Rick Lyon is the Imperial House. He tickles the faux-ivories on his weapon of choice: a fancy keyboard set on top of the bar’s resident piano. With it, he can be a one-man-band, using pre-recorded compositions. He has books full of backing music by the Rolling Stones, the Band, and Steppenwolf. He primarily plays covers of classic rock, paying special attention to the piano men (Billy Joel, Elton John, Neil Diamond), while also allowing time for Journey, Queen, and CCR.
With-it 20-somethings are drawn to the nostalgia of songs recorded decades before they were born. Lyon feels like a cherished uncle as he takes requests, though he gives preference to his favorite tunes and ignores tunes he hates. He has no qualms about playing songs the local karaoke bars have banned. “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” make regular appearances on his set list. You might hear “Sweet Caroline” up to two times a night, when the skinny-jean-clad crowd demands it.
505 Kalmia Street, Bankers Hill
The young and hip can sometimes dominate the scene, but a single professional crowd also claims this bar as its own. A typical night will have a mix of each. People wearing ironic glasses rub shoulders at the bar with those who can afford laser surgery. Both groups enjoy the music of an era not their own.
The ornate wooden bar is something of a relic, with suits of armor, red carpeting, and red booths as accents. The place features the kind of dimly lit atmosphere that encourages you to sit, drink, and chat for hours, without the drama of yelling over a raucous bar band. Generic well drinks or draft beer run about $5. A small bar menu is available from 10:00–12:00 p.m., serving up snacks, such as french fries, potato skins, and wings for $4–$6. Waitresses stop by the tables pretty regularly; they manage to keep track of bar tabs in even the most complex of group orders. Parking can be a hassle, but there is valet service if you’re feeling spendy.
— Katie McCanna
3829 30th Street, North Park
Being dorky has been kind of hip for a while now, so in that way Bar Pink has a hipster vibe. Some people show up dressed to impress, but on the flip side you could be in a ridiculous costume and only get 25 percent of heads to turn. It’s laid-back, not pretentious, and really cool bands play here often.
Bar Pink is partly owned by John Reis (Hot Snakes, Rocket from the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu) and can be packed on the weekends.
It appears that patrons of True North have been catching on, as the number of cultural ambassadors sent over has increased.
3780 Park Boulevard, Hillcrest
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
Fashion diva-de-force MayStar recently dropped her seven-year-strong Fashion Whore Night at the Ruby Room to reinvent her flamboyant production as Diamond Dust, at the sparkling new Kitty Diamond. Residing in the remodeled (and infamous) Flame in Hillcrest, Diamond Dust carries on Fashion Whore’s penchant for kitschy and eccentric apparel modeled amid a bustling nu-disco, indie, and electro dance party. Accordingly, Kitty Diamond is run by former Beauty Bar manager Erica Jessup, whose résumé includes stints at other hipster havens Voyeur and U-31. Don’t worry — the Flame’s iconic neon sign survived the remodel.
In Tijuana, on 6th Street, there’s a cool little mezcal bar named La Mezcaletta. In the back is a dance room called La Mija, complete with a light-up platform with panels that flash different colors, reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” video. Indie-dance locals in the know come to get down, drink, observe, and participate.
With 50 people, the place is packed, but on weekends there’s at least double that, with spillage into the back smoking area. Get primed with mezcal shots at around 10:30 p.m., then get intimate — La Mija hits its steady peak just after midnight. facebook.com/lamezcalera
4620 Convoy Street, Suites D & E, Kearny Mesa
Min Sok Chon
Feel like regular karaoke is played out? Step it up a notch and rent a private room with your friends at this Korean bar in Kearny Mesa. Open from 4:00 p.m.–4:00 a.m. Friday–Saturday, the place otherwise closes at 2:00 a.m. Rooms start at $25 per hour. In addition to cheap soju pitchers and creative drink specials, Min Sok Chon offers a full menu of Korean food — including some wild stuff, like beef intestines and black-goat stew.
The drink menu centers on 35 different “Moustache Shots” ($3), which include the Dalí, Hulk Hogan, Prince, and Burt Reynolds. These drinks are like tiny cocktails; for example, the George Michael consists of Midori, vodka, and Jägermeister. This quaint bar is the kind of place where popular DJs hang out when not playing a club. There’s a DJ setup in the small front room and a cozy back room with four tables. On Calle Madero, near Revolución, but you ought to preplan a visit, since you’re unlikely to stumble upon Moustache by mistake. facebook.com/moustachetijuana
2044 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy
You get people from all stages of life here — motorcyclists, young handlebar-mustached men, girls in boho dresses, sports fans: this is a different definition of “hipster.” At Sunday brunch (best to arrive before 11:00 a.m.), everyone in the place is bound to have one (or five) drinks too many before mingling on the outside patio. Breakfast and endless mimosas cost $24.95. Weekends, sporting events, and happy hour (Monday–Friday 4:00–7:00 p.m.) are sardine-can packed.
3112 University Avenue, North Park
This busy bar is notorious for slow service, especially on $1 you-call-it Mondays. (Yes, you read that right.) Catch the bartender’s attention on the first drink with a hefty tip, and you won’t be left waiting. (You can check in on Yelp for a free taco; also, expect a line if you want to play pool.) If you do get stuck at the bar, the staff tends to be easy on the eyes — as are the partiers. The place is packed with people ready to dance. Saturday is the night for a great rotation of dance-worthy DJs, as long as you can shell out an agonizing $5 cover after 10:00 p.m.
More Nightlife: Artsy Funsy | Brew Ha Ha | Mix Masters | Kick up Your Heels | Dive Bars | Speakeasies | Wee Hours