That tremor you just felt is change coming to Downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. The megaclubs are on their way.
Soon, Stingaree at Sixth and Island will be replaced by Hakkasan, a restaurant and nightclub whose Las Vegas location at the MGM Grand includes a 60,000-square-foot club. Earlier this year, the London-based Hakkasan Ltd. acquired a majority stake in Enlightened Hospitality Group, owners of Stingaree and the Gaslamp’s Searsucker, among other restaurant properties.
Remember On Broadway, the 40,000-square-foot place-to-be in the early 2000s at Sixth and Broadway? This fall it will become the indoor/outdoor Parq Nightclub & Restaurant, with plans to mirror the Vegas/Miami/New York club experience in a major, glamorous way. Another name destination, Cake Nightclub from Scottsdale, will occupy the former Ole Madrid space on Fifth sometime next year.
In the meantime, the core of the Gaslamp Quarter will be redefined with the 2015 opening of the 1.3-acre Horton Plaza Park, which will be equipped to host 200 events a year. Also next year, just a few blocks north of the Gaslamp, the longtime 1,500-seat 4th & B concert space will become Avalon Hollywood’s new San Diego location, offering both live and DJ-spun music.
Add all of this to the existing Gaslamp vibe — Fluxx, Bassmnt, and the new AD Nightclub on Fourth, the Hard Rock Hotel and the Onyx Room on Fifth, and f6ix and the Andaz Rooftop600 on F Street, just to scratch the asphalt surface — and you have a nightlife hub that’s going off, and still growing.
“You’ve started hearing people in L.A. and New York talking about the Gaslamp,” says Bayless Cobb, principal partner and visionary behind AD Nightclub, which opened this summer in the onetime Red Circle space on E Street. “San Diegans have become much more demanding and sophisticated when it comes to culinary and nightlife [offerings]. They’ve traveled to L.A. and Vegas, so they have expectations. They expect ‘A’ level.”
Cobb foresees the new megaclubs emulating the business model that has thrived in cities like Vegas, bringing in major performing and DJ talent and heightening the nightclub experience to one that gives customers what mere concert halls cannot. He sees himself well-positioned for the new landscape. “With all these megaclubs and with what the city and Westfield [Group] are doing to create the heart of the Gaslamp, we’re right at the center.”
But the GQ revolution isn’t spinning exclusively at techno speed.
Union Kitchen & Tap’s Fifth Avenue location just up the street from the Convention Center sits just right for general manager Johnny Leal, who opened in the Gaslamp in April (the other Union Kitchen & Tap is in Encinitas). Leal calls his Gaslamp place “a Chargers bar,” and he’s not competing with the massive, bottle-service nightclubs. “We have a lot of regulars from the Encinitas location and a lot of locals coming by. We’re very inviting.”
Like Leal, Nicole Dahm, who operates the Lucky Bastard Saloon in the north Gaslamp on Fifth, is happy running a sports bar specializing in burgers. “I don’t feel like I’m being overlooked for the big clubs because it’s such a different demographic they pull from and world they’re running. It’s great that the Gaslamp is creating a melting pot of different things. I welcome them all because it means more foot traffic.”
Then there’s Damon Barone, whose restaurant company runs an underground speakeasy beneath the (temporarily) closed Nicky Rotten’s that doesn’t even have a sign advertising it. (Hint: Look for the door bearing the words “Law Offices of Eddie O’Hare.”) But word of mouth is making Prohibition a hot spot in the Gaslamp Quarter. Reminiscent of the illicit speakeasies of the ’20s, Prohibition serves up drinks and live music (primarily jazz, blues, and soul) three nights a week. “It’s off the beaten path,” Barone says of Prohibition. He also says: “It’s never dull.”
Megaclubs. Sports bars. Speakeasies. All neighbors in San Diego’s most happening neighborhood. “The success of the Gaslamp is that it can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” says Jimmy Parker, executive director of the Gaslamp Quarter Association. “The Gaslamp is this region’s downtown.”
Parker won’t reveal all that’s still to come in the Gaslamp, but he will say: “There are a lot of things on the drawing board.”
Today, the drawing board. Tomorrow, get in line. David L. Coddon
Lucky Bastard, Union: Photography by vincent Knakal Prohibition: Photo by Phillip Collum AD Nightclub: Photo by Elizabeth Daniels Photography