It’s easy to get comfortable in the Hillcrest bubble. Often, we get trapped by our environment and tend to frequent those places we are familiar with simply because they’re safe, convenient and we always know what to expect. I get this way sometimes too and I’m definitely about supporting my local community establishments. But, I’m also one who likes options and I value being ‘in the know.’ I like to experience and explore the new shops, restaurants, events and activities all over the city so I’m informed and, more importantly, able to be a legit resource for friends, family and others who ask. Because they do ask…a lot. And, let’s face it, going out out is fun because it’s like an adventure – you never know what will happen.
I decided to spend some QT in San Diego’s popular Gaslamp Quarter and hit up some new places I’d been hearing both good and bad things about from fellow tweeters, bloggers and Facebook addicts. The Gaslamp, San Diego’s entertainment hub in the heart Downtown, has become the destination for hipsters, partiers, trendy urbanites and tourists all twitching for their fix of the scene. Within its few short walkable blocks you can find smoke shops, wine bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, dive bars, salons, boutiques and every kind of restaurant imaginable from by-the-slice pizza joints to first class fine dining.
So, here’s my He Said take on a few newish and notable (for one reason or another) spots in the Gaslamp Quarter to check out when you consider venturing down-way from the gayborhood. Word of caution, I make no guarantees as to what your experience will be like in these establishments, should you choose to go. What’s fab for one, might fail for another. Taste is, after all, entirely subjective. But, that’s the great thing about options: there’s many of them! Now, get out and gay up the Gaslamp.
Quality Social, which opened earlier this Spring in the former EXY space across from the Andaz Hotel, is a sexified hybrid of sorts. Think neighborhood dive meets Design Star. A cool open space with splashy interior elements that somehow work with its laid back “anti-downtown” downtown vibe. You can belly up to the bar for a selection of some pretty stellar signature drinks or grab a table and nosh on elevated bar bites the likes of mac ‘n cheese, cured pork shoulder sandos, duck wings and charcuterie. Three words to know about this place: pickles, whiskey and bacon! QS is known for their Picklebacks (a shot of Jameson whiskey with a fresh pickle brine chaser) and rightfully so – just make sure you ask for the side of bacon. It’s phenomenal. There’s no real dancefloor, per se, but post 10PM, patrons shake it to DJs playing everything from C & C Music Factory to Barry White. It never feels overcrowded but on weekend nights there can be a hellacious wait in line. Service is spot on, even convivial when it’s mellow. But, some bouncers and bartenders can be a smidge curt during busier hours. And, while it’s certainly a Gaslamp ‘it’ place to be, check your pretension at the door…your resume amounts to dick inside. Quality Social, 789 Sixth Ave. (corner of F Street)
Searsucker, the new 7,000 sq. ft. monolith of a resto-slash-bar occupying the former Z Gallerie space at the corner of 5th and Market, is definitely an adventure…in both good and bad ways. As you know, I’m a huge Top Chef fanatic. One of my best friends was on season 5 and now runs his own place here in Hillcrest. Searsucker’s partner/Exec Chef, Brian Malarkey, was a finalist on season 3 and was my favorite to win…he was, after all, the hometown boy. Now, I wasn’t a fan of Oceanaire, Malarkey’s prior gig, but was excited for Searsucker to open, having read all about its design, concept & cuisine. The space itself is quirky cool, huge, open and bright with lots of cushy low-back sofa sectionals for communing over cocktails or noshing with groups of friends, livingroom-style. It’s funny how, to me, it still resembles a furniture store, but for the space, seems to fit just fine. There are tables with mismatched chairs and funky, whimsical artwork on the walls. Right as you walk in, the ginormous bar greets you as does the open-air kitchen across the way. Malarkey and crew put on a show literally turning a back-of-the-house routine into front-of-the-house entertainment. Though the space has visual appeal, the vibe once inside is not really my cup of tea: it’s chilly and slightly smug. Depending on the night, patrons range from friendly, touristy lookie-loos hoping for a glimpse of local celebrity to uppity social elites who stake ownership on seating real estate and give you the stink eye if you’re not wearing this season’s Prada. Both bar and sit-down service ranges from snooty to bubbly to WTF slow. Looking past that, the menu, dubbed ‘New American classic,’ is an interesting, eclectic, epicurean take on American cuisine the likes of duck fat fries, farm bird lollipops with snake oil & bleu cheese fondue, pork butt and one insanely gigantic tomahawk ribeye (to the tune of 75 smacks, but could feed you for a couple of days.) On three occasions, my food selections were very hit or miss. Standouts definitely came from the starters menu. Entrees, well, perhaps I set personal expectations too high for Malarkey’s crafty creations. But what looked awesome on paper fell disappointingly flat when consumed. I like the overall menu separation (Bites, Smalls, Greens, Ocean, Ranch, Farm, And…etc.) it just seems a tad overwrought, almost like it’s trying too hard to be gourmet and forgetting to simply be good. For imbibing, Searsucker’s $12 signature drinks are tantalizing and tasty, especially the Treaty of Paris (aged rum, burnt sugar cherry syrup, pressed lime & tobacco cologne.) Overall, it’s a fine mid-week destination for a one-time night on the town with friends or visiting guests. But, it’s not my first choice for curbing foodie cravings. Searsucker, 611 Fifth Ave. (corner of Market Street)
Analog Bar in the former Mr. Tiki’s space is another Cohn Restaurant experience in the Gaslamp. It’s a dance bar that serves food…or a resto that serves up dancing and drinks, I’m not sure which. In one sentence, I’d describe it as a 1977 diner meets 2010 lounge fused with dive bar, dancing, old school video games, karaoke and elevated pub grub. The FIREHOUSE PB & Vin de Syrah crew created the space in collab with local design hotness Michael Soriano. And, in true Soriano style, Analog’s retro-chic meets kitschy-cool interiors are a definite eyegasm befitting its less serious, yet still swank vibe. Here, designer tees, tattoos and pomade rule, though girls still step off in babydolls and sling backs. Good Food, Strong Drinks is its tagline, and though I can’t attest to the “strong drinks” part, I will say their food is a fair to good offering of inventive bar bites. Things like lobster corndogs, a variety of mini burgers (my favorite was the bacon-wrapped meatloaf,) sweet potato fries and a couple of damn good grilled cheese sandos, a gruyere, mozzarella and truffle cheese with real honeycomb and the kick ass Dirty Sanchez of sharp white & mild cheddar, mozzarella, bacon and jalapenos with a side of dijon mayo were my favorites. Other items, like the totchos (‘gourmet’ tater tots done nacho-style) are a big mound of mush & mess fail no matter what you get on top and the kitchen’s attempt at pan-seared scallops with truffle-infused creamy grits needs a rework with new grits. Note to chefs about truffles (and duck,) putting them in everything does NOT make your food more edible or epicurean, I don’t care how you try to sell it on the menu. The smile on my face about this place comes in the form of Tall Boys, big ass cans of ghetto beer like Colt 45, Olde English & Mickeys. 4-7PM is Happy Hour and domestic Tall Boys are $2 – SCORE! Analog gets mad props for its “scary-oke” open-mic style with a live band. Service was all over the map, from forward to forgetful, but never unfriendly. Sure, there may be a smattering of DB scenesters fist-pumping & shit-talking on any given night, but for the most part patrons are here to have some good ole no frills, unpretentious fun. Analog Bar, 801 Fifth Ave. (corner of F Street.)