4246 University Avenue, City Heights
Built in 1927 as San Diego’s second Bank of America, the building at the corner of University and Van Dyke in City Heights changed over from Nancy’s Pub to Black Cat Bar last month. High ceilings and tall windows evince the structure’s origins. The vault now functions as a storage room.
The Black Cat shares its name with an old San Francisco hangout once popular with the gay community, bohemians, and beatniks, but owner Matt Parker says his inspiration came from the name of the Pinewood Derby car he made with his grandpa as a Boy Scout, his penchant for spooky decor, and a café in a W.C. Fields film.
“My girlfriend and I are really into Halloween and Disney,” says the Lancaster native, who spent almost 12 years behind the bar at Turf Club. “When I saw this space, the first thing I thought of was a haunted mansion.”
The namesake feline glowing neon in the front window and a chandelier hanging high above two pool tables establish the ghostly atmosphere. Skeletons, cats, and tarot cards adorn the bar top.
Matt, who plays guitar in the alternative country band Bartenders Bible, plans to begin booking old-timey weekend acts after obtaining the appropriate permits. For now, the jukebox offers a solid collection of punk, metal, classic rock, and doo-wop interspersed with gems such as ESG, No Bunny, Amon Düül II, Os Mutantes, the Sultans, Ween, the Repo Man soundtrack, and the Modern Lovers.
Black Cat touts a full bar, 3 domestic and 5 import drafts, and 17 bottled beers. The intimate drinking hole entertains a regular day crowd, making it a great place to hobnob with friends, meet some new ones, and chat with the charming bartenders, who you may recognize from Bar Pink, Kadan, Shakedown, and the late Radio Room.
Johnny, a self-described liquor snob with a knack for the demography who has been coming to the location for years, tells me that Matt makes the perfect martini.
“It’s not gentrification,” Johnny says of the ambiance upgrade at Black Cat, “this is a neighborhood bar.”
— Chad Deal
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Happy Hour: 5 to 7, $1 off most drinks
Food: Taco cart till 10:30 p.m. weekends
Prices: cocktails and drafts $3.50+
The Deals: $2 Pabst can, $2.50 Tecate can, $5 Modelo tall can
Max Cap: 49
No minimum on credit cards