San Diego is a beautiful city with great, down-to-earth people and a Craft Beer Community that ranks in the Top 10 in the United States. How many cities can you name where it is actually possible to walk from the airport to the action-packed, beer-centric, downtown area? Not many and possibly none other is my guess. There are over 500 tap handles with a 3 mile radius of my condo and that list probably expands to 1000 if you go to 10 miles.
I live in Little Italy, one of many fabulous little neighborhoods in the greater downtown area. In Part One of this series, you learned about South Park, North Park & Normal Heights and the famous 30th Street Beer Corridor; all accessible via an inexpensive ride on MTS – San Diego’s Public Transit! In Part Two I’ll suggest some great picks for a downtown San Diego Pub Crawl! You can walk or you can hop on the San Diego Trolley.
The San Diego Trolley
You are looking at about a 3 mile walk to hit all of these locations but you can also ride the San Diego Trolley. It runs smack dab through the middle of town. Just like the Hot Deuce, you can buy a $5 ticket and ride all day. It’s great fun and great people watching. San Diego is a laid back town so no need to get all dressed up here!
I will touch on some of the places I know and love that are all within walking distance of my home in Little Italy. You should definitely walk or ride the trolley to these places — parking can be a bear and if you are drinking more than one or two beers, you should not be driving anyway! There are many other fantastic Craft Beer spots that I won’t have time to mention. There are just too many to include them all and frankly, I have not had the time to check out all the new venues that have popped up in the past year. You can check out the Tap Hunter App to see most of the locations right from your smart phone. It provides a map, the address, phone number and an amazingly accurate list of what each place has on tap. You can also visit their website for locations at the link below.
Little Italy welcomed two very positive Craft Beer additions in 2011; Bottlecraft and Under Belly.
Bottlecraft, owned by Brain Jensen, opened in the summer and prompted a serious happy dance when I visited just after the opening. The variety is stellar. Staple beers as well as those that are hard to find like Cantillion and Nebraska Brewing “Hop God” fill the shelves. Bottlecraft doesn’t just highlight great San Diego brews, they offer up the best available in California within the constraints of the good old, 3-Tier distribution system. What makes Bottlecraft unique is a liquor license that allows opening and drinking the beer purchased. There are places to sit and be comfortable. They also have a great choice of glassware, books, t-shirts and even Dog Biscuits because Bottlecraft is pup friendly! This is always a category that I give bonus points for. They have a great, rotating variety in the cooler section and they offer two innovative taster flights daily. The people who work at Bottlecraft are not only beer-centric, they are friendly and fun. They help beer-newbies find a beer that will ease them into our beloved Craft Beer world. If you find a beer that you want to try and it’s not in the cooler — not-to-worry — you can get it chilled in about 15-20 minutes. There is no food offered but there are tons of nearby options that you can pick-up and bring to share with friends. I also like the people who come here to drink beer. They are not beer snobs and they are not “all “hipsters. There are a few “fixies” outside but I have yet to see anyone display the “I’m way too cool for you” attitude. The age range is diverse and the common thread involves the comfort of hanging out with friends enjoying good beer. What’s not to like? I guess the New York Times agrees with me because Bottlecraft was listed as a top pick for pick #14 San Diego in the New York Times “45 Places to Go in 2012”
Under Belly opened in October and Holy Hot Ramen Batman; they add a new dimension to the already superb food culture that defines urban life in San Diego. Don’t eat here if you are not an experimental foodie that appreciates adventure. The secret to good Ramen is in the broth and in my opinion, they have captured the essence and added a twist of creativity to the ingredients. There are 24 local and beyond tap handles and a California wine selection. Vegan choices are available along with a good range of appetizers like gyoza and pork buns. There are some rules involving traffic here. Order your food first and then find a spot to sit. The space is a bit narrow to navigate through but it just makes it part of the adventure, right? Under Belly is part of the same ownership as Neighborhood SD, Craft & Commerce, Noble Experiment and El Dorado; Consortium Holdings, owned by Arsalun Tafazoli and Nathan Stanton.
Craft & Commerce is less than 2 blocks from my house and I can get my Craft Cocktail (Manhattan for this girl) and my Craft Beer Cocktail fix here. “Up in Smoke” – Allagash Curieux, Islay Scotch, Fuji Apple and Lime – is an example of a Beer Cocktail and in 2010, this was the very 1st place I ever tried this now exploding, cocktail trend. They have the most creative drinks and it is completely by design. They opened in August of 2010 and were a success from the start. The decor is Hipster Prohibition but the vibe is welcoming so don’t be put off by the hipster crowd. They won’t bite! Craft & Commerce has 12 rotating tap handles. The food is decadent and fabulous. The menu changes based on availability of produce in season. The Salmon BLT is a favorite and there are days when I would sell my soul for the Bacon-Wrapped Dates! They have some limited patio seating where dogs are welcome.
Neighborhood Tap Handles
Neighborhood opened in 2007 and is hands-down, still my favorite place in the San Diego downtown area for Craft Beer and Casual Dining. They offer 27 craft beer taps and a notable rare bottle collection. The food is local, sustainable and ethical; just the way I like it. The Deviled-Eggs (only available at night) are superb. I am also a huge fan of the “Street-Tacos” and the burger. DO NOT come here if you put ketchup on your food. It is not available and if that freaks you out, there are plenty burger joints nearby that serve high-fructose corn syrup. If you appreciate the flavor of of quality, seasonal ingredients; you have found a great place. I find the service here to be friendly and the staff is well versed on the beers that they serve. Neighborhood also makes Craft Cocktails but only those of the whisky and bourbon variety. For the key to an even greater Cocktail Experience – visit The Noble Experiment if you dare unlock the secret to entry…
Best Damn Beer Shop is located in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego and the name is completely appropriate. Located inside “Super Junior” market on 7th Avenue, you would NEVER guess how terrific the beer offering is by looking at the storefront. Parking here is next to impossible so walk there and cab it home with you beer spoils if too big to carry home on foot. Best Damn Beer has access to some pretty limited allocations and you can subscribe to their newsletter for updates on new releases. There have been several events hosted by Best Damn Beer that feature hard-to-find Craft Beer tastings; some to help charities. They recently added a home-brew supply section to the store so downtown home-brewers have a convenient place to pick up what they need to brew. The owners plan evolve into more of a gourmet market over time but for now, be advised that the appearance outside does not reflect how terrific the beer offering is on the inside! This family owned business is related to South Bay Drugs in Imperial Beach which is temporarily closed due to zoning issues but expected to resurface someplace fresh in 2012.
Monkey Paw Pub, the latest venture from Scot Blair, owner of Hamilton’s & Small Bar. They opened in August of 2011 offering 30 Tap Handles, 2 Cask Engines and a bottle list. Sample one of the creative Craft Beer Cocktails and jump on the latest craze. They feature 4-5 of the beers from Monkey Paw brewer, Derek Freese and it is clear there is a lot of great beers to come. He is brewing some pretty amazing session beers like “Pineapple X-press” and “Thatcher in the Rye” at 5.2% and 4.5% ABV. Give a shout out to bartender Ashlee if she’s working. This girl knows her beer and she does a great job making folks feel welcome.
Monkey Paw is in the part of downtown that I guess I would refer to as our “Skid Row”. It may look a bit daunting as you walk around the area but please don’t be afraid. Because of San Diego’s ideal climate, we do have a large number of homeless folks in the downtown area, even in Little Italy. It’s just part of life in any city and it keeps my reality in check. There are several homeless shelters and outreach programs in this area so the people tend to congregate near the places that offer some help. A huge percentage of the people on the street have drug addictions. Rest assure the people are, for the most part harmless. I have walked safely through these neighborhoods for 9 years now.
Downtown Johnny Brown’s could be the biggest Craft Beer Sleeper in San Diego. If you can find the place without someone directing you there; you excel in navigation! DTJB’s is 3 blocks from my house and it’s tucked inside a courtyard at the Civic Center Plaza. They have ample, pet-friendly patio seating and a great collection of beer pouring from 18 taps. they also have some great bottle selections. Check their website for special events and releases. They have some pretty special kegs tucked away and you just never know when owner Todd will put one on tap. The crowd here is eclectic because many are not all “here for the beer”. They are located next to the theater/opera venue and many people go there to grab a bite to eat before a show. But the local beer people know about this haven and it Many a great bottle sharing event has taken place here and the staff is kicked backed and friendly.
There are scads of other good Craft Beer spots downtown but for brevity puposes, I picked the ones I know the best for now. There are many you might pass along the way to those featured so keep your eyes open. I have posted some more names below of places I must visit and highlight as I expand this series.
I hope you have the opportunity to visit these great Craft Beer establishments and be sure to give me a shout out with details of your adventure!
World Peace & Craft Beer!
2161 India Street
750 W Fir St (at Kettner)
San Diego, CA 92101
777 G Street
Best Damn Beer
1036 7th Ave
South Bay Drugs
Announcing New Location & Name Soon
Monkey Paw Pub
805 16th St
San Diego, CA 92101
Downtown Johnny Brown’s
1220 Third Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
The Tipsy Crow
770 5th Avenue
San Diego, Ca 92101
The Hopping Pig
748 5th Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
3827 5th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92103