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Dive Bars..San Diego

Love Love Love a great dive bar..
Pacific Shores in Ocean Beach and Nunu's in Hillcrest are some of my fav's.
Star Bar in the Gaslamp, Night Owl in PB and Jamacha Junction in El Cajon are some real beauties..
What's your favorite dive bar?

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  1. I'm with you- a good dive bar makes me forget I am in sunny, shiny CA and brings me home to Philadelphia. The Waterfront is my favorite hands down. We also like the Alibi in Hillcrest and the Kensington Club. When we stay closer to home we hit the Library in San Carlos and Pete's Place in La Mesa. Gotta love a bar with no windows.

    5 Replies
    1. re: bethsd

      Tell me about The Library, I drive by it almost every day and I've always wondered about it.

      1. re: DiningDiva

        It's a good place to get a beer- if you don't mind a slightly smelly carpeted floor. No food- no exciting wine list- but stiff cocktails and they are usually kind enough to card me. It is a mix between college age kids and the 30-40ish crowd and most people look like they just rolled out of bed. Pool tables and dart boards and high tops.

      2. re: bethsd

        love the Waterfront but since the condos went up its almost gotten a bit too popular; am a big fran of their Texas burger with cheese and onions...

        1. re: ibstatguy

          Texas cheeseburger with onions.....yum!
          No fries..they blow.

          1. re: Beach Chick

            and you won't find me touting the fries on any of the threads about same; its a shame they make such a good burger and such lousy fries...

      3. I can hit Nunu's with a rock from my office but I find the looks of the place intimidating. How divey is it? And how is the food? What do your order there, if anything? I hear the burgers are pretty good. Just cant get the nerve to go in there ....

        2 Replies
        1. re: sdnativa

          Nunu's is a classic SD dive. Even years after we moved out of SD it is the first place we stop when we get back to town. It's a classic dive bar in the morning afternoon (they open at some ridiculously early hour) and quite packed with young hipsters at night.

          Damn. Just fell prey to a 4yr old post like the person below me! Damn you new site layout!

          1. re: jdwdeville

            Nunu's besides being such a great upscale dive with those Naugahyde booths, it makes a kick ass burger too!

        2. Champs in Clairemont/Bay Ho. We were surprised to find college kids in there. This dive has pool tables, interesting locals, and somewhat strong cocktails (depending on who pours); all requirements for Best Dive Bar, in my book.

          5 Replies
          1. re: ginael

            Are Champs sparkleballs up for Christmas yet?? (OK so I just asked a question of a person four years ago and can't delete it)

            1. re: ginael

              This one gets my vote, too. I'd add Blarney Stone Pub at Balboa/Genesee to the list (no windows, no food, just beer, wine, and booze, a jukebox, and some electronic games), but maybe they have too many quality beers to qualify as a true dive.

              1. re: DoctorChow

                Even dives in San Diego have respectable beer selections - comes with the territory. The Blarney Stone probably could qualify, though with the live music they probably are a bit elevated from that status.

                1. re: DoctorChow

                  @DoctorChow - since when [in San Diego] do Guiness and Bass translate to quality beers? hahaha

                  Fair Disclosure, I haven't been in almost 10 years when we used to grab said beers and watch the locals get together on Tuesdays to play Irish folk music. Irish beer hasn't evolved in that time, so maybe they are getting decent craft beers in alongside the mainstays?

                  1. re: MrKrispy

                    Well, I for one do like Guiness, and they serve it pretty fresh there. Also very fresh on tap is Bodington and Smithwick, which are also very nice Irish beers in my opinion, by the same company. You can't really get Guiness here that's as good as it is in Great Britain, but when it's fresh, the imported kegs aren't bad. Blarney Stone does have other beers like Goosneck (pale ale, I think) and I've had an IPA there but don't recall the name. I've never had Bass at Blarney Stone, since I don't care for it. The scene after 10 (I recall weekend Iish music) was fun and lively but I haven't been there for that in years.

              2. Some entries from a list I made on another board:

                Hong Kong Nite Club:1030 Broadway, SD, Ca. Phone: (619) 239-4798
                A classic Dive Bar that is not only not a Night Club, it has nothing to do with Hong Kong! With 2 Pool tables, cheap drinks, and a jukebox that runs the gamut from Led Zeppelin to Patsy Cline, this is a good place to start or finish a night of bar hopping.

                Lancer's Cocktail Lounge: 4671 Park Blvd., SD, Ca. Phone: (619) 298-5382
                Stop in at this tavern and you can sit at the long padded bar, play pool, or relax in one of it's couchettes. Little has changed in here since it's opened back in the '60s except some of the records have worn out in the jukebox & been replaced and the smokers now have to go outside.

                The Lamplighter: 817 W. Washington, SD, Ca. Phone: (619) 298-3624
                A classic old style tavern, full of regulars who are full of booze, updated with a Karaoke machine. You can get loaded & sing "Son of a Son of a Sailor." Not that I would, but you could if you like, and I mean thaty in the best possible way.

                Pacific Shores: 4927 Newport Ave., SD, Ca. Phone: (619) 223-7549
                "Walking into this small, dim bar is like stepping into a giant underwater aquarium -- filled with extremely hip fish." An underwater mural faces a long, curving bar with comfortable swiveling stools and lit by dark blue neon while '40s & '50s standards play on the jukebox. If you tend toward pick-up lines, leave the horoscope ones at home. Here, baby, everyone is a Pisces.

                China Inn: 877 Hornblend St, San Diego, Ca. Phone: (858) 483-6680
                Ric, Monica & Elinor Widmer's favorite place. Deep, Red Naugahyde booths, real Chinese food Cheap (as opposed to Cheap Chinese food. Check out the Peking Duck for $20), and strong tropical drinks make it great for Date Night.

                Red Sails Inn: 2614 Shelter Island Dr., San Diego, Ca. Phone: (619) 223-3030 Website: http://www.theredsails.com/
                Old-School Nautical Decor, a back patio with a view of the San Diego "fishing fleet," and serves Seafood centric Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner menus. Ultra Casual; it's the kind of place where you can walk off your boat in shorts, t-shirt & flip-flops and sit down to a Crab Benedict for Breakfast, Fish & Chips for Lunch, or a Lobster Newburg Dinner. Service can vary, and sometimes food quality can, too, a good bet on the menu are any of the multitude of fried shellfish.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Freddie Freelance

                  RE: Lancers - my crowd used to go in there quite a bit until a couple of years ago. When they got a new crew in, the bartender they hired was a complete jerk. Tony always knew us, and, back in the old days, the older lady - Goldy, I think - was a gem. But the new guy had the personality of a brick wall, and acted like he was doing us a huge favor by serving us. We'd always drop a chunk of change in the place but we haven't been back since. Too bad because I loved their jukebox (everything from Sinatra to the Nekromantix).

                  SDNativa, Nunu's is pretty laid back and the burgers ARE good. Maybe go in during the day when it's not busy to get a feel for the place, talk to the folks that work there, and then you'll be more comfortable when you decide to drop in again.

                  Back in the old days when I was going to school, I used to be able to stop in the Old Town Saloon for a brew and some pinball or pool. It was on my way home, and I got to know the owners and the folks who worked there. It's nice when a female can walk into a bar by herself and feel completely at ease. And I'm pretty sure I could still hold my own on any pinball machine. ;-)

                  1. re: phee

                    Agreed on Lancer's . Went in a couple of years ago and the bartender (some young chick) didn't know what a boilermaker was! Really? That was the last time we went there. I like The Alibi (better before it was redone, but still fun when it's not too crowded) and Live Wire (when I can get a booth). I also like Downtown Johnny Brown's. Alas, I've never found anything I love as much as my local bar back in Philly.

                    1. re: Divamac

                      admittedly working with a loose definition here but I don't think Johnny Brown's is a dive bar

                2. Turf Supper Club on 25th in Golden Hill is good, if you don't mind grilling your own dinner. The drinks are good, it's a fun place to hang out. And, while not a bar, but Luigi's right across the street is great for pizza (NY style) and a beer.

                  1. Would Rocky's in Pacific Beach be considered a Dive Bar? I dunno...but they make great burgers and the people that patronize it are VERY friendly and helpful.

                    1. I forgot to add that Point Loma has some real beauties..when we stay on the boat for the weekend we will wander for a dive crawl..
                      Club Marina across from Pt Loma Seafoods..the marquee sign reads
                      'Semi-Live Entertainment'..I had a friend fall off his bar stool and instead of kicking us out, they offered us another beer..this was some years ago.
                      Captains Quarters upstairs..another gem in the rough.

                      bethsd...love the Waterfront and have spent many good times there..it is a fav for Xmas Eve.
                      Nunu's sdnativa is a dive but in a retro way and I have only eaten there when I have had a little too much to drink and the burger was excellent.
                      Freddie..my man..excellent starter list and have been to most and they all rock.
                      phee..haven't been to Old Town Saloon in years but have always had good times there.
                      ginael..Champs..I think I have been but not quite sure..is that near the Silver Spigot on Morena..it used to be a real dive but when driving by it looks like they cleaned it up?
                      LisaSD..love Rocky's but I really wouldn't qualify it as a dive..great burgers!

                      1. Do Hamilton's and O'Brien's count as dive bars? If so, those are my top 2 choices and 2 of the best beer bars in the country.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: DougOLis

                          Hamilton's & O'Brien's are some of San Diego's finest beer bars..not a dive..
                          You have outstanding taste but with a name like Doug, I wouldn't expect anything else!

                        2. One of my fav's is Island Sport&Spirits in Coranado, great burger, they'll cook any way you wish, MR etc., ever been?

                          1. Had a burger at the Longhorn today, and I think it qualifies.


                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Fake Name

                              just when the wound was healing...LOL

                              Red Fox and Morena Club are classics!

                              1. re: Fake Name

                                i've always thought of it as a burger place but on reflection, I think it does qualify

                              2. The Morena Club - no food, in the middle of nowhere, a punching bag video game machine, one pool table, some djs some nights

                                Crowded on Wednesdays and on the first Thursdays of the month but otherwise a nice dive bar with a mellow vibe.

                                15 Replies
                                1. re: stangoldsmith

                                  CAN'T believe no one mentioned O'Connell's right across the street from the Morena Club, the Offshore down the road or the Aero Club on India Street.....that is pretty much a straight line for a night of dive drinking!

                                  Best Regards,

                                  STeven Garsson

                                  1. re: STevenGarsson

                                    O'Connells has been getting some decent SoCal bands the last few months, at least on a few Fridays I have been there. I wish they had a better tap list.

                                    1. re: MrKrispy

                                      is this the dive across from the Chevron at Sea World/Morena?
                                      been there once ions ago.. didn't hang out or go back..glad they get some decent bands..

                                      Kraken in Cardiff is my all time favorite..pure dive bar beauty!

                                      1. re: Beach Chick

                                        Kraken, total beach dive bar...avoid at all costs! bad hangovers await! my friend Stevi and her band play there frequently

                                        1. re: ibstatguy

                                          Kraken is the mothership of dive bars..it is and always will be my fav!

                                          my good friend is the drummer that sits in sometimes on the weekend and he is always bugging me to sit in with them and play drums..a real resume booster..

                                          1. re: Beach Chick

                                            How about a little further up the coast, The Leucadian. A different vibe than the Kraken. A bit more mellow crowd, I guess the difference between Leucadia and Cardiff.

                                            1. re: littlestevie

                                              or just south at the Surf and Saddle in Solana Beach?

                                              1. re: ibstatguy

                                                LOVE the Surf and Saddle but do you really think it qualifies as a dive?
                                                I guess I am using the Kraken to set the bar..which makes anything look like the Taj!

                                                Leucadian..haven't been there in years and is it still a 'no shirt, no birkenstocks, no service' kind of place...hee hee

                                                1. re: Beach Chick

                                                  Yelp seems to think that S & S is a dive bar not I'm much of a Yelp fan though...

                                                  1. re: ibstatguy

                                                    just got back from a run and ocean swim and parked right next to the S & S and looked in and people were drinking at the bar and thought that one of the qualifications of a dive is a 6am opening...so maybe Yelp got it right..not a fan either but a bloody mary sounded so good after a workout.

                                                    1. re: Beach Chick

                                                      The Saloon in Encintas. Kraken is all time. I use to live half a block from the Surf and Saddle. 1st street was fun. Arizona club(O.B.) before they remodeled it. And I have to throw some props to Captains Quarters which is now gone away........

                                                          1. re: Beach Chick

                                                            About two years ago. It was a sad day for the docks across the street.

                                    2. San Diego Sports Club is now under new ownership. Check them out. Some Sundays they do a Burlesque brunch.

                                      1. From the Eater..

                                        Top 13 Dive bars in SD..
                                        Nunu's, Pac Shores, Waterfront and the Kraken are some of my fave's..
                                        What's yours?


                                        19 Replies
                                          1. re: binkychow

                                            Wow, almost no one knows about Pal Joey's except the locals. Been there for nearly 50 years

                                            1. re: binkychow

                                              Pal Joey's...Del Cerro no less..solid.
                                              Never been but have heard some of the war stories.
                                              Do most dive bars have the same sign company?

                                              What's up with the chicks in swimsuits..should I wear my crochet knit bikini top with cross stitching?


                                              1. re: Beach Chick

                                                Chicks in swim suits, cougar wear!

                                                1. re: cstr

                                                  I thought it was a t*tty bar from the website..
                                                  I don't know many of us chicks who wear a swimsuit to a dive bar..

                                                2. re: Beach Chick

                                                  That'd be Allied Gardens, across Waring Rd from Heavenly Donuts.

                                                  And yes, wardrobe choice approved.

                                                  1. re: Fake Name

                                                    So that is where Allied Gardens is.
                                                    Looks like a classic dive..swimsuit optional.

                                                    1. re: Beach Chick

                                                      BC, Pal Joey's is kind of like the quasi East County version of Winston's for aging (i.e over 40, and in some cases pretty far over 40) rock 'n' rollers but without the hipster vibe. The swimsuit view might not be all that seductive ;-)

                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                        Where the gents wear white belts on vivid green pants!

                                                        1. re: cstr

                                                          Probably what you are wearing as I type!
                                                          Pistachio is really trending right now in footwear, pantalones and gelato...know how you like those slip on loafers.

                                                          1. re: Beach Chick

                                                            Yes, I am reduced to those slip on penny loafers with Velcro straps! Smart A**!

                                                            1. re: Beach Chick

                                                              I do believe that Elvis' sprint is lurking in the cougar bars in San Diego..

                                                              Pal Joey's being a prime example.

                                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                Bell Bottom Polyester old school with heavy gold chains??

                                                                1. re: cstr

                                                                  No, you're on the wrong end of the boomer group. Try jeans and flannel that have seen just a wee bit too much beer over the years. Or, on the other end, suit & tie crowd on their way home, but not quite there yet.

                                                                  1. re: cstr

                                                                    You haven't been to Winston's have you?

                                                    2. re: Beach Chick

                                                      Aero Club has too many craft beers on tap to be a dive.

                                                      1. re: RB Hound

                                                        It's now called the Aero Club Ale House and I say that with my pinky in the air!

                                                    3. The Star Bar, 4th and E.

                                                      1. In Oceanside...

                                                        Red Rooster-Been a popular Oceanside Dive Bar since 1963.Great Burger too

                                                        Josies - Almost as good of a Burger.

                                                        1. oh I have one, The Casino Inn, in East County, SUCH a dive.

                                                          1. Diviest of the dives = London's West End (home of the Mac Meda Destruction Company) in Baja La Jolla, Funkytown, USA

                                                            11 Replies
                                                            1. re: bizzwriter

                                                              You're right. This one may be the diviest. It's those guys hanging outside the door drinking at 7am that do it for me.

                                                              1. re: pickypicky

                                                                Back in the 70's there was a bar in Escondido called "Honest John's".

                                                                There was a sign on the front advertising "Happy Hour from 4-8 pm and something called "Sick Call" from 6-10 am.

                                                                I was too young at the time, but I have always figured that it must have been a serious dive bar if they offered morning drink specials.

                                                                1. re: pickypicky

                                                                  For early morning diving, another option is Lucy's Tavern in OB. Always a colorful mix of graveyard shifters, crusty OB guys in wife beaters, and folks with a case of the 6 am sniffles.

                                                                  If you're hungry, Lucy's offers a complimentary popcorn brunch at that time of the day.

                                                                  1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                                                    "...a case of the 6am sniffles."
                                                                    I opened Nunu's one weekend at 6am and remember being surprised how many nicely dressed young people were there drinking at that hour...

                                                                    1. re: Stiflers_Mom

                                                                      yummm. Popcorn Brunch. Now there's a post we need. **Best Dive Bars with Weekend Brunch Options**.

                                                                      1. re: pickypicky

                                                                        Don't forget those pickled eggs in the jar on the bar.

                                                                  2. re: bizzwriter

                                                                    West End is one of the diviest of dives..

                                                                    Silver Fox has the best longest bar and the Night Owl is pretty divey.

                                                                    Pac Shores in OB is the best damn dive bar in the world...It is the 'Mothership'..

                                                                    1. re: Beach Chick

                                                                      Nahhh - not the diviest of the diviest.

                                                                      Herewith I represent Ye Olde Plank Inn in Imperial Beach:



                                                                    2. re: bizzwriter

                                                                      Interesting you mention London's West End. I was driving by the other day, thinking of stopping in, based on seeing it here. When I slowed down, I saw that there was a well weathered bartender standing out the side door having a smoke. She forgot her dental plates and looked like she lost a few hatchet fights. I decided to move along.

                                                                      1. re: cstr

                                                                        LOL..that must of been one super slow drive by to catch that she 'forgot her dental plates and lost a few hatchet fights'..

                                                                        1. re: Beach Chick

                                                                          I saw the open spaces in her mouth when she was inhaling!

                                                                    3. what's interesting about this 4 year old post is how many of these great "dive" bars have been remodeled into "hip" bars banking on the address's former "dive" cred...
                                                                      I'm looking at you, the Office...

                                                                      1. Anything new on the dive bar front..
                                                                        Anyone been to the Korean dive on Convoy street called Nolbu?


                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Beach Chick

                                                                          Well BC, you could take the Water Taxi over to Coronado and go to Island Sports & Spirits on Orange Ave. Kevin, the owner, offers a great burger and has happy hour 7 days a week. Sorry, no tofu there!

                                                                          1. re: cstr

                                                                            LOL...that is why we adore the sledge!

                                                                            Always got my back and you worked in the water taxi too.

                                                                          2. need some info: I heard about a bar in SD gaslamp area that specialized in 'old fashioned' cocktails. even used hard ice that didn't dilute drinks. I think it was described as a small place, behind or through another restaurant. any help?? s.r.w.

                                                                            9 Replies
                                                                            1. re: robwalton

                                                                              I think that's Nobel Experiement? Call for a reservation

                                                                              Definitely not a dive bar

                                                                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                The Noble Experiment is about as far from a dive bar as you can get!

                                                                                [Been spending too much time in the UTC area, DiningDiva? :) ]

                                                                                1. re: RB Hound

                                                                                  If you're indeed talking Noble Experiment, I agree with DD and RBH. I actually like the place and haven't thought of it as a dive. I'm hardly a regular, but I definitely agree that it shouldn't be included in a list of (so far undefined) "dive bars". So, maybe you were trying to correlate to a different but related bar category? If so, that would be an interesting SD CH topic! But what might the topic be, exactly? "Mid-Level Bars"? Also, I think we should include the available "tapas" in any mid-level to "suave" bar review.

                                                                                  1. re: DoctorChow

                                                                                    I was just replying to poster robwalton who asked about the bar in the Gaslamp that served old fashioned drinks that was behind, or inside another restaurant. I'm pretty sure that is Nobel Experiment

                                                                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                      Gawd I love "clandestine" bars. I still have a glass from maybe 40 years ago from a bar in Milwaukee called the Safe House. You went to this non-descript buiding, and when you entered, it was like an office. There was a "secretary" behind a desk who asked why you were there. If you knew the "password" (widely available, but actually only by word of mouth!), she'd push a button and a door behind her would open to reveal an elevator (or escalator, I don't recall). It took you down to a cavernous area consisting of at least four or five interconnected bars, full of people having a great time. Happily, I wasn't the designated driver, because my "accomplices" had to haul me out. Anybody know of anything like that here? And if so can you circulate the PW? I've never heard of one. Noble Exp. is kind of sort of the closest thing.

                                                                                      1. re: DoctorChow

                                                                                        Milwaukee must have quite a few of those secret handshake bars. I was at a conference there probably in the late 80s maybe early 90s and a group of us went to this bar with a secret entrance. When you walked through the door you were in a small vestibule with a lot of decorations. In order to gain entrance to the bar, you had to know which of the deocrations was actually the mechanism that opened the secret door. There was one of those carnival fortune teller booths in one corner, when I grabbed the hand and moved it, lo and behold, the door appeared. I think my friends bought me a free drink for finding the way in ;-)

                                                                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                                                                          Wow! Totally cool, DD! I thought I might have been the only CH in SD who's spent time in such places in MKE. Maybe it was a 70's - 90s thing. That place that I was recalling was such an absolutely cool multi-bar -- it's just hard to describe. I've always fantisized that I'd own such a place. Entrance like a rental-car hut in the middle of an obscure parking lot, in the middle of downtown, leading to....

                                                                                  2. re: RB Hound

                                                                                    Oops, sorry, I was replying to DD.

                                                                                2. re: robwalton

                                                                                  This isn't IN gaslamp, but nearby - Turf Supper Club on 25th in Golden Hill has a mean Old Fashioned and it's also a grill-yer-own-steak old school dive/restaurant. Another place in downtown near Gaslamp is El Dorado on Broadway and 10th, they aren't a restaurant but they have a great selection of whiskeys/whiskies/etc. and the big square ice cubes. It's a little bit more "scene" though and it turns into a club, so not sure if that's what you're looking for.