1 Park Boulevard, Downtown San Diego
Sunset’s my kryptonite. Honest. Dusk is my undoing. I’m weakest when Huey’s dipping his tootsies in the ocean. Food and drink-wise, anyway. Here at the Gaslamp trolley stop around six, I can feel the magic hour a-coming. Plus, across the railroad tracks, left of the convention center, all scrubbed and white, that big pencil box of a Hilton keeps giving me the come-on, tempting as a Lorelei.
Hmm... The view will be fantastic over there. And, just maybe, they have a happy hour I can afford. I cross over the tracks and Harbor Drive, then head south. Two minutes later, I start to hear noise. Bunch of irate wasps? Stadium of vuvuzelas? I get closer. Now it sounds like a UFC fight crowd. I head for the doors in the Hilton, where the sound’s coming from…and find myself in this vast sports bar, guys all cheering and talking big, looking up at two dozen plasma screens. Are we at the Tilted Kilt (you know, the sports bar next to Petco Park)? No. The sign says Fox Sports Grill. Fox, like, Sarah and Hannity and Glenn. That Fox.
It’s dark, in creams and browns, with a black acoustic ceiling and a wall that looks like a Japanese paper screen. On the other side there’s a pillbox view of the bay. It takes a moment to realize, but there’s no music in here, just sports on TV, play by play, roar by roar, from the screens and also from the guys who are watching.
I sidle up to the bar, grab a stool and a mini-menu card. Hey hey! Lucked out. “Happy Hour, Monday to Friday, 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.” They have drink specials like $1 off draft beer and $2 off wines by the glass. The interesting part comes next: “Half-priced selected appetizers: sliders, chipotle pork sliders, BBQ chicken nachos, bleu cheese chips, and smoked wings.”
“What do these appetizers cost?” I ask the bar girl, Genevieve.
She hands me a 20-inch matt-black plastic sheet. The main menu. It has starters, salads, soups, and sandwiches, plus grills, burgers, pizzas. And not the sort of prices I’d expect at a Hilton. A buffalo chicken sandwich with cheese and fried onion rings, plus fries, runs $9.95. A grilled chicken strawberry salad is $10.95 at lunch, two bucks more for dinner. Soup and salad is $8.95. Of course, they do have big-ticket items, like jumbo lump crab cakes for $20.95 or tenderloin filet for $26.95. But lunch burgers cost from $9–$11. The half-pound “Chop House” cheeseburger with fries is $8.95; add caramelized onions, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, and melted Swiss, and you’ll pay $10.95.
And I would. But first, I flip the page back to Starters. Regular price for sliders is $7.95. Chipotle pork sliders are $8.95. BBQ chicken nachos go for $7.95, bleu cheese chips (with bacon, tomatoes, bleu cheese sauce) are $9.95, and smoked wings (“naked, buffalo, or spicy”) are $8.95.
Now, halve all that. Heckuva deal. I go for chipotle pork sliders — plate of three, about $4.50. I add BBQ chicken nachos for $4. Can’t believe I’m paying that, here.
“Something to drink?” Genevieve asks.
“How much for beers, at, uh, happy-hour prices?”
“About $4, $5, after the dollar off.”
Then I remember I gotta work tonight. “Just give me a Coke,” I say. It’s $2.50.
While I’m waiting, a waiter comes up with a plate loaded with greens and meat for the guy on my left. Dave. “Steak salad,” he says. “It’s $15.95. Not happy hour, but you get a steak and a salad in the one price.”
He’s from Colorado. Works in medical equipment, showing surgeons how to use this backbone bracer his company makes. “I was observing at two operations yesterday,” he says. “Surgeons sometimes need help with the mechanical details.”
He brings out his iPhone. “Guess what anesthesiologists do while the op’s going on?” He presses a button. The photo pans around from the surgeons, busy working on the sleeping patient, to where this other doc in green scrubs sits…reading the Union-Tribune.
“Anesthesiologists are just there in case.”
Genevieve brings me a nice heavy knife and fork and a couple of black linen napkins. Very cool that they don’t skimp for bargain-hunters like me.
And then — whoa — my two plates turn up. One triangular china plate has three sliders oozing onions and pork, plus a logjam of fries. The other, a big oval dish, is loaded with red chips, black chips, yellow chips, and barbecued chicken chunks — also sliced jalapeños, onions, and white and red sauces spread like lava over the top. It’s pretty good, but those chipotle sliders take the prize. They’re smoky, sweet, maybe even chocolatey — I’m even wondering: mole? They’re filling, too. In fact, I have to ask for a box so I can take the last one home to Carla. She’s never going to believe it came from the House of Hilton, for four bucks.
I head out along the Embarcadero. The bay’s gone from sunny blue to the gold I saw staring out from the bar, and now it’s blue-black. Lord. Stayed way beyond happy hour. Lights are beginning to twinkle. Large boats slide silently by. I stop for a large coffee ($2.25) and a chocolate chip cookie ($1.50) at the Seaport Cookie Company. Ah... Feel my strength seeping back. Hello, night. Bye-bye, kryptonite. ■
Fox Sports Grill, at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, 1 Park Boulevard, 619-231-9000
Type of Food: American
Prices: Happy hour appetizer prices include three sliders, $3.97 (regularly $7.95); three chipotle pork sliders, $4.47 ($8.95); BBQ chicken nachos, $3.97 ($7.95); bleu cheese chips (with bacon, tomatoes, bleu cheese sauce), $4.97 ($9.95); smoked wings, $4.47 ($8.95); regular items include buffalo chicken sandwich with fries, $9.95; grilled chicken strawberry salad, $10.95 (lunch), $12.95 (dinner); soup and salad, $8.95; jumbo lump crab cakes, $20.95; tenderloin filet, $26.95; half-pound cheeseburger with fries, $8.95; with caramelized onions, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, melted Swiss, $10.95
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–midnight, Sunday–Thursday; 11:00 a.m.–2:00 a.m., Friday–Saturday; happy hour, 4:00 –7:00 p.m., Monday–Friday
Buses: 4, 11, 901, 929
Nearest Bus Stop: 12th and Imperial Transit Center
Trolleys: Blue Line, Orange Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: 12th and Imperial Transit Center