“I tawt I taw a baw monstah.”
Were it not for the name and the salvaged “CUSTOM SERVICE” sign overlooking the pool table, you might not guess that the Clutch was once an auto shop before becoming a neighborhood bar in the ’60s. Recent memory will recall it as a sketchy dive affectionately known as the Mo (“Morena”) Club. The garage got a tune-up in mid-2015 when owner Robert, a Providence transplant, buffed out Mo’s edges and reopened the location as a polished beer and cocktail lounge.
1319 Morena Boulevard, San Diego
Robert offers me a sample of the daily whiskey as he introduces patrons to one another. There’s a woman on her way to do taxes, an older gentleman who calls two his limit and hits the road, and then — what’s this? — a rare sighting of the Bar Monster? Look at this beast!
He comes out of nowhere like an upset timing belt, making loud noises about shots for the whole bar and leaving the entire discography of AC/DC squealing from the vintage jukebox in his wake. He’s a dying breed, big, boisterous Gabriel, who shakes my hand for too long, questions my sexuality, and buys me a shot all in the same breath.
“Fuck this being-on-your-phone shit,” he declares as we cheers our whiskeys, even though nobody is on their phone anyway. “You can drink alone at home. We’re here to talk.”
So we talk about how he used to be racially profiled in East County for driving a low-rider and spent most of high school in juvi, and now he buys shots for everyone that will talk to him as a matter of protocol. There aren’t many left like him. His natural habitat of unruly conversation and the singular urge to booze is grossly endangered. Perhaps sensitive to this fact, Robert gives him our shots on the house. And for about 20 minutes, the Bar Monster thrives here. He elicits names from everyone in earshot in exchange for a piece of forgettable Mötley Crüe trivia and then, migratory creature that he is, he disappears.
The instance seems fairly indicative of how the mood in the small space shifts over the course of the day with the injection of one or two high-octane personalities. Which is to say, your mileage may vary. Regardless, Robert will be there to make sure you don’t feel like a stranger. If you’re lucky, the Bar Monster will be, too.
Prices: pints, $4–7.50; cocktails $6+
Food: free popcorn, several take-out options nearby
Hours: 3pm–2am daily, earlier on football weekends
Happy: all day Monday; Tuesday–Friday, 3–7pm; $1 off everything
Parking: out front, on Morena Boulevard, and on Tecolote
All-the-time specials: $9 craft Irish Car Bombs, $8 PBR and Jameson, $6 Rolling Rock and Old Overholt Rye
Daily specials: Monday, all-night happy hour and free pool; Tuesday, $5 Teeling whiskey, trivia, 8pm; Wednesday, $5 Moscow Mules, karaoke, 9pm–1am; Thursday, $5 Orange Crush; Friday, $5 Jim Beam sours; Saturday and Sunday, $6 margaritas