is the opiate of the masses, to which our Supreme Leader responded, “But beer is the beer of the masses!” The leader promised a new day when the Party would be a party, and that promise holds true with this list of approved locations for congregation. All our dearest ruler asks is that, when you’re boozing by the beach, pour a little on the sand to remember our fallen comrades who died fighting for our right to par-tay. Remember, however, that to prevent further cultural deterioration, the Generalissimo has issued a decree outlawing both the Roger Rabbit and the Running Man, but not the Electric Slide.
Best place to experience a phantasmagorgasm
Dancing waitresses are rumored to spring out of a giant coffin on special occasions. In the men’s room, a female bathroom attendant (?) squirts soap into your hand and sells loose Marlboros. Even the hideous Astroturf-and-logs motif decorating the walls has its charms. But those aren’t the coolest things about the very cool Fluxx (500 Fourth Ave., fluxxsd.com), a relatively new nightclub in the Gaslamp Quarter.
The sprawling club, which has the look and feel of an alien spaceship, has fantastic sound and lighting. Designed by Sound Investment and SJ Lighting, national firms that have set up systems for popular nightclubs like Cielo in New York City, Fluxx’s network of speakers, smoke machines, projectors, strobe lights and video screens make for a phantasmagoric experience. You can hear the music clearly wherever you stand while projectors display trippy patterns, lights flicker and a rope-festooned pod pulsates with color. All of a sudden, the dance floor bursts with overwhelming waves of blue and red.
But all of this wouldn’t be the same without the interesting crowd. Eric Howarth of Hi-Speed Soul Records has been booking shows with big names like Transfer and Mix Master Mike of the Beastie Boys, which has attracted a mix of Gaslamp fashionistas and North Park hipsters (plus the occasional conventioneer or mohawked punk rocker), which in turn breathes fresh air into the sometimes-overblown Gaslamp scene.
Best place to drink a beer at the beach
It’s around 7 p.m. on a Friday night. There’s a kid sitting at a table by herself glued to the portable DVD player in front of her. Her nearby parents, meanwhile, are enjoying a beer with their dinners, and they look like they’re having a pretty good time.
This is a scene that seems to be common at Pacific Beach AleHouse (721 Grand Ave., pbalehouse.com). It’s one of the few restaurants and bars left in Pacific Beach that’s fun both for families and the usual P.B. nightlife crowd, which starts trickling in the later it gets.
“This place is mellow,” said one of three beautiful blondes who made their way up to the rooftop patio the last time I was there. “Firehouse was freakin’ packed.” She was talking about Firehouse PB, the restaurant and bar across the street, which was flooded with beachsters looking for a party.
What seems to bring the diverse crowd together at the AleHouse is the good, traditional American food (everything from Vodka Chicken Pasta and a Beer Bratwurst to a damn-good grilled-cheese sandwich), the beer (PB Porter, which won first place at this year’s international Beer Festival, is absolutely delicious) and the relaxed vibe.
Best resilient major thoroughfare
For longtime San Diegans, the words “El Cajon Boulevard” conjure a noir-ish 1970s nightscape of streetwalking sex workers, midnight card rooms, lonely roadside motels and too-close-for-comfort echoes of gunshots.
But before Interstate 8 made it superfluous, El Cajon thrived as a main San Diego east-west commuter artery, location of the original 1951 Jack in the Box, and site of a main pre-war trolley line. By 1960, it had become the scene of the notorious Drag Strip Riot and, to this day, remains a hotbed of prostitution and seediness.
Yet despite its decline, it’s never died. Its revitalization in the 1980s via the influx of immigrant communities from Mexico, South America, Vietnam and East Africa transformed it into a bustling journey through enclaves of culture, and an early destination for pioneering foodies.
Although the 21st century has seen parts of it begin to resemble an Orange County-like cookie-cutter corporate-strip-mall hell, “The Box” Boulevard has also become the scene of a fledgling nightlife renaissance of hip little boxes: from revitalized classic spots like The Red Fox Room, Tower Bar and the latest, Til-Two Club, to other music-centric nightlife destinations like The Live Wire, Eleven and Soda Bar.
El Cajon Boulevard (theboulevard.org) has a way of seeming to never shed its older identities; it just layers them. Hookers co-exist with pho joints and indie-rock clubs; only time will tell if it can withstand Starbucksification. The Boulevard’s still too off-putting to attract the sorts of people who’ve compromised the nightlife of its sister North Parkian thoroughfare, University Avenue. El Cajon Boulevard’s unspoiled and relatively undiscovered charms, right in the middle of a deliciously messy cultural tempest, make it San Diego’s true current uptown nightlife mecca.
Best dancehall party you’ve never heard about
Kingston on El Cajon? That’s right. Tuesday at the Til-Two Club in City Heights is now reggae and dancehall night, when bartenders Danielle and Jen take turns spinning discs and serving drinks from 10 p.m. to—wait for it— 2 a.m.
You probably already know that the Til-Two Club (4746 El Cajon Blvd., tiltwoclub.com) used to be the Beauty Bar, but did you know that before the Beauty Bar was the Beauty Bar it was the Til-Two Club? Confused? Don’t be. This was a loooong time ago, way back in the 1940s.
Proprietor Mick Rossner, who also owns Tower Bar on University Avenue a few blocks south, aims to restore the Til-Two Club to the former glory of its Art Deco days. How the reggae and dancehall party fits into that retro mission isn’t clear, but who cares? You can’t argue with $2 cans of Tecate, sweet jams from Alton Ellis to Sugar Minnott and two of the friendliest bartenders on the El Cajon corridor.
Best of all, there’s no cover charge, making it a hell of a lot cheaper than a direct flight to Jamaica.
Best way to get pulverized by the bass
Plenty of clubs in San Diego have been getting in on the worldwide dubstep craze, but Dub Dorado, the bi-monthly dubstep event at El Dorado, is the event that gives you a heaping helping of dubstep’s primary element—bass.
Every second and fourth Wednesday, the bar’s managers roll in a sound system from FreeBass Audio, a North County company specializing in systems for bass-heavy genres like reggae and drum and bass. The bar sits on the outskirts of the Gaslamp and East Village (1030 Broadway, eldoradobar.com), so local DJs like Austin Speed and touring acts like DJ Chef don’t have to worry about noise complaints when they crank up the woofers.
The DJs keep the dubstep raver-friendly, offering up beats that feel like body slams and bass lines with dizzying wobble effects and metallic chainsaw timbres that burrow into your intestines. MCs yell stuff like, “Everybody bounce with me, real quick!” as a mixed crowd of fashionable hipsters, drugged ravers and local DJs bob their heads and throw their arms in the air as if to say they haven’t a care. As the bass grows more and more massive with each passing track, you can’t help but get incredibly sweaty, even if you’re standing still.
Best spot to let your inner pretentious Mexican run free
Regardless of ethnicity, we all have one. It’s the little accented voice in your head that tells you to never fully halt at stop signs and tempts you to bribe cops—it’s your inner pretentious Mexican, and there’s no way of suppressing it. But where to let it loose without being judged or having you reported to the authorities?
Enter Eastlake’s newest TJ-expat coffee lounge, La Parroquia (2015 Birch Road, laparroquialounge.com), the place to see and be seen at the Otay Ranch mall. An ode to old Hollywood, items here are named after luminaries whose legacy is synonymous with wealth and fanfare. Case in point: the “Monroe Panini” or the “Milli Vanilli Latté.” Overpriced wine and beer also abound, and for the real baller, the VIP area known as “The Red Room” is ready for hire. Never mind that it’s housed in an adjacent portable mall kiosk.
It’s your world amigo, we’re just living in it.
Best Siberian brewery
In the eastern reaches of San Diego County, high up in the mountainous hinterland beyond El Cajon, Lakeside and Santee, sits a desolate outpost called Alpine Beer Company.
OK, so there are no gulags in East county and Alpine is only 2,000 feet above sea level and 30 minutes from Downtown San Diego, but it’s still off the beaten path by a considerable margin. Nevertheless, fans of San Diego’s craft-beer scene have long regarded Alpine Beer Company (2351 Alpine Blvd., alpinebeerco.com) as one of the best.
For years the brewery was just a brewery with a curious slogan: “Drink Alpine Ale or Go to Bed.” You could come in and pick up growlers and kegs, but to enjoy Alpine Beer Company products you had to go somewhere else. Not anymore. The brewery now operates a pub that’s open every day but Monday and serves up some killer barbecue. On the weekends, dinner specials are available with unique beer pairings from the brewery.
Alpine hasn’t had a bar with decent beer on tap since the Liar’s Club went out of business in early ’09. If you find yourself banished to East County, a visit to the Alpine Beer Company will make your stay a hospitable one.
Best new hip-hop open mic
Hip-hop open mics have come and gone, but The Last Word, a relatively new open mic held at Kava Lounge (2812 Kettner Blvd. in Middletown, kavalounge.com) every last Wednesday of the month, is going strong.
Well, kind of. The friendly event—there’s no battling, just some good-nature rhyme-spitting—usually attracts a huge crowd that includes some of the city’s most prominent MCs and DJs. But only about a dozen people showed up to the one in September, so Kid Riz, a North County promoter and DJ behind the event, has changed things up, bringing in an intriguing mix of spoken-word performers and prominent local MCs like Odessa Kane to get the night going. The rest of the night is devoted to freestyling.
Honestly, though, it can still be fun even if only a few MCs step up to the mic. With mainstays like Charlie Rock and Cros1 showing up regularly, you’re bound to get into an interesting conversation about the history and the future of San Diego’s hip-hop scene.
Best after-hours black-market taco
The clubs are letting out and you’re not sure what you’re next move is. Just follow the fog and creep your way south to Chicano Park in Barrio Logan and then head up Imperial Avenue to Logan Heights. You’ll find a diverse crowd of people milling around the open-air taco experience that is La Fachada (20 25th St.).
Fittingly La Fachada means “The Facade”—a false front for something that’s not really there. They used to make tacos out of the truck parked in the lot, but since the truck never goes anywhere, the city cracked down. Now the tacos come from—well, we’re not really sure. The result is a bewildering experience with an outdoor cash register, salsa bar and dining patio. It’s fun to sit under the makeshift canopy and watch the club kids, home boys and homeless people bicker and barter for late-night goods and services.
La Fachada is street theater that considers the questions of our day: How did that chick squeeze into that gold lamé dress? How much did that dude pay for those rims? And what are those toddlers doing up at 1 a.m.? If you do decide to enter the after-hours marketplace, be careful: There’s a cop shop across the street.
Best afterhours-party alternative
There are several personality quirks at the Mission Hills Fresh MXN Food (née Santana’s Mexican Grill, 719 W. Washington St., freshmxnfood.com)—from the British-style drive-thru window on the passenger side of the car, to California burritos sold by the pound—but none as unique as the open-24/7 locale’s decibel-busting jukebox.
Powered by two vintage Polk Audio speakers, the sui generis juke runs the gamut from ABBA to Zeppelin and fuels many a guttural late-night sing-a-long session (one recent 3 a.m. outing featured a packed house of hipsters belting Elton John’s Benny and the Jets). A threesome of selections starts at a buck, while an Honest Abe gets you a whopping 18 jams. Longing for a full south-of-the-border experience? Choose CDs from No. 69 on for a collection of narcocorridos worthy of a Zetas beheading party.
Sure, the sound system at Fluxx might have 50,000 watts of high-fidelity audio, but do they have the entire Chalino Sánchez discography at hand?
Nighttime? It’s Leader time
Upon being deemed No. 6 on San Diego Gossip Scene’s “Top Ten Bad Boys” list, the Leader vowed he’d go to No. 1 in 2011 or go home. “All ruling and no playing makes the Leader a dull boy,” he says. Where does the Leader want to make the scene and make a scene? Anything at Voyeur, Intervention Sundays at Hard Rock Hotel and Club Fashion Whore at The Ruby Room (the recent Neverending Story theme night was tops, the Leader tells us).
When the Leader wants aural pleasure, he checks out Nena Anderson in the Turquoise Room at Riviera on Tuesdays, Colour Palette music and art show at Tin Can Ale House on first Thursdays, Anti-Monday League at The Casbah and Thursdays at West Coast tavern.
When the Leader wants to exert his authority on the dance floor, El Camino Funk Session at El Camino (Little Italy location) on Saturdays, Generations Party at U-31 on Thursdays or Booty Bassment at the Whistle Stop on the second and fourth Saturdays meet his needs.