Due to arrive by the end of the month, Madam Bonnie’s is landing in a historic Gaslamp Quarter site with a fascinating history.
Comprised of two adjoining spaces on Market Street, the new restaurant and bar anchors a 121-year-old building that was once a hotel built to house tourists visiting San Diego for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Then called the Hotel Lester, it was subsequently taken over by Bertha “Bonnie” White who ran a thriving brothel from its rooms — reportedly installing a mechanism under the stairs to alert guests to police raids — until her business was shut down a decade later. It’s been said that the specter of White still haunts the site, which is a regular stop on local ghost tours.
This is the first venture for Magnolia Management, a local hospitality group led by Derry Van Nortwick, an industry vet and former CEO of the Grand Restaurant Group, who told Eater they’re planning to open several projects in the San Diego area including a pizzeria and a steakhouse.
Ringing in at 6,000-square-feet, Madam Bonnie’s is divided into a family-friendly dining room with a small bar and an open kitchen and a larger adjacent space that will function as another dining area and a relaxed lounge, offering a hidden VIP booth, bottle service, and occasional DJs. With a 42-foot copper-topped bar that could be the Gaslamp’s longest, there will be an emphasis on cocktails, created by Nicholas Vetter (George’s at the Cove, Eureka), which are named after famous women from Bonnie’s heyday, from Naomi Parker, the real-life inspiration for the Rosie the Riveter poster, to Dolores Del Rio, a movie star who found fame in Mexico and Hollywood. Its menu will feature salads, seafood, and other casual plates, but the main draw will be the kitchen’s rotisserie, which will turn out whole roasted chickens, bacon-wrapped pork, herb-rubbed prime rib, and maple bourbon-glazed pineapple.
Madam Bonnie’s, 411 Market Street, Gaslamp; Tuesday through Sunday, happy hour at 4 p.m., dinner at 5 p.m.