Banzai appears a dive of some unknown opulent universe.
Cousins Chad Cline and Jason “Rocky” Nichols come from a long lineage of dives. Their great-grandfather purchased the Waterfront Bar (whose liquor license dates back to the end of Prohibition) around the late ‘60s. While Cline, Nichols, and their grandmother carry on the Waterfront’s legacy, the cousins have gone on to establish a county-wide family of what they’ve branded as “neighborhood dives” including Eastbound (Lakeside), The Hills (La Mesa), and Werewolf (Gaslamp).
3048 Midway Drive, San Diego
Last September, Banzai Bar debuted as the youngest relative (and official home of the San Diego Gulls), though I’m not sure in what opulent universe this place could ever be considered a “dive,” especially when held new to previous tenants, the punk-as-you-please Shakedown Bar. It’s like calling Prince a Hells Angel. Sure, some of the symptoms are there — the bike, the fashion statement, even the drugs — but there’s something crass and vital missing. Fact is, the place looks great. Both sun and breeze are welcome here. The patio is beautiful and the food is fantastic. But Morena District, with its seedy strip clubs and sprawling swap meet, is among the diviest neighborhoods around, so what the heck? Dive away.
Thursday afternoon. Locals poke in with their dogs alongside professionals in full suit, a retired stripper, soldiers, and surfers. Duran Duran videos play on a flatscreen between Sunday Night Football recaps and a nature documentary. Equal parts tiki lounge, sports bar, and surfer haunt, the 1300-square-foot Banzai is clean, modern, and spackled in surf and skate stickers. An accordion mirror lines one wall and a 400-gallon aquarium adorns the other. In the back, keyhole arches cover a hallway lined with a retro, tri-tone stripe suggestive of a roller rink. If you’re lucky, the red rack stored in the hallway will be hanging by the projector screen, where you can root for Rocket (read: vibrator) Races to win menu items and local sex shop paraphernalia.
The bar offers 16 taps of crafts and macros along with a beachy cocktail menu and rotating catalog of international whiskeys (by the glass or bottles to-go). Order from Banzai’s Cali-island pub fare menu at the bar and wait for your name (often with a playful twist) to be hollered from the kitchen. Ahi tacos, burgers, and bánh mì sliders are a fine place to start.
Disputed semantics aside, Banzai is making a name for itself in checkered but changing Morena, dive or no dive.
Prices: Beer, $4 – 7; wells, $4.75; cocktails, $8 – 9; Kung Fu Punch Bowl, $28; pitchers, $12 – 18.
Happy: 3pm – 6pm, MON – FRI; $4 drafts, wells, wine; $2 sliders (cheese $.50).
Hours: MON – THURS, 11am – 12am; FRI, 11am – 2am; SAT, 9am – 2am; SUN, 9am – 12am.
Food: SoCal meets SoPac pub fare.
Capacity: about 100 inside, 30 outside.
Parking: Out back, follow alley next to bar.
Events: Taco Tuesday, $2 chicken and poke; Wednesday karaoke; $20 bottomless mimosas, 9am – 2pm, SAT – SUN, includes breakfast.
Note: No smoking on patio. Go out back.
The Deal: Padres Power Hour, $1 Bud drafts when the Pads win.