Tommy (left) mixes a drink at the refined Banker’s Hill bar.
1863 Fifth Avenue, San Diego
The Tin Can Ale House, a Bankers Hill live music go-to and canned-beer wonderland, has traded in their aluminum for glass. The Balboa debuted in March with a cocktail menu designed by Jackson Milgaten (who you may recognize from behind the bar at Turf Club) and the reincarnation of new owner Tommy Logsdon’s burger kitchen, formerly known as Doods Foods.
Toasting to the centennial of the nearby park of the same name, the Balboa feels classic, unassuming, and compared to the Tin Can, refined. A black-and-white mural of the Cabrillo Bridge marks the entrance. Inside, historic photographs line the walls, harkening back to when the space was built as a storage unit for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. The mood is mellow, almost speakeasy. The concept may be slow to swallow for diehards of the Tin Can’s unpolished ambiance, but the choice is obvious when you consider the void that the Balboa is filling. It’s the perfect halfway point between the punk-rock abandon of neighborhood whiskey cave Cherry Bomb and the more urbane Imperial House or Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant.
Music has been pulled back to Friday and Saturdays, but Milgaten (Cuckoo Chaos, Deadphones) is booking as strong as ever with mostly local lineups and accessible door charges. His seasonal cocktail menu, meanwhile, is a roll call of familiar potions peppered with a few of his own inventions. A standout example: the El Silencio Old Fashioned, where espadín mezcal takes center stage amid simple syrup, bitters, muddled orange, and a lemon peel, which is lit on fire before rimming the glass.
As for the kitchen, Tommy says the menu “hasn’t changed much, we’ve just upped the quality of the meat and produce.” A long-time calling card of Doods Foods (which started as a renegade delivery service in Golden Hill), the Balboa Burger (as it’s now known) puts 1/3 pound of 70/30 medium-rare beef on a fresh bolillo roll and tops it with garlic aioli and all the fixin’s. Hyperbole aside, you’d be hard pressed to find a better $5 burger (during happy hour) anywhere in town.
Nurses drink end-shift cocktails, neighborhood regulars poke in for a burger and a beer (the four taps are slated to become six soon), and the staff (many are familiar faces from the Tin Can) crack jokes with patrons while the old-school juke croons, “Ch-ch-Changes, look out you rock ’n’ rollers!”
Capacity: sits about 30
Prices: Wells and craft drafts, $6; Cocktails, $8+
Hours: SUN–THURS, 11am–midnight; FRI–SAT, 11am–2am
Happy: $5 Balboa Burger, dollar-off drinks; 4–6 daily
Kitchen: Burgers and beyond, 11am–midnight, daily
Parking: Curbside on Fifth and Fir