3365 India Street, Mission Hills
In 1943, while traveling by train along the German-occupied French Mediterranean coast, showman Charles Trenet scrawled the lyrics to a love song on a piece of toilet paper. Three years later, “La Mer” (“Beyond the Sea”) would become an instant hit upon release and to this day remains a chanson classic.
A year after the song first aired, in 1947, a newlywed pilot named Marian Prophett was given the space adjacent to her husband’s vending-machine shop on India Street to convert into a bar for her aviator friends. She called it the Aero Club.
Today, over 60 years later, the liquor racks at the Middletown dive are inscribed with the same name, interspersed with the enigmatic “La Mer.”
“I like everything European,” says eight-year-owner Bill Lutzius. “So, I put it in because every bar needs a little mystery.”
Now, you can cue up the track on Aero’s jukebox, choose a pour from over 600 whiskeys, and be transported back to the bar’s beginning — when I-5 was only a glimmer in Eisenhower’s eye and the Aero Club was one of the only buildings on the block.
But European mystique and old-time aviation aren’t the only moods informing the bar’s at-home aesthetic.
“When I grew up in Brooklyn 30 years ago or more, the drinking age was 18, and they let you in the bar when you were 13,” says Lutzius. “So, when I was a little kid, I was in the locals’ bars like this, and they were always really friendly. It was real community.”
Accordingly, the bar is home to a consistent crowd taking refuge from the heat, talking over craft cocktails, and drinking pints from Aero’s 20 nitrogen taps — a classic San Diego spread of local IPAs, English imports, and rotating micros for the suds snob.
Sorted by genre and origin, the house’s spiral-bound liquor menu is a history lesson. Whiskeys from Tasmania and Japan, you say? How about apple-pie moonshine, caramel whiskey, and cherry mash bourbon?
You’ll also get an education in aeronautics from faded black-and-white photos of historic Lindbergh landings and experimental bombers soaring over East County foothills.
Aero’s tagline is “Where bartenders go for a cold beer,” but I think a day-drinking regular recently said it best: “It’s a speakeasy — not because it’s hard to find, but because just the right people know about it.”
Well, now you know.
Hours: 2 p.m.–2 a.m. daily
Credit cards: Yep