Drinking in San Diego: How It Compares to Phoenix's Cocktail Scene
San Diegans are probably sick of the sight of us "Zonies," as they refer to us. During summer months, it's pretty much guaranteed that many Phoenicians will head to the city to escape and when we do it seems every time there's a bevy of new food and drink spots popping up that warrant a visit. While San Diego's unique style is cementing its place in the world of imbibing, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's leagues ahead of us in terms of cocktail culture.
Heather Hoch For one thing, San Diego has cocktails by the beach... so, yeah.
Although San Diego is known by beer lovers as a haven for microbreweries, with Mike Hess, Alpine, Ballast Point, and many, many more, the cocktail scene is also strong.
With several outposts from famed New York and Los Angeles bar owners, it's almost like an unfair advantage for San Diego, though we don't necessarily begrudge them it since the chance to drive a very short distance and still experience some of the best of the best is great regardless.
For example, the now defunct pop-up speakeasy Frauds & Swindlers in the Gaslamp District was a product of L.A.'s Aidan Demarest (Neat) and Dave Whitton (Villian's Tavern). Sam Ross of New York's Milk & Honey helped open Noble Experiment.
That doesn't mean San Diego doesn't have a voice of its own to share though. Jen Queen, formerly of Prepkitchen, moved bars in Little Italy to open Juniper + Ivy. The local favorite most recently had drinks on the menu with scotch and mezcal, blackberries and rye, and the requisite Mai Tai. Queen also makes an amaro in house.
Back to Noble Experiment, you get your first taste of a Consortium Holdings bar. Think of CH like the Fox Restaurant Concepts of San Diego, except (and I'm just going to put this out there flat) way, way better. If you can actually get into Noble Experiment, which demands a reservation, you'll get one of those legit speakeasy experiences that doesn't make you roll your eyes.
Heather Hoch Abandon all hope of a cocktail menu, ye who enter here.
First off, getting there takes some figuring out. You go through another bar called the Neighborhood, to the back, past the bathrooms, and to a keg wall. That keg wall isn't actually a keg wall though-- it's a façade that opens to a bright neon sign that reads "Noble Experiment." The hostess leads you back to the bar, where one wall covered in fake skulls like a Czech chapel and the other is covered in ornate paintings with gilded frames.
There's no menu at Noble Experiment--it's an experiment after all. Instead you explain what spirits and flavor profiles you like and they make something up, being deftly trained in the ways of "Professor" Jerry Thomas. Understandably, some might find this on-the-spot drink improvisation off-putting and others might find the concept in general a little too much for their vacation drinking. Of CH bars, this one's going to be a bit pricier at about $15 or $16 per drink.