San Diego Bars & Nightlife

Establishment neighborhood
The Lion’s Share
629 Kettner Blvd., Downtown
We were captivated by the heavy wooden door and almost heavier lion’s head knocker. But once we came inside, we were in love. There’s something very creepy cool about The Lion’s Share—the moody lighting and velvet drapery, the taxidermy and unsettling paintings of animals presented in an uncanny-valley sort of way (like the water buffalo wielding a knife). Even the menu, with its old-fashioned, vaguely haunted imagery, sends a shiver down our spine. Try the County Cork (twelve-year-old whiskey, sherry, Grand Marnier, and orgeat) and a meat and cheese board. That’s only to start—the food is out of this world, so leave time for a few courses.
The Nolen
453 Sixth Ave., Gaslamp
The view from the Nolen is so vast, it’s hard to be believe you’re only fourteen stories above downtown San Diego. On a clear day (which is most days here), you can see the Gaslamp district, Petco Park, and all the way to the Coronado Bridge. But the Nolen is worth it even in the rain: The drinks game is solid (we love the Damnit Janet—a mix of vodka, rose water, watermelon, and lychee), and the warm, salty, delicious snacks will inspire you to make a night of it. Or a day, in fact. The Sunday brunch is one of the best in San Diego.
Raised by Wolves
4301 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla
Having a drink at Raised by Wolves feels a little like you might be having a drink at the Gare du Nord a hundred years ago. The marble floors, antique cash register, domed glass ceiling, gilded barstools, velvet armchairs in the library, moody lighting: It all conspires to make you feel as if you’re in an Agatha Christie novel and there’s a steam engine train nearby. The drink menu is extensive—over a dozen pages before you even get to the wine—so if you’re overwhelmed, ask one of the skilled bartenders for a suggestion. Or keep it simple and order a glass of champagne.
False Idol
675 W Beech St., Little Italy
A hidden tiki bar sounds like something you’d find at an amusement park, but designer Ignacio Gonzalez took every step to make sure that the False Idol tiki bar was cool, thoughtful, and anything but cheesy. But first you have to get there. The entrance to the bar is hidden within Craft & Commerce. (Look for the steel door to the walk-in cooler—the human skulls inside really set a mood—then open the second door, which is the actual entrance.) The inside will leave you speechless—and make you feel as if you’re underwater thanks to the colorful glass buoys suspended from the ceiling in a fishing net. Then there’s the waterfall, the authentic Polynesian art and memorabilia, the elaborate wood carvings, the skulls on spikes, and the occasional fireballs: It’s an inspired sensory overload. And we haven’t even mentioned the cocktails. If you’re overwhelmed, order a Panther’s Fang (rum, honey, lime, club soda) and take it all in.