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13 Essential San Diego Cocktail Bars

Storied spots to belly up.

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From beloved dives and high-design haunts, to dapper whiskey lounges and award-winning cocktail parlors, not only does San Diego now serve some of the best drinks on the West Coast, but in a lot of cases the bars and teams who run them are timeless works of art and a part of the furniture in themselves.

Today, America’s Finest City is home to a host of talented local (and transplanted) barkeeps that keep imbibers engaged with thoughtful and enlightened beverage programs; which in the process has helped turn one of countries the most underrated cocktail scenes into one of the most thriving.

Whether classics like old fashioneds, sazeracs or a stiff whisky on the rocks are your jam, or you prefer modern riffs on breezy rum-based tiki drinks and sippers with seasonal ingredients, here now, are a thirteen signature San Diego bars that have helped shape the city’s booming cocktail culture

- Please note map points are not ranked in order.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. The Aero Club Bar

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3365 India St
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 297-7211
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Named one of America’s top dive bars by Maxim, Aero Club is perhaps best known and loved for its colorful vibe and 800+ strong whiskey collection. Here, “straight up” single malt and blended American, Irish, Canadian and international whiskies share space with bourbon and rye based expressions. Can't decide? Try one of six flights, which get you four samplings and range in price from the ‘Best Of The Best’ ($65) to 'Kentucky Straight Bourbon' ($25). There are craft cocktails on the menu and good ones too. Priced in the $5.50 - $10 range, you’ll find classics (Sazerac, Whiskey Sour) alongside signatures like the topically titled Trump Cocktail (Bourbon, Amaretto, muddled Lemon, Splash of 7). Open daily from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. enjoy 50 cents off wells and call drinks until 7 p.m.

2. Starlite

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3175 India St
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 358-9766
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Opened in 2007, the creative vision of business partners and legendary locals Tim Mays (Casbah, Turf Club) and Matt Hoyt (Wormwood Films) saw Starlite become one of San Diego’s first independent restaurants to pair a forward-thinking cocktail program alongside sophisticated after-hours culinary fare. Today Mission Hills beloved high-design haunt is famed for its namesake Starlite Mules ($8 every Sunday and Monday) served in covetable copper mugs, and Kentucky Colonels’, which are $8 all night long every Wednesday. New additions to the drinks list include Le Botanique made with Cimmaron Blanco Tequila, and the Ritten House Rye based Benediction (both $11).

3. Turf Supper Club

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1116 25th St
San Diego, CA 92102
(619) 234-6363
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Operating since the 1950s, Golden Hill’s famed retro lounge is a go-to for many of San Diego’s cocktail and hospitality industry peeps looking to grab an after work drink before last orders. While Turf’s classic cocktail list includes well-prepared versions of Martinis, Sidecars and Old Fashioneds, the rum based beverages pack a punch here too. Namely the signature Sneaky Tiki - a heady mix of Malibu, amaretto, sweet & sour, orange and pineapple juices garnished with an orange slice and maraschino cherry. Open until 2 a.m. daily enjoy $1 off all cocktails during happy hour (Friday – Sunday) from noon to 5 p.m.

4. Craft & Commerce

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675 W Beech St
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 269-2202
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Opening in 2010, Craft & Commerce marked the launch of progressive and now well-established hospitality empire, CH Projects. Featured in the LA Times, GQ, and Imbibe, and selected as one of Food & Wine's "Top 50 Bars in the Country" (2011) Craft has consistently garnered recognition as a pioneer in San Diego’s craft cocktail movement. After shuttering for an multi-million dollar overhaul last year the library/hunting den-themed space reopened with more books, more vintage taxidermy and refreshed menus. Some old favorites remain including the Mother's Ruin punch bowl, but you’ll also find a slew of fresh additions, including the refreshing bourbon based Eastern Prospect and a legit Pisco Sour. For a tiki fix head through a hidden door to the adjacent speakeasy False Idol. Reservations strongly advised.

5. Seven Grand

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3054 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 269-8820
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For handcrafted whiskey cocktails head to dapper lounge Seven Grand, where you can grab a mixed drink for only $5 during its somewhat under the radar happy hour. Stop by Monday through Saturday until 8 p.m. and enjoy one of seven Old Fashioneds or branch out with a Taylor Mule, which dresses Jameson Irish Whiskey with house made ginger beer served long on the rocks. For tableside service and a tailored list offering access to over 400 marks of rare and hard to find whiskeys, ryes, and Scotches from Europe, Japan and US, connoisseurs and curious first-timers alike can sip and savor in the genteel surrounds of dedicated high-end adjacent concept, Bar Three Piece, instead.

6. Polite Provisions

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4693 30th St
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 677-3784
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First launched in 2010 by Erick Castro and Consortium Holdings, this game changing cocktail bar helped put San Diego firmly on the national map racking up more than a few industry nods in the process, including a James Beard Award Nomination (Outstanding Bar Program, 2016) and Tales Of The Cocktail (Best High Volume Cocktail Bar, 2014). Immaculately decorated - we’re talking marble countertops, velvet cushioned stools, intricate wood inlays and bronze statues – Polite' serves some serious tipples year round. Current seasonal standouts include a robust Pumpkin Horchata with aged and overproof rums, plus the mezcal, blanco tequila and seasonal blood orange-based Red Rising. For dark tropical notes of pineapple rum, banana and Pimento Bitters, try the Paperback Writer.

7. The Waterfront Bar & Grill

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2044 Kettner Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 232-9656
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Established in 1933, Little Italy institution The Waterfront is one of one of San Diego’s oldest taverns and one of the first to obtain a liquor license here after Prohibition. Famed for its action packed nights and a good time crowd – from old timers and local Sicilian guys to young professionals and visitors alike – the drinks here are stiff but simple. There’s owner Nancy’s signature, which is a vodka, Chambord and soda concoction called the Purple Hooter; plus veteran bartender Kevin Mikesell’s Orange Sunshine made with infused vodka, agave, sweet and sour, and a splash of soda.

8. Coin-Op Game Room

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3926 30th St
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 564-6924
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Alongside elevated bar food San Diego’s favorite arcade bar Coin-Op has always put a strong focus on craft cocktails since opening in late 2013. Another spot favored by top local bartenders as a place to unwind post-shift, a consistently updated libations list always ensures inventive and delicious new drinks. All priced under $10 (except the Kong’s Barrel punch bowl, which rings in at $35) the menu spans from Old Fashioneds and Mules to sophisticated tiki drinks like the pineapple infused rum, Jäger Spice and grapefruit crafted Book-Em Dano. There are ‘citrusy’ concoctions too, from the Mandarin infused vodka and orange flower water Snake & Dragon, to Stiegl Radler pint and mezcal shot, 1 Up.

9. Noble Experiment

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777 G St
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 888-4713
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In 2009, Nate Stanton joined hospitality forces with Arsalun Tafazoli to launch Noble Experiment, a speakeasy-style cocktail lounge concealed behind a hidden door in popular East Village burger and beer bar, Neighborhood. One of the city's very first craft cocktail destinations, alongside business partner Arsalun Tafazoli, Stanton has since been at the helm of several of the city's most progressive cocktail establishments. Just 35 tipplers can occupy the decadently decorated 75 square-foot drinking den at any given time, so reservations are strongly advised and can be made by texting or calling ahead. Stiff, tasty and priced around $15 a piece working with more than 100 spirits, house-made syrups, fresh fruit and hand cut ice cubes, Noble’s team of expert bartenders can whip up an impressive library of specialty cocktails. Here you’ll find classics like an Old Fashioned and Mai Tai next to modern riffs, such as the Old Timer (bourbon and El Dorado’s falernum) or Surfer Rosa (Jamaican pot-stilled rum, Gentian aperitif). If you get really stuck there’s always the classic Dealers Choice.

10. Cantina Mayahuel

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2934 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 283-6292
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Beloved for its top-notch margaritas and unparalleled selection of fine tequila and mezcal, this Normal Heights cantina is frequented by many a San Diego bartender, chef and hospitality industry professional. Authentically rustic and completely unpretentious, with legends like Randy Van Kamp behind the bar you know you’re in good hands. Any of the two hundred plus bottles of añejo, blanco and reposado can be combined with orange nectar, orange liquor and fresh lime juice, and made into a delicious margarita. During happy hour, which runs from 12 – 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (or all night long on Monday), enjoy said Margarita or a Paloma with your choice of tequila or mezcal, for only $5.

11. El Dorado

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1030 Broadway
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 237-0550
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Consortium Holdings co-founder Nate Stanton opened El Dorado in the East Village (with twin brothers, Matthew and Marshall, plus close friend, Ryan Kuntz), way back when in 2010. One of the city's very first craft cocktail destinations, alongside business partner Arsalun Tafazoli, Stanton has since been at the helm of several of San Diego's most progressive cocktail establishments. At this Western-themed watering hole you’ll find fantastic drinks at fair prices, DJs most nights, hipster favorite Buck Hunter, plus the odd taxidermy animal including a white buffalo head called “Otis”. When it comes to the cocktails El Dorado’s famed Moscow Mules never disappoint; also worth a sip the Oaxacan Fire Drill and Dolores Del Rio. Happy hour runs from 7 to 9 p.m. when you can get an amazing hand crafted cocktail for just $6.

12. Sycamore Den

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3391 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 563-9019
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Normal Heights’ 1970s-inspired cocktail den “draws design inspiration from a 1970s middle-class family living room, complete with a functioning fireplace and (non-functioning) wall hung shotguns”. Sycamore’s signature has to be The (Wolf) Ticket; an Eric Johnson original that’s graced every menu since the bar opened in 2013. Refreshing with a kick it’s a winning mix of bourbon, peach, and lemon. Other current standouts include the seasonal include Flamingo Fling (tequila, cranberry, pear, elderflower) and Raccoon Eyes (rye, coconut, coffee liqueur and locally brewed Coconut Porter from North Park’s Thorn Street Brewery). During happy hour (Tuesday - Friday, 5 to 7 p.m. and Saturday/Sunday, 4 to 7 p.m.) all specialty cocktails are $7.

13. Prohibition

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548 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 702-8068
Visit Website
Entrance to one of San Diego’s original underground speakeasies can be found through the unassuming Law Office door of Eddie O’Hare Esq. on 5th Avenue. Within you’ll find a Gatsby-esque world of masterfully crafted cocktails and live jazz music. Some “secret San Diego” facts about the building include that it was once a “rough and tumble stingarey” owned by Wyatt Earp, and 125 bodies were found under the floor when former resident the Museum of Death closed and moved to LA. Well known for spins on Prohibition-era drinks, today lead bartender Ryan Andrews and his team have whipped up a winter beverage list of 11 new tipples, each one named after a classic movie line. Standouts include a dirty martini-riff called Flight of The Navigator, and the silky-smooth cacao clarified milk punch, You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out Kid.

1. The Aero Club Bar

3365 India St, San Diego, CA 92103
Named one of America’s top dive bars by Maxim, Aero Club is perhaps best known and loved for its colorful vibe and 800+ strong whiskey collection. Here, “straight up” single malt and blended American, Irish, Canadian and international whiskies share space with bourbon and rye based expressions. Can't decide? Try one of six flights, which get you four samplings and range in price from the ‘Best Of The Best’ ($65) to 'Kentucky Straight Bourbon' ($25). There are craft cocktails on the menu and good ones too. Priced in the $5.50 - $10 range, you’ll find classics (Sazerac, Whiskey Sour) alongside signatures like the topically titled Trump Cocktail (Bourbon, Amaretto, muddled Lemon, Splash of 7). Open daily from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. enjoy 50 cents off wells and call drinks until 7 p.m.
3365 India St
San Diego, CA 92103

2. Starlite

3175 India St, San Diego, CA 92103
Opened in 2007, the creative vision of business partners and legendary locals Tim Mays (Casbah, Turf Club) and Matt Hoyt (Wormwood Films) saw Starlite become one of San Diego’s first independent restaurants to pair a forward-thinking cocktail program alongside sophisticated after-hours culinary fare. Today Mission Hills beloved high-design haunt is famed for its namesake Starlite Mules ($8 every Sunday and Monday) served in covetable copper mugs, and Kentucky Colonels’, which are $8 all night long every Wednesday. New additions to the drinks list include Le Botanique made with Cimmaron Blanco Tequila, and the Ritten House Rye based Benediction (both $11).
3175 India St
San Diego, CA 92103

3. Turf Supper Club

1116 25th St, San Diego, CA 92102
Operating since the 1950s, Golden Hill’s famed retro lounge is a go-to for many of San Diego’s cocktail and hospitality industry peeps looking to grab an after work drink before last orders. While Turf’s classic cocktail list includes well-prepared versions of Martinis, Sidecars and Old Fashioneds, the rum based beverages pack a punch here too. Namely the signature Sneaky Tiki - a heady mix of Malibu, amaretto, sweet & sour, orange and pineapple juices garnished with an orange slice and maraschino cherry. Open until 2 a.m. daily enjoy $1 off all cocktails during happy hour (Friday – Sunday) from noon to 5 p.m.
1116 25th St
San Diego, CA 92102

4. Craft & Commerce

675 W Beech St, San Diego, CA 92101
Opening in 2010, Craft & Commerce marked the launch of progressive and now well-established hospitality empire, CH Projects. Featured in the LA Times, GQ, and Imbibe, and selected as one of Food & Wine's "Top 50 Bars in the Country" (2011) Craft has consistently garnered recognition as a pioneer in San Diego’s craft cocktail movement. After shuttering for an multi-million dollar overhaul last year the library/hunting den-themed space reopened with more books, more vintage taxidermy and refreshed menus. Some old favorites remain including the Mother's Ruin punch bowl, but you’ll also find a slew of fresh additions, including the refreshing bourbon based Eastern Prospect and a legit Pisco Sour. For a tiki fix head through a hidden door to the adjacent speakeasy False Idol. Reservations strongly advised.
675 W Beech St
San Diego, CA 92101

5. Seven Grand

3054 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104
For handcrafted whiskey cocktails head to dapper lounge Seven Grand, where you can grab a mixed drink for only $5 during its somewhat under the radar happy hour. Stop by Monday through Saturday until 8 p.m. and enjoy one of seven Old Fashioneds or branch out with a Taylor Mule, which dresses Jameson Irish Whiskey with house made ginger beer served long on the rocks. For tableside service and a tailored list offering access to over 400 marks of rare and hard to find whiskeys, ryes, and Scotches from Europe, Japan and US, connoisseurs and curious first-timers alike can sip and savor in the genteel surrounds of dedicated high-end adjacent concept, Bar Three Piece, instead.
3054 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92104

6. Polite Provisions

4693 30th St, San Diego, CA 92116
First launched in 2010 by Erick Castro and Consortium Holdings, this game changing cocktail bar helped put San Diego firmly on the national map racking up more than a few industry nods in the process, including a James Beard Award Nomination (Outstanding Bar Program, 2016) and Tales Of The Cocktail (Best High Volume Cocktail Bar, 2014). Immaculately decorated - we’re talking marble countertops, velvet cushioned stools, intricate wood inlays and bronze statues – Polite' serves some serious tipples year round. Current seasonal standouts include a robust Pumpkin Horchata with aged and overproof rums, plus the mezcal, blanco tequila and seasonal blood orange-based Red Rising. For dark tropical notes of pineapple rum, banana and Pimento Bitters, try the Paperback Writer.
4693 30th St
San Diego, CA 92116

7. The Waterfront Bar & Grill

2044 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
Established in 1933, Little Italy institution The Waterfront is one of one of San Diego’s oldest taverns and one of the first to obtain a liquor license here after Prohibition. Famed for its action packed nights and a good time crowd – from old timers and local Sicilian guys to young professionals and visitors alike – the drinks here are stiff but simple. There’s owner Nancy’s signature, which is a vodka, Chambord and soda concoction called the Purple Hooter; plus veteran bartender Kevin Mikesell’s Orange Sunshine made with infused vodka, agave, sweet and sour, and a splash of soda.
2044 Kettner Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101

8. Coin-Op Game Room

3926 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104
Alongside elevated bar food San Diego’s favorite arcade bar Coin-Op has always put a strong focus on craft cocktails since opening in late 2013. Another spot favored by top local bartenders as a place to unwind post-shift, a consistently updated libations list always ensures inventive and delicious new drinks. All priced under $10 (except the Kong’s Barrel punch bowl, which rings in at $35) the menu spans from Old Fashioneds and Mules to sophisticated tiki drinks like the pineapple infused rum, Jäger Spice and grapefruit crafted Book-Em Dano. There are ‘citrusy’ concoctions too, from the Mandarin infused vodka and orange flower water Snake & Dragon, to Stiegl Radler pint and mezcal shot, 1 Up.
3926 30th St
San Diego, CA 92104

9. Noble Experiment

777 G St, San Diego, CA 92101
In 2009, Nate Stanton joined hospitality forces with Arsalun Tafazoli to launch Noble Experiment, a speakeasy-style cocktail lounge concealed behind a hidden door in popular East Village burger and beer bar, Neighborhood. One of the city's very first craft cocktail destinations, alongside business partner Arsalun Tafazoli, Stanton has since been at the helm of several of the city's most progressive cocktail establishments. Just 35 tipplers can occupy the decadently decorated 75 square-foot drinking den at any given time, so reservations are strongly advised and can be made by texting or calling ahead. Stiff, tasty and priced around $15 a piece working with more than 100 spirits, house-made syrups, fresh fruit and hand cut ice cubes, Noble’s team of expert bartenders can whip up an impressive library of specialty cocktails. Here you’ll find classics like an Old Fashioned and Mai Tai next to modern riffs, such as the Old Timer (bourbon and El Dorado’s falernum) or Surfer Rosa (Jamaican pot-stilled rum, Gentian aperitif). If you get really stuck there’s always the classic Dealers Choice.
777 G St
San Diego, CA 92101

10. Cantina Mayahuel

2934 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116
Beloved for its top-notch margaritas and unparalleled selection of fine tequila and mezcal, this Normal Heights cantina is frequented by many a San Diego bartender, chef and hospitality industry professional. Authentically rustic and completely unpretentious, with legends like Randy Van Kamp behind the bar you know you’re in good hands. Any of the two hundred plus bottles of añejo, blanco and reposado can be combined with orange nectar, orange liquor and fresh lime juice, and made into a delicious margarita. During happy hour, which runs from 12 – 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (or all night long on Monday), enjoy said Margarita or a Paloma with your choice of tequila or mezcal, for only $5.
2934 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116

11. El Dorado

1030 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101
Consortium Holdings co-founder Nate Stanton opened El Dorado in the East Village (with twin brothers, Matthew and Marshall, plus close friend, Ryan Kuntz), way back when in 2010. One of the city's very first craft cocktail destinations, alongside business partner Arsalun Tafazoli, Stanton has since been at the helm of several of San Diego's most progressive cocktail establishments. At this Western-themed watering hole you’ll find fantastic drinks at fair prices, DJs most nights, hipster favorite Buck Hunter, plus the odd taxidermy animal including a white buffalo head called “Otis”. When it comes to the cocktails El Dorado’s famed Moscow Mules never disappoint; also worth a sip the Oaxacan Fire Drill and Dolores Del Rio. Happy hour runs from 7 to 9 p.m. when you can get an amazing hand crafted cocktail for just $6.
1030 Broadway
San Diego, CA 92101

12. Sycamore Den

3391 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116
Normal Heights’ 1970s-inspired cocktail den “draws design inspiration from a 1970s middle-class family living room, complete with a functioning fireplace and (non-functioning) wall hung shotguns”. Sycamore’s signature has to be The (Wolf) Ticket; an Eric Johnson original that’s graced every menu since the bar opened in 2013. Refreshing with a kick it’s a winning mix of bourbon, peach, and lemon. Other current standouts include the seasonal include Flamingo Fling (tequila, cranberry, pear, elderflower) and Raccoon Eyes (rye, coconut, coffee liqueur and locally brewed Coconut Porter from North Park’s Thorn Street Brewery). During happy hour (Tuesday - Friday, 5 to 7 p.m. and Saturday/Sunday, 4 to 7 p.m.) all specialty cocktails are $7.
3391 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116

13. Prohibition

548 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
Entrance to one of San Diego’s original underground speakeasies can be found through the unassuming Law Office door of Eddie O’Hare Esq. on 5th Avenue. Within you’ll find a Gatsby-esque world of masterfully crafted cocktails and live jazz music. Some “secret San Diego” facts about the building include that it was once a “rough and tumble stingarey” owned by Wyatt Earp, and 125 bodies were found under the floor when former resident the Museum of Death closed and moved to LA. Well known for spins on Prohibition-era drinks, today lead bartender Ryan Andrews and his team have whipped up a winter beverage list of 11 new tipples, each one named after a classic movie line. Standouts include a dirty martini-riff called Flight of The Navigator, and the silky-smooth cacao clarified milk punch, You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out Kid.
548 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101

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