Intelligent life in the universe at Bailiwick
I love craft cocktails because I have a hard time following the rules, or recipes. Everything tastes better when you put your personal stamp on it.
756 Fifth Avenue, San Diego
Crafting Bailiwick's Corpse Reviver #2
Wide-open windows, big comfy sofas, and a great playlist give Bailiwick a chic, modern ambiance. Cocktail goddess Diane crafts a refined Corpse Reviver #2 starring New Amsterdam gin, crisp lillet blanc, a bit of triple sec, sharp lemon juice, and a touch of la fée verte, absinthe. It’s complex and refreshingly bright, a lovely shade of palest spring green. The more assertive Intelligent Life in the Universe teams El Jimador tequila with a fruity, herby house made verdita, zingy lime, and a vegetal hit of green chartreuse. Regularly $10-$12, enjoy five happy hour offerings at $5, from 5pm-7pm daily.
1404 Vacation Road, San Diego
Executive chef Amy DiBiase’s Tidal boasts romantic views of Paradise Point and inventive libations from Snake Oil. Brandt and Evgeny shake Thee Barnacle, a blend of tequila, grapefruit, lemon, agave, and cayenne infusion into tangy sweet, assertively spicy refreshment. The adventurous Humming Herder pairs Pisco Portón, lavender infusion, lemon, and Moroccan bitters. It’s earthy and complex, hints of cardamom, coriander, and cumin warm it up, and the barest whiff of lavender evokes sun-drenched afternoons in Provence. Prices are $13, but the Barbados Run (Mount Gay Eclipse rum, lime, and hibiscus-honey tea) is $7 during happy hour, 3pm-6pm daily.
639 J Street, San Diego
Blnd Burro's Azteka
Crafting Blind Burro's Azteka
The Blind Burro
The emphasis is on all things Baja in this lively East Village haunt, so expect lots of tequila- and mezcal-based cocktails. In bartender Tiffany’s capable hands, the Azteka is a smoke-on-smoke seduction of La Puritita mezcal joven, chipotle agave nectar, and a bracing hit of lemon juice and ginger liqueur.
The Border Mule gives the traditional mule a Cuervo Tradicional and raspberry liqueur makeover; Burro Margaritas can be customized by adding spicy jalapeño syrup and/or blood orange, strawberry, prickly pear or pink guava. Priced at $9-$13, house margaritas are $5 during Amigo Hour, Monday-Friday, 4pm-7pm.
825 Fourth Avenue, San Diego
Allure is executive chef Melissa Magallon’s new contribution to the Fourth Avenue food/drinks strip. Bartender Jefferson guessed right when he suggested a San Diego Sun, an updated version of the classic Aviation. He muddled cucumber in herbaceous gin, a breath of floral Crème Yvette, bitter cherry Luxardo Marachino notes, a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Trade your usual margarita for a Paloma, Marca Negra Mezcal, fresh grapefruit and lime juices, splash of soda — a perfect warm-weather drink. Plus a complementary amuse bouche, because nothing goes with a great cocktail like a piping hot, savory bite. Prices are $11-$12.
Smoked sour at JRDN
723 Felspar Street, San Diego
Watching the parade of beautiful people amble along the boardwalk is only half the fun at this trendy, boisterous Pacific Beach hotspot. Shrubs — fruit-infused vinegars — are a hot item in cocktails now, and JRDN delivers with the Kilpatrick Sour. Earthy Auchentoshan single-malt whiskey marries with tart grapefruit shrub and agave syrup for smooth balance. If you prefer bubbly, effervescent beverages, go for a Pear Sparkler. Prosecco, sweet ripe pear, and bracing ginger make for a festive, beach-perfect treat. Prices range from $6-$10, but hit the Monday happy hour from 4pm-7pm, when specialty cocktails are $7.
15575 Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Del Mar
Lack of neighborhood cachet aside, this sleek bar in the Hilton Hotel near the racetrack offers a fine barrel-aged Manhattan featuring Templeton Rye and Carpano Sweet Vermouth. Old Smokey Original Moonshine and Bundaberg Ginger Beer give the Moonshine Mule a 100-proof kick, while OS Strawberry and Blackberry Moonshine cocktails are as crisp and bright as a jockey’s silks. The pickle-infused Beefeater’s in the Pickled Gin is a fun dirty-martini take on the classic gin and tonic. Happy hour is Sunday-Thursday, 3pm-6pm, when you’ll get $2 off the regular prices of $10-$13.
The Hake Kitchen and Bar
1250 Prospect Street, Suite B10, San Diego
Bartender Joan deftly shakes, stirs, muddles, and pours while he chats charmingly about the hows and whys of the Hake’s signature cocktails. I loved Tita’s Sour, a superb, frothy tequila, amaretto, lemon and orange bitters confection that tastes like an adult creamsicle. Another must-try is the Nazta Garden. This intricate cocktail combines Pisco Portón, Ancho Reyes liqueur, a nice citrus punch of lime juice and kalamansi syrup, exactly five arugula leaves, and a (not very) secret ingredient. It’s a great choice if you’re a fan of spicy/tangy/sweet. Prices are $11-14, $3 off at happy hour, 4pm-7pm and 9pm-close daily.
1044 Wall Street, San Diego
La Jolla locals still flock to Whisknladle when happy hour rolls around for $8 craft libations. It’s hard to choose between the citrusy, slightly smoky charred blood orange, tequila and aperol in El Sacrificio or the juniper meets grapefruit and RX vanilla bitters of the Long Way Home. My all-time fave, though, is the rumored to be axed London’s Burning, featuring the unusual combo of gin, puréed avocado, jalapeño, and lime. It’s a little hot, a little tart, a little creamy and a whole lot of yummy. Try it while it’s still on the menu. Regular prices run $9-13.
Cowboy Star's Hog Ranch
640 Tenth Avenue, San Diego
The regulars at Cowboy Star will chat you up while Bree offers up great suggestions from Garth Flood’s cocktail program. That’s how I learned about Mollie Monroe. She mixes Plymouth gin, pomegranate syrup, sage leaves, and lemon juice, then shakes it in a sleek, sexy Perlini cocktail carbonator. The gorgeous fuchsia result is tart, herbal, and sharp, the shiver of effervescence just right. If pink drinks aren’t your thing, the manly Hog Ranch, George Dickel rye, beef consommé, dash of bitters and agave will put some starch in your chaps. Prices run $10-$14, or $7 at happy hour Tues-Sat, 4pm-6pm.
2690 Via de la Valle, No. D210, Del Mar
Sea & Smoke
This cozy offshoot of the Solace empire is a great watering hole après beach or racetrack. Luke steered me right to the Yuzu My Sweetheart; its Zapopan tequila, yuzu syrup, lime, and cilantro are a nice change from a margarita. So delectable, balanced, and clean, you could sip these all afternoon. Summer nights call for Ode to Oaxaca, Ramazzotti amaro and Mezcal Minotauro form a smoky, slightly bitter partnership, orange juice and ginger syrup add sweetness and warmth. Prices run $9-$11. Happy hour, 3pm-6pm daily, features a rotating specialty cocktail for $6, Martinis and Manhattans are $8 on Mondays only.