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Jul 1, 2009 04:10 PM

Bar with good cocktails in San Diego

Recently after a good dinner we are often in the mood for a good cocktail. So far we mainly went to the Dussini Bar which has a nice sitting area, decent cocktails (and pool tables).
Where are other places in San Diego for good cocktails (and I am not looking for dive bars but more upscale bars (additional live music like in some of the bars in Las Vegas is a nice plus) ?

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    1. re: Josh

      We haven't been to Starlite yet and always had the impression that Starlite was more a restaurant which also serves cocktails than a bar which is specialized on cocktails etc. In addition, I have heard from many people (on also read on CH) that the food and service at Starlite is average at best.

      1. re: honkman

        Honkman, I think you would really like Starlite (personally, I love it for cocktails, for wine and for dinner). Given that y'all go out quite often, I'd suggest hitting Starlite for a cocktail after dinner on a weeknight to get a sense of the vibe and food menu, and that will help you decide if it's your cup of tea for dinner. It definitely fits your request -- upscale bar specializing cocktails -- perfectly.

        1. re: honkman

          You certainly didn't hear that from me. I like Starlite a lot. Food is good, not life-changing, but good, and the cocktails are creative and delicious. Modus also has good cocktails.

          1. re: honkman

            "had the impression that Starlite was more a restaurant which also serves cocktails than a bar which is specialized on cocktails etc."

            I would actually say its 50-50.

            Which kind of makes it unique in that respect.

            1. re: honkman

              Honkman, I think you'd like the bar and their cocktails are interesting and well done. I have not had particulalry good luck with the food there (uneven), but the drinks are fine.

              Bar service is fine, tho' not particularly attentive and the last time I ate there (around Xmas and the room was less than half full) the food service could only have been described as beach casual, our server was definitely on cruise control. The food on that specific visit was amatuerish at best. Luckily, I'd already had much better food there in previous visits.

              One of the guys that works for me took his girlfriend to Starlight; they went specifically for drinks. He said the place "gave her the creeps" and they ended up leaving. I think the real key to Starlight is age related. If you're hip, trendy and under 40 you'll be fine. If you're over 40 they tolerate you but don't embrace you, or at least that has been my experience over the course of several visits.

              1. re: DiningDiva

                "food service could only have been described as beach casual"

                I would call it "hipster casual" or "wimpster casual" which for all purposes is the same thing.

                Good point about the age thing.

                My mom (who liked it) was wondering why all the girls had tattoos and seemed masculine in behavior and the guys dressed in tight jeans and seemed so feminine in behavior.

                I responded: "That is just how it is these days, Mom".

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  'If you're over 40 they tolerate you but don't embrace you, or at least that has been my experience'
                  What kind of Bullsh*t is that?
                  I would NEVER ever go to a place that because I am over 40 would think that I'm not hip or trendy...can they drum the long version of Freebird...hee hee

                  Just my two hip happening cents!

                  1. re: Beach Chick

                    I've never felt shunned there at all. It's probably because I look about 27 if I dress up. Riiight.

                    Lord help me, I can't change.

                    1. re: Fake Name

                      I still got it going least in my mind... ; )
                      I do get carted but my friends say it's to see if I qualify for the senior discount!
                      Excellent take on Lynard Skynard!!!!

                      Happy 4th to all my wonderful SD Chowhound's!

                      1. re: Fake Name

                        Me neither but I can see what DiningDiva is talking about.

                        Its that weird hipster subculture.

                        1. re: Fake Name

                          Me too. They've been very nice. Though when you're 6'7" and 275, most people are nice to you. ;)

                          1. re: rotie77


                            Unless you are in a super crowded airplane.

                            Or you are trying to make weight for a flyweight boxing match.

                      2. re: DiningDiva

                        pretty accurate DD. we took my 24 yr old son. he loved it. i wanted to love it but the food wasn't good enough to warrant love, and really it seems a bit taudry and amateurish after my 3-4th visit.

                    2. re: Josh

                      Yup, Starlite. I think of it as a bar with good cocktails, and the food's pretty good, too.

                      1. re: Josh

                        aye, as everyone else is saying. Starlite fits the bill. Good drinks (love the copper mugs), good food, and a good vibe (at least for someone my age/type). No live music though. Most places I go for music are diveish so I'm not really sure how to help you there.

                      2. The Ivy Hotel: Dang fine bar. (Don't ask me about Envy)

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: Sampaguita

                          Hell to the yeah on the Ivy Hotel recommendation.

                          For "upscale bars" in SD, the short list is Ivy Hotel (for highend) and Starlite (for under-the-radar). The rest of the contenders are places that have a view (Top of the Hyatt, Mr A's, George's terrace, etc.).

                          Ivy Hotel gets a lot of flack for the restaurant being a little overpriced, and for the nightclub roof being a tad too "singles" conspicuous, but the bar in that place is excellent for the purpose. If you wanna impress, casually, go there. But with that, a word of warning, do not order off the regular menu. It gets pricey verrrrry quickly. As in, $15 beers if you take the bartenders recommendation. So, order off the Happy Hour menu. Those drinks are $5 (last time I checked) and are pure booze. Good booze too.

                          The new Hotel Se has a very nice bar. Very nice indeed. It's very new, so not many are recommending it right now, but that place will very soon gain a reputation for being the most upscale/out-of-your-reach-price-wise place in downtown.

                          1. re: cookieshoes

                            Hotel Se has $14 cocktails.

                            The food at Ivy is not impressive and very overpriced.

                            For what they charge you can eat in some of America's finest restaurants.

                          2. re: Sampaguita

                            Ivy bar is passable.

                            For what they are trying to make it, they miss a few key components though.

                            1. re: stevewag23

                              So Steverino....what key components ARE they missing? In your opinion, what exactly are they trying to make it?

                              1. re: Sampaguita

                                From as big picture as creating a fun positive environment to as detailed as hooks for womens pursed under the bar and places to put your drink in the bathroom.

                                It was the owners first foray into boutique hotels and it shows.

                                1. re: stevewag23

                                  Putting local Chef Nathan Coulon in there has brought it up to par in my opinion. Ivy bartenders are attentive, quick and make a mean Manhattan, and the "fun, positive environment" can depend on who's drinking with you...and do you really take your drink into the bathroom?

                                  1. re: Sampaguita

                                    I think the restaurant is the worst example of quality vs price in all of san diego.

                                    I respect your opinion though. But when you can eat a Jean George or the French Laundry for the same price, why bother?

                                    "fun, positive environment" can depend on who's drinking with you"

                                    Of course. Unless there are bouncers everywhere telling you that you cannot stand somewhere.

                                    "and do you really take your drink into the bathroom?"


                                    San Diego girls are known to roofie drinks.

                                    It will be a ice storm in san diego before an Ivy opens in another city.

                                    Although I sure it would do great in Scranton.

                                    1. re: stevewag23

                                      Don't take this the wrong way but I believe the initial post was "Bar with Good Cocktails", add upscale with that. No need to diss the fine folks in Scranton.
                                      For those of you planning to visit San Diego, The Ivy, The Grant, Dobson's, many to name - are a lot of fun to hang in, especially at Happy Hour!
                                      (Steverino, you can have the last word, that seems to be your M.O.)

                                      1. re: stevewag23

                                        "San Diego girls are known to roofie drinks."

                                        I must be hanging out in all the wrong places!

                            2. We love going out for drinks and have the same problem. Two places that sometimes work: JRDN and Clay's. (Clay's has jazz and gets very crowded some nights.) The Fishery has put in a bit of a bar with plans to make it a Raw Bar, but they have great wines by the glass. (don't know about cocktails)

                              The READER recently did a story on favorite cocktails/bars . Some good stuff. It's here: Sorry I don't know how to add links.

                              1. We went yesterday night to Starlite for some cocktails at the bar after our dinner on our patio. Overall nice ambience, cocktails were not bad but could have been a little bit stronger (with good prices). We also tried their only dessert that evening - ice cream sandwich with pistacchios - again not bad but nothing special. But we were a little bit surprised after reading here how hip this place is - As mentioned it has a nice ambience but is everything else than hip. (When was the last time I have seen so many flip-flops and shorts in a bar - that's not hip but just bad taste. If Starlite is hip how do some people call places like the Ivy bar - ueberhip ?). Overall not bad and we will try it out again in the future.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: honkman

                                  "hip" is a a weird term these days.

                                  It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with "cool"

                                  1. re: stevewag23

                                    "You went an' found you a guru.
                                    In an effort to find you a new you,
                                    And maybe even raise your conscious level.

                                    While you're striving to find the right road,
                                    There's one thing you should know,
                                    "What's hip today, might become passe'."

                                    <<<<< Tower of Power>>>>>

                                2. The Tractor Room in Hillcrest.

                                  Been there several times just for the drinks. San Diego is a bit of a wasteland in terms of mixology, but that may be changing. The Tractor Room nails the trifecta of a good cocktail bar: quality, fresh ingredients, knowledgeable bartenders, and understanding the classic cocktails while also being able to get creative with new libations.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: tanzbodeli

                                    +1. Tractor Room is great. SMALL bar, but they mix a very good drink.