611 B Street, Downtown San Diego
Established in 1984 by restaurateur and bullfighter Paul Dobson, La Gran Tapa was the first dedicated Spanish tapas bar in San Diego. Seven owners later, the Sicilian proprietor of the Turquoise Café in Pacific Beach, Basilio Ceravolo, took over in 2007 and added some Mediterranean flair to the menu of over 50 organic tapas ($3–$14) as well as four types of absinthe ($7–$9), which are served in the “Bohemian method” by dropping a flaming sugar cube into the spirit.
Now you can catch live music any night of the week, ranging from flamenco to blues, samba, rumba, Balkan folk, world, and jazz. The bar offers an extensive selection of wine and beer, which are best sampled at the 5 to 7 p.m. happy hour (Tuesday through Saturday) for $3 a drink to accompany a list of $3 tapas. Be aware that 17.5 percent gratuity is added to every bill. Any additional tips go to the band.
On a recent visit, tables were cleared away after dinner as the crowd danced to latin/reggae band Todo Mundo. An Uruguayan friend and I watched mystified as a woman with the features of a mythical bird jutted hips and gypsy hands in front of the band. My companion turned to me and said as a way of excusing himself, “She needs a dance partner, mijo.” He arose from our position at the bar and, just like in a scene from Dirty Dancing, the crowd split as he Swayzeed across the dance floor and engaged the avian zingara in a feverish salsa to “El Cuarto de Tula,” which caused the woman sitting next to me to squeal audibly with delight.
“My inspiration and vision...is to recreate the feeling of the small, local bars of southern Europe,” Ceravolo writes on his website. “Places where the people stop and gather, to hear the news, catch up with friends, relax and enjoy a coffee and a fine pastry or a small meal and a glass of wine.”
Service can be difficult on busy nights, but then, this is not the place to go for a quick bite. The leisurely vibe is as much a part of the ambiance as the music, dance, and traditional Spanish decor. Parking is free in the garage two doors to the west with a minimum $20 restaurant bill (otherwise, parking’s $10).
Hours: THURSDAY, 5 pm–11 pm; FRIDAY AND SATURDAY, 5 PM–12 AM; SUNDAY, 4 PM–9 PM