770 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
"Sometimes," says Wes, "late at night, when I'm cleaning up and nobody's around, you feel them. You don't exactly hear them or see them, but you feel them. The spirits."
He's talking about the women who used to work "upstairs," when this was a house of, well, joy.
"Heck, we opened in 1874," Wes says. "Okay, 'we...' it wasn't the Tipsy Crow back then...we've only been here four years...but it sure had some extra entertainment upstairs, back in the day."
Uh, more likely "back in the night," right Wes?
For starters this beautiful ol' 40-foot mahogany bar I'm sitting at must have been here since before Prohibition. My guess: 1900, no later. Man! What stories it could tell. The sign calls this place "San Diego's longest-standing bar."
I'm having this conversation because Wes is working away opposite me, hauling down a big ol' lever again and again, squeezing out a stream of juices from blood grapefruit he's halved for Salty Dogs, Tipsy Crow's signature drink (ruby red grapefruit and vodka, $11).
Me, I'm doing their happy hour thing: for starters, an Ellie's Brown Ale (from a can, but good). It's $4.25, from Avery Brewing in Colorado, and is named after Adam Avery's late-lamented chocolate labrador dawg. "Chocolate malt gives this beer a brown sugar maltiness, with hints of vanilla and nuts..." says the blurb. And it's about right. This is a delicious drink if you don't mind forgetting 'Diego's addiction to the bitter kick of hops.
And now, Wes disappears, returns, and, with an arm-sweeping flourish, lands a big, flat, wooden cheeseboard in front of me. It's loaded with two toasted cheese sandwiches (also half-price at happy hour. I've got them for $4.50). The sandwiches are ribbed, divided into dark breads ("malted brown wheat") and light ("garlic parmesan white bread"), and they're stacked like half-open louvers with a pot of dip at either end. The creamy dip's called "blue cheese fondue," and the red one's "tomato basil bisque."
I mean. Yeah. Half the fun's in the presentation. We're talking basic toasted-cheese grinders, right? But it works. I'm alternating between the light and the dark, plus the blue fondue and the red bisque, and yakking with an artist named Sonya — about how this whole sandwich spread kinda makes a balanced still life Vermeer hisself would've been proud to paint — and sluicing down more Ellie's Brown Ale, until, suddenly, my little alarm dongs. Ten minutes til da bus on Broadway.
Gulp, chomp, gulp, check and I'm out, fourteen bucks poorer (after tax and tip), standing on the corner of Fifth and F. Huh. Take a moment to think about all the guys who've stumbled outta here before me, gathering their wits, watching the passing parade over the last, what, 150 years? I see pedicabs. They saw horses and drays, carriages, Model Ts, Shore Patrol paddy wagons, hotshot Caddies with fins. Right here. Generations of guys who, but for a cheese sandwich, would be facing a dizzy night and hell at home.
I'll definitely be back, maybe at the late-night happy hour, to be around when Wes starts cleaning up. Who knows what high spirits could appear? Gotta have Carla. Honestly, she sees things, picks up vibes. That's why it's almost impossible to lie to her.
Should I mention the second Ellie Brown?