Bar Pink brightens SD city streets

by Kevin Smead

North Park dive attracts patrons with affordable drinks and jams.| Paige Nelson, staff photographer
North Park dive attracts patrons with affordable drinks and jams.| Paige Nelson, staff photographer

The North Park of today is a far cry from the North Park of 10 years ago. At the turn of the century, the neighborhood was relatively dangerous and typically overlooked as a place to enjoy a night out. However, today it draws San Diegans with trendy bars lining both sides of 30th Street while the hippest of folks can be seen walking the streets on any given evening. North Park’s renaissance has given way to a booming bar scene, now ranking among the top nightlife hotspots in the city.

With so many local hangouts to choose from, someone not familiar with North Park can feel a bit overwhelmed. However, one stands out from the rest, and not just because of its neon pink sign.

Bar Pink on 30th Street and University Avenue is a dive. It’s dark, relatively small and drinks are dirt cheap. While many hear “dive bar” and conjure images of a seedy establishment, Bar Pink’s reality is quite the opposite. It is unassuming, doesn’t care about appearance and may be the friendliest place in town.

This is not a nightclub. Inside, booths big enough for five or six patrons line the right side of the walls with the bar directly across. There’s a small stage and a separate room that houses several pool tables toward the back.

The bar is also home to old arcade cabinets (though none come close to the excellence of Soda Bar’s original Battletoads machine) and an ATM next to the bar, which is convenient considering the establishment is cash only. Above the bar, properly lit pink orbs hang from the ceiling, as if to create an illusion of slight intoxication. A few standing tables are scattered in the front section of the joint and there’s room to get funky near the stage.

Bar Pink definitely makes use of its stage. Almost every night, it has some form of entertainment. From disc jockeys to punk bands, the weekly lineup is anything but boring. Its best asset may be the frequent appearance of San Diego’s funk prodigy, The Styletones. Though it performs fairly regularly at a number of local venues, the best place to see a Styletones show remains Bar Pink.

This eclectic selection of music comes as no surprise when the bar’s founder is taken into account. Bar Pink opened in 2007 as Bar Pink Elephant by local music legend John Reis, who is perhaps better known as The Swami. Reis is a former member of legacy San Diego punk bands such as Rocket From The Crypt, Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes, which recently played a reunion show at Bar Pink.

Reis’ influence digs deeper than just the music, though. Drinks are simple, inexpensive and strong. Bar Pink hasn’t completely avoided the “craft” movement with its cocktails and beers, but it definitely doesn’t attempt to shove alcohol artistry down your throat with $10 drinks. Most drinks generally run for less than $5. The bar’s signature drink is the Pink Elephant, boasting only two ingredients: vodka and pink lemonade.

This simplicity is a refreshing and welcome reprieve from the sometimes over-the-top craft cocktail movement currently flooding the local bar scene. Though it’s not the classiest place in town, Bar Pink remains a chill landmark everyone can enjoy.