clock menu more-arrow no yes

Where The Bartenders Drink With Sycamore Den's Sarah Ellis

The bar maven serves up her go-to spots in San Diego.

View as Map

Now in charge of libations at Normal Heights’ popular indie cocktail hangout Sycamore Den, Sarah Ellis has racked up an impressive roster of experience in her relatively few short years behind the bar. First, we should perhaps give a nod to Anthony Schmidt (Fairweather) and his literal piece of ‘Sage Advice’; during her post-Bloomingdale’s shift drinks at El Dorado, it was Schmidt who encouraged Ellis' future course into bartending.

With a three year stint at another ‘Heights neighborhood favorite Jayne’s Gastropub under her belt (owner Jayne Battle educated her in the world of wines), industry vet Eric Johnson snapped Ellis up to work at the ‘Den upon her return from a five-month surfing sabbatical in Central America. Ellis considers the well-respected bartender an excellent mentor and, as is a natural progression of the mentor-protégé relationship, Ellis became bar manager at Sycamore Den earlier this spring following Johnson’s transition to Juniper and Ivy.

The Park City, Utah native who has called California home for over 14 years also counts some Scottish heritage on her father’s side, and Highland Park as one of her favorite single malts. Fun Fact: The Turnbull Tipple is a nod to her paternal ‘grannie’, whose maiden name is a famous last name in the Scottish Border town of Hawick.

Thanks to  a sparkling personality and inherent skill for mixing spirits, it’s no wonder Ellis' star continues to ascend San Diego’s cocktail scene; her cocktail philosophy is simple: "The best drink is one that you can't wait to order again."

Here, in a special Cocktail Week installment of Where the Bartenders Drink, Ellis tells Eater, and you, about her favorite local dives, watering holes and neighborhood cocktail go-to’s, when not mixing up a storm behind the bar.

Read More
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Cantina Mayahuel

Copy Link
2934 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 283-6292
Visit Website
I love everything about Mayahuel. Their margaritas are top notch and their selection of tequila and mezcal is unparalleled. I’m addicted to the tropical salsa that they put on top of their mahi mahi tacos. It’s such an authentically rustic place to relax and with Randy behind the bar you know you’re always in good hands.

2. Polite Provisions

Copy Link
4693 30th St
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 677-3784
Visit Website
Some of my favorite bartenders work at Polite and every time I walk in they make me feel so welcomed. The level of hospitality matches the quality of drinks –– I almost always get a negroni and then head next door for some mac ‘n cheese.

3. The Ould Sod

Copy Link
3373 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 284-6594
Visit Website
Best pint of Guinness in town. Hands down. Besides the Guinness, they have everything you could want from a successful dive bar: live music, karaoke, sports and a smoking patio you can take your drinks on. The casts of characters who come here are looking for a good time and know how to get it.

4. Jayne's Gastropub

Copy Link
4677 30th St
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 563-1011
Visit Website
Full disclosure: I worked behind the bar here for three years so might be slightly biased. However, as a person who used to eat here five nights a week I still cannot get over how incredible the food is. Jayne creates a worldly menu full of decadent yet comforting food. Every detail is perfect - I still think to this day that their burger is the best I have ever had. I like to come on Tuesdays when you get a free pint with your burger and my fellow Sycamore Den coworker Garrett is behind the bar. Their wine list is perfectly nuanced, as is every aspect of the beautifully furnished restaurant. Hint: Their garden patio is the most romantic date nightspot.

5. High Dive Bar & Grill

Copy Link
1801 Morena Blvd
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 275-0460
Visit Website
I love the hustle and bustle of The High Dive. Their menu is expansive and I have cured many a hangover here. My dear friend Heather works here and was the first to give me a cocktail with Stiegl Radler and some other magical ingredients, of which I now get every time I go. Ryan Andrews just took over there and added some epic tiki drinks to the menu. Probably my favorite bar to watch football in, but get there early as this place is always packed.

6. Coin-Op Game Room

Copy Link
3926 30th St
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 564-6924
Visit Website
Who doesn’t love drinking beer and playing video games? Coin-Op takes what I like to do in my living room and makes it social and awesome. Their consistently updated cocktail list always has inventive and delicious new drinks. This is another bar where the people who work there truly make it special. Also where else would you discover that you have a secret talent of being excellent at giant Jenga? I’m never growing up!

7. SandBox Pizza

Copy Link
1014 Grand Ave
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 272-7263
Visit Website
This is my go to pizza spot right near where I live. It’s far enough away from the madness of the beach bars and Garnet and my favorite bartender Liz is really rad and hospitable. They have cheap Imperials and deals on Fernet and my boyfriend and I eat here several times a week. Their wings are saucy crispy deliciousness and their expansive pizza menu has made it so that I can’t pick a favorite. If you find yourself beachside and looking for a good meal but don’t want to battle the masses of party monsters, go here.

8. Thrusters Lounge

Copy Link
4633 Mission Blvd
San Diego, CA 92109
(858) 483-6334
Visit Website
Speaking of party monsters, if you find yourself beachside and want to get wild while winning at Skeeball and shooting free throws, this is your spot. Possibly my favorite place to drink when Vinny Curran is behind the bar; he may yell hilarious profanities and serve you your drink in a Frisbee, but that’s usually what I’m in the mood for when I head in the door. I tend to go with the classic beach pairing of Pacifico and Jameson to get my swerve on.

9. Burnside

Copy Link
3375 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116
(619) 501-7715
Visit Website
Burnside is Sycamore Den’s younger sister and a nice spot for me to unwind post-shift. They have a small selection of curated taps and an expanding bottle list that changes weekly. I tend to go in for a drink and the tofu po boy with tots. Their homemade ranch is healthy on the dill, which I can’t get enough of. I really like everyone who works there - it’s fun to grab a seat at the counter and exchange stories of how our nights went while sipping a frosty brew.

1. Cantina Mayahuel

2934 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116
I love everything about Mayahuel. Their margaritas are top notch and their selection of tequila and mezcal is unparalleled. I’m addicted to the tropical salsa that they put on top of their mahi mahi tacos. It’s such an authentically rustic place to relax and with Randy behind the bar you know you’re always in good hands.
2934 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116

2. Polite Provisions

4693 30th St, San Diego, CA 92116
Some of my favorite bartenders work at Polite and every time I walk in they make me feel so welcomed. The level of hospitality matches the quality of drinks –– I almost always get a negroni and then head next door for some mac ‘n cheese.
4693 30th St
San Diego, CA 92116

3. The Ould Sod

3373 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116
Best pint of Guinness in town. Hands down. Besides the Guinness, they have everything you could want from a successful dive bar: live music, karaoke, sports and a smoking patio you can take your drinks on. The casts of characters who come here are looking for a good time and know how to get it.
3373 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116

4. Jayne's Gastropub

4677 30th St, San Diego, CA 92116
Full disclosure: I worked behind the bar here for three years so might be slightly biased. However, as a person who used to eat here five nights a week I still cannot get over how incredible the food is. Jayne creates a worldly menu full of decadent yet comforting food. Every detail is perfect - I still think to this day that their burger is the best I have ever had. I like to come on Tuesdays when you get a free pint with your burger and my fellow Sycamore Den coworker Garrett is behind the bar. Their wine list is perfectly nuanced, as is every aspect of the beautifully furnished restaurant. Hint: Their garden patio is the most romantic date nightspot.
4677 30th St
San Diego, CA 92116

5. High Dive Bar & Grill

1801 Morena Blvd, San Diego, CA 92110
I love the hustle and bustle of The High Dive. Their menu is expansive and I have cured many a hangover here. My dear friend Heather works here and was the first to give me a cocktail with Stiegl Radler and some other magical ingredients, of which I now get every time I go. Ryan Andrews just took over there and added some epic tiki drinks to the menu. Probably my favorite bar to watch football in, but get there early as this place is always packed.
1801 Morena Blvd
San Diego, CA 92110

6. Coin-Op Game Room

3926 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104
Who doesn’t love drinking beer and playing video games? Coin-Op takes what I like to do in my living room and makes it social and awesome. Their consistently updated cocktail list always has inventive and delicious new drinks. This is another bar where the people who work there truly make it special. Also where else would you discover that you have a secret talent of being excellent at giant Jenga? I’m never growing up!
3926 30th St
San Diego, CA 92104

7. SandBox Pizza

1014 Grand Ave, San Diego, CA 92109
This is my go to pizza spot right near where I live. It’s far enough away from the madness of the beach bars and Garnet and my favorite bartender Liz is really rad and hospitable. They have cheap Imperials and deals on Fernet and my boyfriend and I eat here several times a week. Their wings are saucy crispy deliciousness and their expansive pizza menu has made it so that I can’t pick a favorite. If you find yourself beachside and looking for a good meal but don’t want to battle the masses of party monsters, go here.
1014 Grand Ave
San Diego, CA 92109

8. Thrusters Lounge

4633 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109
Speaking of party monsters, if you find yourself beachside and want to get wild while winning at Skeeball and shooting free throws, this is your spot. Possibly my favorite place to drink when Vinny Curran is behind the bar; he may yell hilarious profanities and serve you your drink in a Frisbee, but that’s usually what I’m in the mood for when I head in the door. I tend to go with the classic beach pairing of Pacifico and Jameson to get my swerve on.
4633 Mission Blvd
San Diego, CA 92109

9. Burnside

3375 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116
Burnside is Sycamore Den’s younger sister and a nice spot for me to unwind post-shift. They have a small selection of curated taps and an expanding bottle list that changes weekly. I tend to go in for a drink and the tofu po boy with tots. Their homemade ranch is healthy on the dill, which I can’t get enough of. I really like everyone who works there - it’s fun to grab a seat at the counter and exchange stories of how our nights went while sipping a frosty brew.
3375 Adams Ave
San Diego, CA 92116

Related Maps