The Hot List: Where To Find The Best Cocktail Bars in San Diego Right Now, January 2023

San Diego has always had a reputation as a ‘party’ town, but it now also has some of the best cocktail bars on Earth for those looking for quality over quantity. While we’re grateful for the abundance of five-star cocktail bars in San Diego, sometimes having so many choices can make it difficult to come to a decision.

To help you out, we’ve curated a list of our favorite cocktail bars in San Diego at the moment for those nights when you’re on a hot date and want to impress, celebrating something special, or just feel like something stiff.

Check back often…we’re committed to doing the hard work of tracking down San Diego’s best cocktails on your behalf, and we’ll keep this list updated as new bars open and new menus are released.

It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it 😉

Wormwood

We can’t say enough good things about Wormwood. Whether you come for the food, atmosphere, or cocktails – you’ll get the best in San Diego.

But for now, let’s focus on the cocktails! Grab a seat at their intimate bar if you can find a seat, or sit down for dinner in their restaurant or garden; both feel like they are straight out of Paris. The perfect environment to be treated to some of the best cocktails in San Diego.

For the more adventurous, enjoy absinthe served in slow-drip fountains with a cube of sugar, in the tradition of how it was served in the early 20th century streets of Paris, or take part in revisited absinthe classics including the Sazerac and the A La Louisiane, as well as a selection of non-absinthe choices highlighting other beautiful liquors.

Frankie’s

The headline of the website for Frankie’s in Oceanside says ‘Sip something timeless’, which is exactly what we love about this ‘social lounge’. The “handsome little cocktail bar completely run by bartenders and barbacks” (so you know you’re getting the good stuff!) now offers an abbreviated food menu by Q&A Restaurant and Oyster Bar located next door at The Brick Hotel, but we’ll be heading there for the cocktails.

The “I Hate It Here” cocktail (pictured), includes bourbon, crème de cacao, banana, demerara, lavender, cold brew, and a whole lotta love.

Marisi

We had heard all of the buzz about Marisi coming for the better part of a year; it was worth the wait!

We expected really good, fresh Italian food and wine from Marisi, but we didn’t realize the cocktail bar was going to be such a standout!

Both the bar itself and the classic cocktails that are made there are gorgeous and well-worth the visit even if you aren’t staying for dinner.

The gorgeous Manhattan pictured above is poured with bourbon or rye, Italian vermouth, and bitters.

Botanica

North Park’s relative newcomer, Botanica, is the newest concept from San Diego’s Be Saha Hospitality Group (Tahona, Wormwood).

Located within North Park’s Art Produce building, Botanica brings an immersive drinking and social experience to San Diego through its focus on genever and gin, creative bites, and modern art, including an NFT digital art gallery.

The cocktails are works of art, themselves.

Born and Raised

You really can’t beat a simple martini or the B&R Old Fashioned (our favorite in San Diego!) at Born and Raised for a classy night out that feels more like a steakhouse experience you’d expect to find in New York rather than San Diego.

Most nights we prefer the open air and Little Italy views at their upstairs bar, but there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

Youngblood

A true speakeasy is one that is hard to find, and if you don’t have friends that will go on a hunt to find the best cocktails in town, you might not know that Youngblood even exists. Hidden in the back of East Village’s recently updated Neighborhood is Nobel Experiment, one of San Diego’s most famous speakeasies.

But having one legendary speakeasy within Neighborhood’s walls wasn’t enough…oh no…so they recently added a second! Youngblood’s 3-course cocktail experience and intimate 16-seat bar, floor-to-ceiling bar shelves, custom lighting, and Parisian carpet will seemingly transport you to a different time and place for the evening.

For $65 you will get a 90-minute slot to enjoy the cocktails of the night, chosen by the talented crew behind the bar. Reservations well in advance are highly recommended and can be made online.

We’re thrilled about this newcomer to the Little Italy scene! The revolving centerpiece after which the bar is named was originally built and immortalized in 1881 by German carousel master carver and builder, Charles I.D. Looff — nicknamed “Wolfie” by friends.

The cocktails are out of this world, the menu is straight from a Parisian bistro, and the revolving centerpiece creates one of the most interesting people-watching opportunities in San Diego!

Starlite

Starlite has been a favorite of ours since we first stepped foot in it years ago – it never lets us down. This San Diego gem, nestled on an unassuming corner of India Street in Mission Hills, has some of the best food and cocktails in San Diego and a mid-century modern environment that is simultaneously sophisticated and feels like a very comfortable neighborhood bar at the same time. Being able to pull that off says a lot about the talent of Starlite’s founder Matt Hoyt, whose recent sudden passing makes us even more nostalgic about the great meals and drinks we’ve had here over the years.

Now being operated by Consortium Holdings (Youngblood, Born and Raised, Raised by Wolves…all on this list), we expect nothing but incredible service, food, and cocktails for years to come.

Dolly’s at Hoxton Square

Dolly’s is a relative newcomer that we heard some chatter about, so we decided to hunt it down. And ‘hunt’ is the right word…you will NEVER stumble upon this bar – you have to want it! 😉 And we aren’t going to make it easy on you by giving you clear directions either…that will just get this place overrun fast! And it’s worth the work.

The understated rooftop bar serves classic cocktails in the perfect setting to bring a handful of friends to gather for conversation over drinks. It’s not big enough for anything else…which is why we think it’s perfect!

Rest assured, however, that this is no dive bar. The bartenders, Matt Boone (Old Man Bar, Reading Club) and Will Pidd (Young Blood, J&Tony’s) are some of the best in the business and love making you feel right at home.

Madison on Park

Madison has received plenty of well-deserved praise for its beautiful cocktails and stunning architectural design over the years, and it’s a perennial favorite of ours. Whether you take a seat at their intimate bar or grab a table for dinner, you can’t go wrong.

Tahona & Oculto 477

Tahona is a modern Mexican bar known for its Mezcal offerings. This rustic little hacienda aims to honor Mexican culture and its iconic beverage. Here you will find Oaxacan-inspired food along with over 120 various mezcals, hand-selected by their team. Their cocktail menu ranges from refreshing and creative, to spicy and delicious, to stirred and boozy. We recommend taking part in the tasting experiences; not only is it fun but you also learn a lot and get to sip on rare and delicious mezcal.

Hidden in the back of Tahona is Oculto 477, an intimate speakeasy that sits on the edge of historic El Campo Santo Cemetery, which dates back to 1849 and where 477 bodies are buried (hence Oculto 477’s name).

The drinks are beautiful, unique, and strong…and very much in demand. Plan on making reservations two to three weeks in advance.

Raised by Wolves

You know you live in paradise when you one of the best cocktail bars in the United States is hidden in your mall! The opulence of the design and craftsmanship behind every detail in this bar makes the fact that it’s in a mall seem almost impossible – it’s absolutely stunning. The cocktails are even better.

The holiday shopping menu was fantastic!

Mothership

Mothership Bar is an out-of-this-world addition to South Park’s nightlife scene that has all the buzz right now. It’s a ‘tropical space adventure’ serving exotic cocktails and ‘interplanetary fusion’ (the San Diego area now has three UFO-themed cocktail bars…what’s going on here?!). Once you’re on board, you’ll be treated to tropical cocktails that will make you feel like you’ve left Earth’s orbit!

Mister A’s

The San Diego institution in Banker’s Hill recently reopened after extensive renovations…and it’s beautiful.

Sitting 12 floors up, the expanded bar and new outdoor lounge seating have the best views in all of San Diego.

This is the place to go when you’re feeling fancy (there is a strictly enforced dress code) and you want a strong, traditional cocktail – we suggest the burnt orange old-fashioned – to match that suit or cocktail dress that’s to die for!

The Commodores Club

The Commodores Club is a speakeasy hidden within the walls of the Old Harbor Distillery in East Village that’s generating a lot of buzz. The 20-seater serves Old Harbor spirits with a sense of humor (visit their site…you’ll see).

The Parlay, pictured above, features Ampersand Cold Pressed Coffee Liqueur, Campari, and Rye whiskey.

See you there!

Keep this list in mind for your next hot date or important celebration – or the next time you simply want to spend your evening exploring San Diego’s best cocktail bars. We’ll keep it updated for you!

If you see us at the bar, be sure to say hi, and when you visit one of these spots, be sure to tag us on Instagram so we can share with our followers.

Stay healthy, San Diego!

PS – To be safe, plan to use your favorite rideshare service to get home.

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