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Awash In Memories


The Kensington Club
Copyright©2009 sandiego.com, Inc.

Just past the 15 freeway, off of Adams Avenue is a little nugget of joy referred to as Kensington. This area has a couple of tasty restaurants, Bleu Boheme and Kensington Grill, but the star over here is the dive bar that corners the street. I feel like I have been coming to the Kensington Club for over a decade and while it maintains it’s dive integrity, I have seen it go through some changes.

When I first started coming to The Ken, lounge music was back and Frank was king again. They had DJ Wendy O’Rourke on Wednesdays spinning Dean Martin tunes with a flair and fedoras rested on slickly combed heads. Junior was tending bar and creating some fine manhattans. As time carried on, they added a second room and live music became a mainstay here.

This is one of the longest bars in town. There are so many stools along this narrow stretch from the entrance to the back door. There are beer mirrors everywhere which seem to expand the darkness a little bit. On this occasion, I walked into karaoke night. A sleepy tuesday night, but there seemed to be a crowd of well worn regulars gracing the premises. Someone was singing a Jackson Browne tune rather non melodically, kind of fitting for the whiskey interior of this place. I would have been reasonably taken aback if someone had been singing a Christina Aguilera song with perfect pitch and cadence.

The drinks here are cheap and stiff. There is a suitable selection of beers on the 8 draft handles. There is also a freestanding Guinness draft handle which offers a pub like feel. There was a bottle of Meridian cabernet sauvignon sitting on top of the back bar, but I wouldn’t trust how long it may have been open for. You can play sport with your reflection on the red lit bar length mirror, or wonder at the skulls encased in clear bowling balls on top of the bar. There is also a glass fronted case housing vintage cocktail shakers and an old school ice crusher. Possibly, these artifacts were once used here as this bar has been serving the community since 1936.

If you’re feeling sporting, there are two pool tables, electronic darts, and a Silver Strike bowling video game. Personally, I prefer people watching and engaging in conversation with whomever might end up next to you along the bar top. The juke box is full of rock and punk, both modern and classic. There are 4 small TV screens of which one was not working and the other was showing the lyrics to the revelers as they sang their hearts out.

On the weekends and some weeknights, if you mosey into the adjacent room, you’ll see live music of all varieties. This second room is larger and I sometimes wish it was used more regularly by the bar room crowd. The bordello mood in this room can cause an entirely differen’t mood. There is a satellite bar in here that is in use on these nights and several large booths where you can sit with friends to enjoy the show. There is also a dance floor which will often be filled with wiggling bodies if the music inspires it. I have seen and played several shows here and my complaint is always the same, the sound system needs a reboot. Whether on stage or off, the audio quality will leave you with something to be desired. If the music ever gets to be too much, you can seek refuge in the former side.

Make sure to check your wallet before venturing here as this is a cash only establishment. There is an ATM across the street as a last resort. Underneath the neon lit signage, you’ll often see a small crowd gathering in tobacco fueled companionship. Sheez, I just remembered that this was the first bar I walked into after the smoking ban and thought that something was missing inside. The smoke! Maybe that gave the bar a more mysterious appeal back then, but the Ken Club still sparks up some great adventures for the late night bar goer.

I finished off my beer as my friend did a rustic version Nirvana’s “Memory” and found myself craving a clove cigarette. Awash in my own memories, we raced off into the night, knowing we would be back again before too long. Truly one of the best dive bars in town.

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: 619-284-2848
  • Name: The Kensington Club
  • Address: 4079 Adams Avenue