1220 Third Avenue, Downtown San Diego
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
“We were the first bar to have Arrogant Bastard,” says Downtown Johnny Brown’s owner Todd Alexander. “Stone had their release party here. John Brown really embraced the local beer movement. When I bought the bar six years ago, I added casks. We still don’t carry any macros. The first thing I did was reach out to make relationships with Pizza Port, Stone, Alpine, people like that.”
Johnny Brown’s claims to be the first craft-beer bar in San Diego, starting about 14 years ago. Now, the craft-beer boom presents new obstacles to bars like Johnny Brown’s.
“For the past two years, one of the biggest challenges has been that some of the best breweries in town have been selling so much onsite that they don’t bother to distribute,” Alexander says. “You can’t get kegs.”
Regardless, Johnny Brown’s offers 17 rotating taps of pilsners, wheats, IPAs, and other microbrewed varieties, which go for an intoxicating $3 a pint as Beer of the Day.
Established in 1987, this hidden gem next to the Civic Theatre is the charming lovechild of a sports bar and an Irish dive. The walls are spackled with old license plates, football photos, and flatscreens streaming the game at every possible vector to a comfortable pastiche of professionals, sports fans, and tap hounds.
An expansive dining room holds 135 patrons, a pool table, and shuffleboard, while Johnny Brown’s patio seats about 200. Accruing most of its business from Beer Week and theater crowds, the bar has also seen a reported 60 percent boost in business from the Occupy San Diego crowd, which began occupying the plaza in early October.
In addition to tasty brews and free popcorn, Johnny Brown’s menu (which recently expanded to include grilled mahi mahi mango tacos and a house smoked brisket) offers classic finger foods, soups, salads, burgers ($8.25–9.75), desserts, and daily specials. Cheese sticks and hot wings go for 35 cents a pop on Mondays, while fish tacos and sliders are a buck on weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m.
The budget beverages at Johnny Brown’s ($5 Long Islands on Thursdays) are enough to make one empathize with a woodcarving on one wall, which proclaims, “Often in error, never in doubt.”
- Prices: $4.75 wells, $5–6.50 drafts
- Hours: 11 a.m.–2 a.m. daily
- Happy: Monday–Friday, 3–6 p.m., 40 percent off food; Daily specials
- The Deal: Mondays, 22-ounce beers at pint price