By Kevin Wilkerson, San Diego Nightlife Blogger
Based on personal experiences, consulting with several others – over drinks, of course – and running down memory lane, PubClub.com has assembled a list of the Top 10 iconic bars of all time in the San Diego.
This list went through many changes and placement adjustments, but this is what San Diego experts – veterans of the bars – deemed to be the most worthy establishments. It is the best of the best. These places are the most fun and best hangouts in the history of the San Diego. So here is PubClub.com’s list of San Diego’s Top 10 iconic all-time best bars from throughout the area.
The Top 10 List
1.) Waterfront Bar & Grill
The oldest continuous bar in San Diego opened right after Prohibition ended. That alone is cause for celebration. It has been here so long that it was actually originally on the waterfront before landfill filled in the area. Today it shows its age but that’s part of its character. It’s a lively dive bar with party music providded by a DJ, cheap drinks (beers as low as 5 bucks) and a staff that’s always smiling and even sometimes dancing. Located on Ketter at Hawthorne in Little Italy, Waterfreont Bar & Grill is truly a San Diego classic.
2.) Lahaina Beach House
This lifeguard stand on steroids, as I like to call it, is a big deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean and beach path in Pacific Beach. As basic as a cold beer, Lahaina Beach House is a hot hangout for beach bums and babes that is as much of the PB landscape as the cottages on Crystal Pier. Don’t know where to go on a sunny afternoon on PB? Easy, hit the deck at Lahaina and join the party.
3.) Aero Club Bar
Founded by a female pilot in 1947 because she wanted a place for her and other pilots to have a drink, Aero Club Bar between Little Itlay and Old Town today has grown into a diverse, really cool bar with a pinball game room, sports bar section and outdoor patio with picnic tables. And some 1,200 bourbons and whiskeys. It’s legacy as a San Diego iconic bar is such that when doing research for this article, nearly everyone mentioned it. And with enthusiasm.
4.) Bali Hai
Known for its “two limit” Mai Tais, Bali Hai has been in San Diego since 1953. The Polynesian restaurant and bar on Shelter Island is a “must go there” spot for boat and rum lovers and thus, is one of San Diego’s iconic bars. There’s a full menu of rum drinks in addition to the Mai Tai in a sophisciated yet casual tropical setting with gorgeous views of San Diego Bay.
5.) The Lamplighter
San Diego’s legendary karaoke bar is the Lamplighter in Mission Hills . It opened in 1957 and today you can hear good (and bad) rendition of songs ranging from Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Carolina” to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” mostly fueled by “singers” encouraged by a little (or more) liquid courage. For decades, Lamplighter has been a true part of San Diego’s nightlife scene. FYI, a Gaslamp edition is opening soon at 6th & Market.
6.) Kansas City BBQ (The Top Gun Bar)
Great balls of fire! That’s why you start singing almost the instant you enter into this classic bar across from Seaport Village, for it is where many bar scnes from the original Top Gun movie were filmed. The place looks exactly like it did in the movie, complete with the piano and juke box. This bar was chosen by the movie producers because it was supposedly the only one in the area willing to close for several days to allow for filming. Oh, if the other bar owners or managers had just known that Top Gun would have one on to become an iconic movie and the bar in it would be an iconic San Diego watering hole.
7.) Maverick’s Beach Club (The Location)
It’s not so much Maverick’s that is so iconic but its location. For years it was PB Bar & Grill and before that other bars and clubs. It’s almost as if anything that goes attracts Pacific Beach party people there like moths to a light. Maverick’s contines that tradition so much so that it’s consistently one of the busiest, most popular PB bars.
8.) Belly Up Tavern
The Belly Up is a lendary live music venue not just in San Diego but for huge bands and musicians around the world. Among those who have performed there are Jimmy Buffett (Rest in Paradise, Jimmy!), the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, BB King, No Doubt, Black Eyed Peas, Mumford and Sons and, well, the list goes on and on, and then some. This Solana Beach bar, which only holds a couple hundred people, is a live music legend.
9.) Pacific Shores
For more than 80 years, Pacific Shores has been an under-the-sea themed dive bar It opened the day before Pearl Harbor was bombed, in fact. And people have been getting bomed there ever since.
10 .) The Kraken
This classic bar in Cardiff-by-the-Sea has an orange drink concoction and somewhat sarcastic bartenders. Once, when in there with several friends on a Sunday night, one announced “last call” over the PA. It was only about 9 o’clock and then he continued, “last call is in three hours. So drink UP!” That’s PubClub.com’s kind of place.
Honorable Mention Iconic San Diego Bars: Tivoli, PB Shore Club, Whaling Bar, Whistle Stop, Prohibition, Casbah, barleymash, Rocky’s Crown Pub, Turf Club.
About PubClub.com And Kevin Wilkerson
PubClub.com is one of the original websites on the Internet. It features articles on nightlife, food & drink, events, activities, travel and sports. It has been featured in USA Today, the LA Times and American Way magazine, among other publications. Kevin Wilkerson is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in daily newspapers and with the Associated Press. He has been to pubs and clubs throughout the world and is an authoritative figure on the topics covered by the website.