Tin Can Alehouse
At the Tin Can Alehouse you can see some of the coolest local and touring underground bands for $5–$7 Monday–Saturday. Or you could just wait a year and see some of those same bands for more money at bigger clubs. The stage here is only inches high; you can get up close and personal with the performers, if that’s your thing. Most people who show up are in bands themselves, and the vibe reflects it. People discuss tours and starting bands while smoking out front. There’s also an unpretentious art-feel. The Tin Can hosts sporadic drawing jams, where a group of artists will create art live and then hang it up — this is organized by Double Break, an art space a couple of doors down.
1863 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill
The Tin Can serves a lot of canned beer, hence the name. Pabst Blue Ribbon is $5 a can. Tecate, Kirin, Peter’s Brand Dutch, and Three Horses are $4/can. At the moment, there is only beer on tap. Hard alcohol is $5 a shot.
One of the owners (Kelsey) recently left, but Justin and Patrick have only more awesome in mind. One of these guys is vegetarian, the other vegan, and at the new in-house eatery (Doods Foods), you can get a black-bean veggie burger and vegan chili; but the Tin Can also serves hearty meat-friendly pub meals, plus they host a monthly eating contest: the Mega Flying Cheese Burger Contest involves one-pound patties with a quarter-pound of cheese and a quarter-pound of bacon.
Check the schedule online. Google the names you don’t know. They just might be the raddest band nobody here knows about. Arrive early, scarf a burger. Aren’t you lucky to live in San Diego?
— Bobby Bray
4246 University Avenue, City Heights
Black Cat Bar
Opened last year by a former longtime Turf Club bartender, Black Cat is loosely modeled on the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. Though located in a slightly shady patch of City Heights, the bar is a vast improvement over its predecessor, Nancy’s Pub — an ultra-dive known for regular drug sales. Now you can spend an evening sipping $2 PBRs, eating street-tacos from the cart out front, and selecting tracks from Black Cat’s eclectic jukebox. Look for the actual black cat that lives in the bar, and ask Matt to make you a martini.
5617 Balboa Avenue, Clairemont
In a strip-mall also shared by Vons and CVS, you’ll find local Clairemont-ians getting cozy at this humble Irish pub. On open-mic Sundays you might be witness to booze-inspired cheering on of heartfelt acoustic guitar versions of Billy Idol and U2 songs. Mondays and Tuesdays are dominated by a younger crowd. Rock Band plays on a big-screen — skill levels range from pro to never-played-before, with a wide variety of songs to choose from. Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for live music. The overall vibe is rooted in pure, unadulterated comfort, fueled by reasonably priced adult beverages.
Callejon de Sexta
A cluster of three bars in a mini alleyway (on Calle Sexta, between avenidas Constitución and Revolución) provides options for dive-hunters in Tijuana. Día de los Muertos–themed La Catrina offers pulque — a once-sacred, rice milk–like, sour concoction; its origins date to pre-conquistadorian times — in a barrel-shaped glass. Head deeper down the passageway, and a masked doorman will greet you at Santa Leyenda, a bar dedicated to a lucha libre star. Cheap drinks also flow at the artier Bar Kalimotxo. Within La Callejon you can hear DJs blasting top-40s rock, early-2000s dance music, and current hits, while you sip down drinks under $4. facebook.com/callejon.delasexta
10330 Friars Road, Grantville
Camel’s Breath Inn
This bar has a reputation of being a haven for mature women on the prowl, looking for younger mates; it’s definitely the kind of place where you can cut loose. Most nights are devoted to karaoke, but on Fridays and Saturdays the DJs play popular dance music; booty shaking ensues. The $4 cocktails keep the place (endearingly referred to as “The Toe”) well oiled.
110A Aberdeen Drive, Cardiff-by-the-Sea
The Cardiff Office
The Cardiff Office has all of the fine (and not-so-fine) things a dive bar should have. Located in a nondescript strip-mall, there are pool tables in the back room, a bar just inside the door, and a crowd that borders on intimidating. Smiles are scarce, sullen faces and furrowed brows by far the norm — especially for a greenhorn.
4612 Cass Street, Pacific Beach
Cass Street Bar & Grill
Located a few blocks north of Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach, Cass Street Bar & Grill isn’t a trendy dance club, but it is where neighborhood drunks enjoy draft beers for $3.50. Throughout the early evening, weathered locals hunker down and take refuge right beside business types; both enjoy a menu loaded with fresh fish. As night creeps in, so do the 20-somethings. The 168-capacity room is often filled. Two pool tables and shuffleboard keep the ruckus going. They don’t serve hard alcohol, but locals know and cherish this spot.
1839 Adams Avenue, University Heights
This University Heights place has a mellow, conversational vibe that can sometimes be hard to find in gay bars; it’s also a place to cut loose. At Tuesday-night karaoke sessions, the mic is passed all through the venue, everyone contributing to an impassioned rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” On Wednesdays, well drinks are a buck from 9:00 p.m.–midnight, and, thanks to Cheers’ 110-plus-year-old grocery license, at last call you can buy beers to go.
2237 First Avenue, Bankers Hill
Named after the Runaways’ signature 1976 punk anthem, this place, inconspicuously located in the corner of a quiet Bankers Hill strip-mall, looks like a dungeon — there are skulls and brick everywhere. House specials include 23-ounce schooners of Budweiser priced at a hazardous $4.25. More troublesome, $4.75 buys (very) liberally poured double Jack and Cokes. Get your ass kicked by Cherry Bomb’s fierce contingent of foosball regulars — to a San Diego all-star jukebox soundtrack of Tanner, Drive Like Jehu, Inch, Jejune, Heavy Vegetable, and No Knife.
3412 University Avenue, City Heights
El Uno Bar
Few places look this scary going in, but there’s a certain charm once you step past the plastic curtain. The spooky, green light that bathes the inside becomes soothing after a few $3.75 beers — better to buy a bucket and save some loot. The jukebox is 95 percent devoted to Mexican banda and norteño music, though it also serves up Coolio and Whitesnake. Follow “Gangsta’s Paradise” with something from Los Tigres del Norte, but resist trying out your grito mexicano.
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