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Waterfront Bar & Grill: chomp ’n chat with good vibes

“They always have something free going. Sausages, tacos, sliders, things like that.”

Lone tunaman statue tells us who the place is really for.
Lone tunaman statue tells us who the place is really for.

Needed some company. Little Italy had plenty of people, but there was no real action at the Happy Hour places. Somehow ended up on Kettner. Somehow ended up opposite the Waterfront. Huh. No big mention of Happy Hour, but plenty of folks of all ages looking pretty happy, inside and out. And all talking, snacking, and slurping.

Place

Waterfront Bar & Grill

2044 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego

Another plus: as you get closer, you can hear Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac crooning out “Dreams,” but not so loudly that you can’t hear the bar chat between patrons and baristas (Barista at a bar? I know. “Barista” started off being applied to coffee workers only. But it is too good a title to be siloed in da cawfee world alone. Besides, it takes care of the gender issue.)

Affable barkeeps, brothers James and Tom, show off their panther tats.

Also: last time I was here it was ker-owded. No seats. No table space. Right now, around 5:30 pm, those who’ve drifted in are kinda wide-eyed, like, “It’s five o’clock somewhere and hey! That somewhere’s here!”

“Do you have any happy hour deals going?” I ask the guy at the register.

“Well, how good a deal do you want?”

“Good as you can make it,” I say.

“Does ‘free’ sound good enough?” he says.

And he points to a steaming chafing dish at the end of the bar.

“Free?”

“Free,” says the guy on the stool next to me. “They always have something free going. Sausages, tacos, sliders, things like that.”

“Beets, Brussels, Bleu” salad. Best of the dishes: a salad you can actually like!

Wow. Free is good. Am a little light of wallet right now. I order a St. Archer hazy IPA ($6.75), and head off for the chafing dish. Huh. Quesadilla wedges. And it strikes me: I could just eat these piping-hot wedges all night long, and get off scot-free, food-wise.

And truth to tell, two of these warm, squelchy, crisp-skinned quesadillas would be enough. I swear they have chicken chunks in them, too. Deal! Specially as outside HH, a quesadilla costs $9.95, plus $3.95 extra for chicken or carne asada.

So yeah, I grab my freebie, and it should be enough. Two things change this: my greedy eyes, and the fact that I’ve just seen the salad of my dreams flash before me. It’s called “Beets, Brussels, Bleu,” and I’m thinking that would make the perfect contrast to the quesadilla. It costs $10.95. I order it, and — okay, I know I need to see a shrink about this — but I can’t resist adding an entire ’nother plate to my order. It’s the Waterfront Dip, which is basically a grilled toasted cheese sourdough sandwich with a bowl of “Charlie Jones’ famous chili.” Not a clue as to who Charlie Jones is, unless he’s that deep-voiced sportscaster of yore from NBC.

Love conquers all: Sandy and Brandon at The Waterfront before returning to freezing Arkansas.

It takes no more than five minutes for them to bring it all out. So now it’s chomp ’n chat time. And here’s what I like about this bar. Everybody just settles in with whoever’s closest. No exclusivity. Soon enough, I’m talking with Jay, who’s sitting on my left, and Brandon and his wife Sandy on my right. They’re seeking shelter here from the seven-below cold of Arkansas. Then there are the two most entertaining bar guys around: James and his younger brother, Tom. You look at their arms, and you get a clue these two are tight. “See?” says James. They hold their limbs out. Each has had an identical panther tattooed on his upper arm. They kind of set the tone here. Cheery, familial, talkative when they’re not rushing to other customers. They let you sample a beer. They talk about it. It strikes me, the Waterfront as club is probably a long tradition here. It’s where San Diego’s famous Portuguese and Italian tuna fishermen hung out after hours of hauling in giant fighting tuna, out at sea off San Diego. Pics of those days hang on walls. That’s why this place always opened at six in the morning: to be ready for the tuna men when they came in after an all-night battle at sea. Now, the tuna have been fished out, and (partly thanks to covid), the tuna men have disappeared, too, so now the Waterfront doesn’t open till 8 am. Whatever, I already feel I could make this place my regular go-to. Jay says to come back on the weekends. “That’s when they have the greatest Mexican breakfast. Or if you want to eat vegan, soyrizo burritos. Marinated!”

I get back to chomping through my Waterfront Dip — grilled American cheese sandwich, sourdough, accompanied by that bowl of “Charlie Jones’ famous chili.” It’s good, but honestly, neither the chili nor the toasted cheese sandwich can compete with the fresh, sweet marinated beet and spinach of the “Beets, Brussels, Bleu” salad. It’s so excellent I don’t want it to end. The marinated, roasted golden beets are sweet jewels. The blackened sprouts’ burnt balsamic taste is ultra tangy/dark and deeply caramelized. The bleu cheese, tomato, red onion, Dijon vinaigrette, the hint of balsamic on top keep the flavors flying around your mouth.

I get one more St. Archer Hazy IPA just to stretch the strong salad flavors out, and okay, also because the vibes are so good here. It turns out I’m not the first customer who doesn’t want to leave. “San Diego’s oldest Tavern,” say signs all over the place. “Since 1933.” Since Prohibition, in other words.

Actually there’s dispute over that “oldest pub” title with the Tivoli, which goes back to 1885. Licensing, Prohibition, and continuity cloud the issue. Either way, these places are where our grandfathers, mothers, whatever hied off to, to recoup their sanity. Places like the Waterfront somehow nailed it with a combo of good nature, reasonable prices, and a kind of generosity of spirit. Man. If you could just put this place’s formula in a bottle, you’d be a millionaire.

  • The Place: Waterfront Bar & Grill, 2044 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy, 619-232-9656
  • Hours: 8am-2am daily
  • Happy Hour: 4-7pm daily (but check with bar)
  • Prices: Usually free: an appetizer like quesadilla slices or sliders during happy hour; regular quesadilla, $9.95 ($3.95 extra for chicken or carne asada); Waterfront slider, with grilled onions, cheese, $3.50; six buffalo wings, $9.95; Texas cheese burger (half-pound), $12.95; jalapeño bacon burger, $13.95; beet salad with Brussels sprouts and bleu cheese, $10.95
  • Buses: 83, 280, 290
  • Nearest Bus Stops: Kettner and Cedar (83); Pacific Highway at Cedar (280, 290);
  • Trolleys: Green Line, Blue Line
  • Nearest Trolley Stop, County Center/Little Italy (between Beech and Cedar)
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Lone tunaman statue tells us who the place is really for.
Lone tunaman statue tells us who the place is really for.

Needed some company. Little Italy had plenty of people, but there was no real action at the Happy Hour places. Somehow ended up on Kettner. Somehow ended up opposite the Waterfront. Huh. No big mention of Happy Hour, but plenty of folks of all ages looking pretty happy, inside and out. And all talking, snacking, and slurping.

Place

Waterfront Bar & Grill

2044 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego

Another plus: as you get closer, you can hear Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac crooning out “Dreams,” but not so loudly that you can’t hear the bar chat between patrons and baristas (Barista at a bar? I know. “Barista” started off being applied to coffee workers only. But it is too good a title to be siloed in da cawfee world alone. Besides, it takes care of the gender issue.)

Affable barkeeps, brothers James and Tom, show off their panther tats.

Also: last time I was here it was ker-owded. No seats. No table space. Right now, around 5:30 pm, those who’ve drifted in are kinda wide-eyed, like, “It’s five o’clock somewhere and hey! That somewhere’s here!”

“Do you have any happy hour deals going?” I ask the guy at the register.

“Well, how good a deal do you want?”

“Good as you can make it,” I say.

“Does ‘free’ sound good enough?” he says.

And he points to a steaming chafing dish at the end of the bar.

“Free?”

“Free,” says the guy on the stool next to me. “They always have something free going. Sausages, tacos, sliders, things like that.”

“Beets, Brussels, Bleu” salad. Best of the dishes: a salad you can actually like!

Wow. Free is good. Am a little light of wallet right now. I order a St. Archer hazy IPA ($6.75), and head off for the chafing dish. Huh. Quesadilla wedges. And it strikes me: I could just eat these piping-hot wedges all night long, and get off scot-free, food-wise.

And truth to tell, two of these warm, squelchy, crisp-skinned quesadillas would be enough. I swear they have chicken chunks in them, too. Deal! Specially as outside HH, a quesadilla costs $9.95, plus $3.95 extra for chicken or carne asada.

So yeah, I grab my freebie, and it should be enough. Two things change this: my greedy eyes, and the fact that I’ve just seen the salad of my dreams flash before me. It’s called “Beets, Brussels, Bleu,” and I’m thinking that would make the perfect contrast to the quesadilla. It costs $10.95. I order it, and — okay, I know I need to see a shrink about this — but I can’t resist adding an entire ’nother plate to my order. It’s the Waterfront Dip, which is basically a grilled toasted cheese sourdough sandwich with a bowl of “Charlie Jones’ famous chili.” Not a clue as to who Charlie Jones is, unless he’s that deep-voiced sportscaster of yore from NBC.

Love conquers all: Sandy and Brandon at The Waterfront before returning to freezing Arkansas.

It takes no more than five minutes for them to bring it all out. So now it’s chomp ’n chat time. And here’s what I like about this bar. Everybody just settles in with whoever’s closest. No exclusivity. Soon enough, I’m talking with Jay, who’s sitting on my left, and Brandon and his wife Sandy on my right. They’re seeking shelter here from the seven-below cold of Arkansas. Then there are the two most entertaining bar guys around: James and his younger brother, Tom. You look at their arms, and you get a clue these two are tight. “See?” says James. They hold their limbs out. Each has had an identical panther tattooed on his upper arm. They kind of set the tone here. Cheery, familial, talkative when they’re not rushing to other customers. They let you sample a beer. They talk about it. It strikes me, the Waterfront as club is probably a long tradition here. It’s where San Diego’s famous Portuguese and Italian tuna fishermen hung out after hours of hauling in giant fighting tuna, out at sea off San Diego. Pics of those days hang on walls. That’s why this place always opened at six in the morning: to be ready for the tuna men when they came in after an all-night battle at sea. Now, the tuna have been fished out, and (partly thanks to covid), the tuna men have disappeared, too, so now the Waterfront doesn’t open till 8 am. Whatever, I already feel I could make this place my regular go-to. Jay says to come back on the weekends. “That’s when they have the greatest Mexican breakfast. Or if you want to eat vegan, soyrizo burritos. Marinated!”

I get back to chomping through my Waterfront Dip — grilled American cheese sandwich, sourdough, accompanied by that bowl of “Charlie Jones’ famous chili.” It’s good, but honestly, neither the chili nor the toasted cheese sandwich can compete with the fresh, sweet marinated beet and spinach of the “Beets, Brussels, Bleu” salad. It’s so excellent I don’t want it to end. The marinated, roasted golden beets are sweet jewels. The blackened sprouts’ burnt balsamic taste is ultra tangy/dark and deeply caramelized. The bleu cheese, tomato, red onion, Dijon vinaigrette, the hint of balsamic on top keep the flavors flying around your mouth.

I get one more St. Archer Hazy IPA just to stretch the strong salad flavors out, and okay, also because the vibes are so good here. It turns out I’m not the first customer who doesn’t want to leave. “San Diego’s oldest Tavern,” say signs all over the place. “Since 1933.” Since Prohibition, in other words.

Actually there’s dispute over that “oldest pub” title with the Tivoli, which goes back to 1885. Licensing, Prohibition, and continuity cloud the issue. Either way, these places are where our grandfathers, mothers, whatever hied off to, to recoup their sanity. Places like the Waterfront somehow nailed it with a combo of good nature, reasonable prices, and a kind of generosity of spirit. Man. If you could just put this place’s formula in a bottle, you’d be a millionaire.

  • The Place: Waterfront Bar & Grill, 2044 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy, 619-232-9656
  • Hours: 8am-2am daily
  • Happy Hour: 4-7pm daily (but check with bar)
  • Prices: Usually free: an appetizer like quesadilla slices or sliders during happy hour; regular quesadilla, $9.95 ($3.95 extra for chicken or carne asada); Waterfront slider, with grilled onions, cheese, $3.50; six buffalo wings, $9.95; Texas cheese burger (half-pound), $12.95; jalapeño bacon burger, $13.95; beet salad with Brussels sprouts and bleu cheese, $10.95
  • Buses: 83, 280, 290
  • Nearest Bus Stops: Kettner and Cedar (83); Pacific Highway at Cedar (280, 290);
  • Trolleys: Green Line, Blue Line
  • Nearest Trolley Stop, County Center/Little Italy (between Beech and Cedar)
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