2591 University Avenue, North Park
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
The term “dive bar” is thrown around pretty loosely these days and, not unlike “dude,” “epic,” and “excessive force,” the essential meaning has been all but lost. Enter Tobacco Rhoda’s.
Famous for its Filipina bartenders whose hospitality has been likened to that of a long-lost auntie’s, the North Park hole-in-the-wall (at one point literally, when a cabbie plowed his Crown Victoria through the front door five years ago) sits on the decadent nexus of Villa and University, a Bud bottle’s toss away from a smoke/porn shop, a marijuana collective, a liquor store, and the über-indulgent Carnitas’ Snack Shack.
“People used to come here to smoke cigars,” says bartender Roel. “And the original owner’s name was Rhoda, so they just put the two together.”
This is lowlife territory. Bukowski’s turf. The ambiance lies somewhere between the Star Wars cantina and purgatory, and it will make you question your dedication to intoxicating beverages.
An abject stranger to the natural light of day, Rhoda’s cultivates a telltale stink of stale suds, old smoke, and urine. The doorman looks as unkempt as the clientele, and your dentally impaired, Ed Hardy–clad bar mate will likely be muttering nonsense to himself as you order a beer (never more than $2.50) from the cash-only bar, which seats about 15.
There’s no liquor, but four taps, 18 bottled beers (mostly domestics), and a selection of sake magnums and bottom-shelf wines are on hand to fuel the budget drinker’s swagger. Twelve-ounce frosted mugs of Bud/Light and Shocktop go for $1.50 every day (effectively voiding Thursday’s $2 Bud bottle special), and Redhook Long Hammer IPA goes for $2.50.
Too glazed to grab a bite at the Snack Shack? Shrimp cup-o-noodles and dried squid snacks beckon from behind the bar along with peanuts, Hot Tamales, and Mike&Ike in a quarter machine. The bathroom has a 25-cent lock on it, but you’re better off avoiding the abysmal restroom and donating your quarter to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society coin board behind the bar.
A jukebox prone toward outdated gangster rap, a television seemingly stuck on the Wipeout obstacle-course game show, and a claw machine brimming with adult DVDs and sex toys attached to stuffed animals solidify Tobacco Rhoda’s place among the last remaining true dives in San Diego. That fact alone merits the place a visit. Just be sure to bring a buddy.
Tobacco Rhoda’s 2591 University Ave.
Hours: Mon–Sat, 9 a.m.–2 a.m.; Sun, 8 a.m.–2 a.m.