With San Diego County still in the red tier and COVID-19 continuing to wreak havoc, the hospitality industry has been in a six-month state of stress and flux as bars and restaurants navigate fast-changing restrictions and grapple with how to best keep their employees and customers safe. Bars have been among the hardest hit, many forced to close temporarily or altogether, as the conviviality of cozying up inside a lively bar is all but impossible in the age of coronavirus.
But we all need something to look forward to, and restaurants and bars are still managing to open, despite the odds. Eater checked in with three much-anticipated local bar projects to see how they’ve had to shift their plans for opening and operating in the face of the global pandemic.
Kingfisher, Golden Hill
The group behind the popular Crab Hut restaurants, including executive chef Ky Phan and beverage director David Tye, dreamed up this modern Vietnamese cocktail bar and eatery coming to Broadway. Construction delays exacerbated by the pandemic have pushed the project back, but the team says they’re currently aiming for a June 2021 opening. Rooted in traditional Southeast Asian flavors, influenced by Vietnam’s culinary heritage and Californian ingredients, the concept hasn’t changed but Phan says they’ve had to rethink how they’ll do service and operations, from using QR codes for ordering to constraints around bar interactions. Last year, Phan and Tye launched a series of pop-up dinners, held at the Mira Mesa Crab Hut location, to workshop the Kingfisher menu. Though the in-person dinners have had to be put on hold, the pair recently launched a takeout version (complete with a video guide) which they plan to offer monthly until the opening. September’s food and cocktail pairings included grilled lemongrass pork sausage served with a cocktail of gin, bitter melon, sesame leaf, lime, and mugwort salt. The next pop-up, scheduled for October 23, will have a Vietnamese-French theme, featuring braised oxtail and creme caramel.
Ciao Ciao Piedina, La Jolla
While certain aspects of this social club might be curtailed by the pandemic, the downtown La Jolla bar and cafe still hopes to be a gathering place that will uphold the tradition of Italian aperitivo and give it a creative twist, says co-owner Giacomo Pizzigoni of Ambrogio15, one of the partners behind the new eatery that will specialize in piadina, an Italian grilled flatbread sandwich. Although delayed by eight months, Ciao Ciao Piadena is aiming to open by late November/December. With indoor dining at limited capacity, it will use its large parking lot for extra outdoor seating. Continuing the natural wine program they’ve built at Ambrogio15, the list here will be based mostly on bubbly wine, including their own private label prosecco, and a variety of spritz cocktails served alongside complimentary snacks. To be even more of a resource to the community, which doesn’t have a ton of breakfast options, they’ve also expanded their offerings to include an Italian-style breakfast menu, coffee, and pastries.
Mabel’s Gone Fishing, North Park
Everything but the finishes is done, but Mabel’s may not see the light of day until San Diego County is safely past the pandemic. The Mediterranean-inspired bistro, oyster, and gin bar was slated to open this fall and will undoubtedly be a welcome addition to 30th Street, but co-owner Chelsea Coleman is hoping to wait until things settle enough that Mabel’s is able to operate as originally intended. With a fully-open kitchen, the eatery was planning on spotlighting pintxos, or small snacks and tapas often served from a generous spread laid out on a bar counter. Coleman says she may reassess the timeline as circumstances change; Mabel’s will also have an adjacent bottle shop called Rosette, which could launch before the bar. For now she’s concentrating on running The Rose, her wine shop and eatery in South Park, which has extended patio seating and an expanded online wine store.