“No matter what happens,” Chris Heaney declares with a grin, “no matter if the economy’s good or bad, you’ve got to drink.”
He stands behind the bar at Club Kadan, the Adams Avenue bar he owns, serving a round of beers to a handful of afternoon customers.
Even in this particularly rough economic patch, Heaney is right on the money, so to speak. While the country struggles, one business venture continues to boom, at least here in San Diego: bars.
In the past year, several of San Diego’s better-known establishments have changed hands, most recently Shooterz and Scolari’s Office in North Park and the Zombie Lounge (which Heaney has purchased) and Chaser’s in City Heights. Each is being remodeled: Shooterz, at the time of this writing, is in the process of being gutted, behind a protective layer of plywood; Scolari’s Office has been completely reinvented as “the Office”; the Zombie Lounge has been rechristened “the Radio Room”; and Chaser’s is closed indefinitely.
The opinions on the current remodels — and remodels-in-progress — have been mixed. Sebastian Ulloa, drummer for the local band Batwings, misses his old haunt, Scolari’s. The night the new Office opened, he got a peek at the digs after meeting a few pals at the Pink Elephant. He wasn’t thrilled.
“There were several of us, several friends I’ve made just from going out to the bars, and we had all discussed taking a trip over there to see what it was like,” he recalls. “It was a group of maybe ten of us that walked into the bar, looked around — nobody ordered a drink — and we left immediately.”
Ulloa, who used to book bands for Scolari’s, says a lot of people don’t want to like the new bar.
“There’s an attitude that they’re not going to like it before they walk in,” he says. We’re sitting at a table at Lestat’s Coffee House in Normal Heights. “They don’t want to support the people that took away what we liked before. There really was a sense of community with the people that frequented Scolari’s.”
Lety Gonzalez, a longtime patron of Scolari’s and diehard dive-bar fan, was a member of that community.
We meet outside the Filter Cafe on 30th and Lincoln. “Scolari’s Office was this run-down little shack that’s been there forever,” she says, “really hole-in-the-wall, and it was nice. I loved going there because it had the feel of a grungy basement where you used to drink when you were in high school, compared to an upscale bar now in the middle of a street that’s not really up to par completely. North Park is coming up, but it’s not quite there.”
Daye Salani, who wrote an unfavorable review of the original Scolari’s on Yelp.com, a site that allows the public to rate and discuss local businesses of all stripes, disagrees and is heavily in favor of the reinvention of the old place.
“I wasn’t a fan at all of Scolari’s,” he says, over a coffee at Gelato Vero on India Street. “I’ve been a dozen times, and every time there was some sort of drama, either a fight breaking out on the sidewalk or a crappy sound system or just drunk jerks. So when I heard that the Bar Dynamite owners were taking over the Office, I thought it was a good thing. For the most part, the one time I’ve been there, I enjoyed it. It was very clean; the clientele was very fun.”
Other people on Yelp feel the same way, some urging bar-goers to lighten up about the change, others echoing Salani’s distaste for the atmosphere at Scolari’s.
“Variety is the spice of life, and if people can’t deal with it, I say just stick to what you like,” says Patricia V. in her review. “Just because a place cleans up and has a bouncer doesn’t mean you’re suddenly in [Pacific Beach] or [downtown]. I love me [sic] dive bars and all, but it’s nice to have a selection of places to visit in one neighborhood.”
“They seem to keep it classy but don’t make it douchy [sic],” says Lance R. “North Park is a nicer place now, so I think it deserves a classy place like this instead of a filthy scum hole that smells like puke and butt, where homeless people/gutter punks hang out.”
While the “riff-raff,” as Salani describes some of the former Scolari’s fans, are gone, he does recognize that the old Scolari’s was a popular destination.
“Most of the people in this town, most of my friends, they loved Scolari’s,” he says. “They thought it was such a fun, classic dive bar, in the sense of what a dive bar is. You know, it smelled weird, it had character, there was always something going on.”
Salani thinks that perhaps his Yelp review of Scolari’s was a bit too strong, yet it was, ultimately, his opinion.
“I think it was harsh what I said,” he explains. “You know, ‘shit bar’ or ‘shit hole for shit people’ — because there are people [for whom] that place was very near and dear. I wasn’t one of them. You have all day to convince me [otherwise], and if the pros outweigh cons, I am willing to delete my story on Yelp. But until then, I’m keeping it up.”
Richard “T-Bone” Larson, a former bartender at Scolari’s, remembers seeing the review.
“He’s talking about me,” he says of Salani’s “shit bar for shit people” comment. “It’s just kind of like all that we worked for there is for nothing because people just want a nice, glitzy bar, you know?”
And some do, preferring the revamps of other old favorites. On Yelp, a user named Teresita C. provides a favorable opinion of the new Radio Room.
“So the tetanus factor and grime might be gone from the place, but the former Zombie Lounge is now a much better place to see music,” she writes in her review. “Given more than just a corner/afterthought to play their tunes, bands can rock out on a bigger stage, and there is a nice little patch of floor if you think you can dance. Don’t let the ’80s pleather/chrome vibe scare you off, this is a fresh new update on an old fave.”