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Out With The Old, In With The Cool

I should start by saying that with all the folklore surrounding this particular lounge, I wasn’t sure I was qualified to state my opinion so boldly. It is true that I have set foot into this wonderland more than a few times and it has almost charmed the pants off of me while allowing for a laugh or two at the two worlds that seem to be colliding in this town which used to be a haven for rock’n’rollers. Alas, this is one of the only true bars left in North Park that cling to that alternative heritage, rather than giving in to the tide of regentrification that is plagueing our uptown scene. So, with no further ado, I give you Bar Pink.

The building on 30th street, that is now occupied by said cocktail lounge, has been tested and tried by other bar pioneers in the past with little success. I feel this matched the effort put in to create a worthwhile space for their patrons. Owner, John Reis, formerly of the famed San Diego band, Rocket From The Crypt, and his wife Ami, have done what seemed impossible prior. They have brought together a dark and intimate world that seems to reflect their lives and experiences.

The first thing you’ll notice as you enter is that the place is larger than one would think, given the size of the entry way. I definitely feel that the bar is the highlight of decor in the room. A horseshoe bar top of pink tile with silver sparkles greets you as you sit at one of the 17 comfy barstools. These are real cozy chairs, more like, attached to the floor with generous backs to lean into as you test the swivel potential. I could dangerously sit here for an entire evening. Above the bar are floating pseudo-bubbles that mirror the bubbles painted on the walls, as if some 12 year old girl must be lying in a coner, breathless from the effort, after filling the room with such glamour.

The wall art features several depictions of elephants either bathing in or drinking from martini glasses. My personal favorite is the one with olives fixed on to his four feet. There are elephants everywhere. Way up in the darkness over the back bar, there are situated elephant statues and characters that run the gamut. Poised cleverly amidst this is a Dumbo record that I would love to give a spin on my player. There is a pink stuffed elephant who sits atop the island in the middle of it all, guarding the cash registers from unwary guests. Oh, did I mention the six semi-circular black vinyl booths for your chilling pleasure, complete with an expedient cocktail waitress? This place makes it into my hall-of-fame.

Tonight was a gin night, so I ordered a Plymouth and soda for myself and a gin and tonic for my compatriot. Only $7.00 for the two. Am I dreaming? I get so used to the overpriced drinks at other bars that I am not sure if she only charged me for one drink. One thing I am ecstatic about, is the available canned beer selection which seems to rival the few drafts in their originality. I had not enjoyed Tiger Beer, from Singapore, since my foray into south east Asia some time ago and the colorful red and gold Tecate cans stood reverently on the bar topped with a perched lime wedge. They also have 7 signature concoctions for only $6.00 a pop. The Pink Elephant seemed like it would be an easy winner with vodka and pink lemonade, but the Sneaky Tiki (Ami’s famous drink) might have been a sure second. This one features coconut rum, almond liqeuer, sour mix and fruit juice (and two aspirin for the unavoidable hangover the next morning). The bartenders all look familiar, I remember Barbara and Robin from my days of gallavanting around Ocean Beach and dropping into Pacific Shores for a cold Coor’s Original and a spin of the original Sea Of Love on the jukebox. The concept of cheap drinks and good times seems to have followed them here. These keeps are well seasoned and and won’t take your whiney drivel, so leave it at the door. And they only take cash, so bring a couple of 20’s with you or you’ll be subjected to the dripping fangs of the ATM and it’s predatory fees.

The flat screen was tuned into TCM showing a 40’s film with, previous leader of the free world, Ronald Wilson Reagan and a horse swimming in rough waters at sea. Not to mention the unrecognized actor with the great mustache, as his suitor rival for the classy horse riding dame. There is a back room that is a bit more lit up with two pool tables that were occupied the entire time I was there. For more entertainment, there is a South Park pin ball machine and a multi-video game consule for your gaming pleasure. There is a slightly raised stage in the corner where they feature live music or DJs 7 days a week. This is quickly becoming the venue to play in town for more obscure acts that may not have the connections, but sometimes twice the talent. I happened in on a night when Sleepy Sun from San Francisco was taking the stage.

I felt once again trapped in the late sixties. The overly delayed and reverbed vocals sounded nice when the songs were in full bloom, but they should have turned it off while they were talking to the audience. I enjoyed the harmonies by the male and female singers, who reminded me of Marty Balin and Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane, but the band was all Sabbath! One of the guitarrists beat on a floor tom during a particularly unexpected change during the fifth song, which added to the rumbling of the adept drummer. The singer’s harmonica playing brings to mind Long Way Home by Supertramp, and he is clearly at one with the instrument. The rendition of The Chain by Fleetwood Mac left something to be desired, but I applauded their attempt to cover one of my favorite bands. These guys probably have a solid following up in the bay area where psychadelia still reigns.But what is with our insatiable desire to re-create the past?

The sound here is very good considering the size of the room and it’s acoustic proportions. The stage could suffer a 7 or 8 inch raise to rise above the standing crowd and give onlookers in back something more to see. After the droning of the band ebbed away, I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend by The Ramones came on over the speakers and soothed my pummeled eardrums, inspiring me to order another cocktail. One of my favorite things about Bar Pink’s website is the cool poster archive that is worth a good look. This is a catalogue of past band flyer art that has been saved to document the club and talent history.

The night pleasantly ended with Dumbo’s psychadelic dream playing on the television. Watching the flying elephant and his mouse trainer traipse through hallucinogenic visions brought to mind what might be happening as these patrons are leaving the bar and journeying home after a night of reverie and rock. It feels good to be somewhere that takes you out of your everday life and places in you in a bit of a fantasy world, be it for just a few hours. Thank you Bar Pink.

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: 619-564-7194
  • Name: Bar Pink
  • Address: 3829 30th Street