Rarely do I find myself in the Gaslamp Quarter. Two out of the last three times I was there were after picking up out-of-state friends from the Santa Fe Depot; the other was during Comic-Con. This last time, a friend from Louisville, Kentucky, flew to LAX, and subsequently took the Pacific Surfliner to San Diego, where I met him downtown. It had been more than a decade since we'd seen each other.
Both famished, we set out to find a place to eat nearby. Chain restaurants, expensive restaurants, romantic places, hole-in-the-wall pizza parlors, preppy bars ... nothing I trust. Except the Tipsy Crow.
770 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
I’ve been to the Crow a handful of times, the first time almost eight years ago when I lived in Los Angeles and dated a girl in San Diego. I remember it was the first bar that introduced me to the stock market gimmick, where a television depicts different prices of the drinks depending on its momentary made-up market value. Only the first floor was open — the rest remained a mystery.
Since then, the Crow has been my fallback on the rare occasion I am in the Gaslamp. I have poked my head in other establishments just to be disappointed. It was my friend’s first time in California, and he was delighted by it all. I had to take him to a place I trust.
We arrived shortly after happy hour. Again, only the first floor was open; the bar was practically empty. The cute Asian waitress wore mouse ears and brought us the menu, which had different daily offers. For that particular night it only read “Happy Halloween.” Our booth had a tin box filled with Jenga pieces with naughty instructions; a giant Connect Four sat at the end.
We ordered a couple of draft beers with a side of water: Green Flash IPA, and Mother Earth’s California Creamin’ (Vanilla Cream Ale) for $7.50 each. Mother Earth’s ale tasted like a melted vanilla milkshake (in a good way).
For food, my friend was especially excited for the Buffalo chicken dip appetizer ($7), which happens to be one of his favorite things, as well as a specialty of the Tipsy Crow. Also, two sammies ($11 each): El Cubano, and the Pacific Press. They both came with a bag of chips.
The sandwiches arrived before the appetizer. I was a little disappointed with the Cubano. It was a great ham sammie with Gruyère cheese, but not a Cuban. The Pacific Press was similar to the Cuban, but a tad better, with thin pineapple slices, another feature that my friend adored. The tomato and basil dipping sauce was a very nice compliment.
The appetizer never arrived, so we inquired with our waitress just as some Halloween folks started to arrive. She had forgotten the order, but my friend wasn’t leaving without his favorite appetizer. So we waited, and I started to read more about the Tipsy Crow on my phone.
I had no idea about the second floor game room, since it’s closed every time I visit. Nor did I have a clue about the basement dance room (nor did I care, since I can’t dance to save my own life). I also didn’t know it was one of the oldest bars in San Diego (though with a different name now). I wanted to check the upstairs, but a red velvet cord told me I wasn’t allowed; bouncer said the same thing.
The Buffalo chicken dip finally arrived, a small bowl with a thick crust of burnt cheese on top, and gooey, saucy, cheesy insides, with celery and toasted bread on the side. I found the dip much tastier with the celery than the bread, but maybe it was because I already had eaten a sandwich and we were having an appetizer for dessert. My friend was loving all of it, and loving downtown San Diego as we walked around, comparing it to how much better it is than downtown Louisville.