Posted By Mike West, ICA Director of Publications,
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
If you are planning to attend ICA's 67th Annual Conference in San Diego, there's a good chance you've already checked out the San Diego Hilton Bayfront, which will host our association from 25-29 May 2017. As such you probably already know that the San Diego Hilton, much like the Fukuoka Hilton that hosted the 2016 conference, is adjacent to the local baseball stadium-in this case, Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres. The Padres will be out of town during the ICA conference, so what may be of greater importance to attendees is what lies beyond Petco Park-San Diego'sGaslamp Quarter, one of the city's most vibrant and popular entertainment districts.
Today the name "Gaslamp" suggests a connection with antiquity, which San Diego certainly has-ironically, though, the area was initially known as "New Town." (Old Town, to the northwest, was the name given to the original Spanish colonial settlement: a name it retains to this day.) Attracted to the promise of a location nearer the water than Old Town, a San Francisco real-estate speculator named William Heath Davis bought 160 acres of land fronting San Diego Bay and began developing it around 1850 (the year California became a state). Davis's New Town failed; its proximity to the bay didn't alleviate the need forfreshwater, and an economic depression in 1857 warded off potential land buyers. The area soon became known as "Rabbitville"-after the only creatures who would inhabit it.
Another San Franciscan speculator, Alonzo Horton, arrived after the U.S. Civil War and determined to try again on the same plot of land that Davis had attempted. This version of New Town (also known as the Horton Addition) was a success, so much so that it soon eclipsed the established Old Town as the heart of San Diego. That eclipse wasn't a clean one, however-by the 1880s, now known as "Stingaree," the district had become emblematic of the U.S. "Wild West," filled with saloons and casinos and brothels while more respectable commerce graduated northward. Though parts of the area became more hospitable-including San Diego's first Chinatown, which existed there until around World War II-Stingaree maintained its seedy character for about 90 years.
Rehabilitation and preservation got underway in the mid-1970s, in which time it received the new name of the Gaslamp Quarter (odd, since gaslamps had never provided light in the district's old days, though they do now). Today, many of the old Victorian and other nineteenth-century buildings still inhabit the quarter. Instead of brothels and casinos, however, they contain hundreds of restaurants, nightclubs, boutiques and galleries. It also features museums, performing arts venues, and some of the best people-watching you'll encounter anywhere.
Among the most popular and acclaimed eateries of recent years isBice, a restaurant at the corner of Fourth and Island Avenues that specializes in Northern Italian cuisine. (And "specializes" is the word for a restaurant that is known for its dedicated gourmet cheese bar!) Zagat-rated Bice is also known for entrees like its rigatoni alla crema and its spinach and ricotta tortelloni-though they tend to be on the pricier side, with even the appetizers starting around US$15. However, Bice also offers a happy hour that features much less expensive small-plate selections.
No visit to a coastal city can skip out on a great seafood restaurant, and of course the Gaslamp Quarter has many.Blue Point Coastal Cuisine, at Fifth Avenue and Market Street, is a favorite-among the first seafood and oyster places to open in the neighborhood (in 1996). Designed with the look of an old-fashioned supper club, Blue Point does offer steakhouse fare-but its signature meals are the three-course affairs that its menu refers to as "Hooks" (appetizers, such as Peruvian ceviche or pan-roasted mussels), "Lines" (seafood entrees like Scottish salmon, Chilean sea bass, and a yellowfin and octopus duo), and "Sinkers" (desserts: Apple crumble, creme brulee, machiatto cheesecake).
On the other hand, if you're looking for cheap, casual fare, there's alwaysThe Tipsy Crow, a comfy bar just a few blocks further on Fifth. Their craft beer selection changes every few days; the specialty cocktails are innovative and interesting; and, at happy hour, prices rise and fall according to demand on the "Drink Exchange" (think of it like an alcohol-based stock market). But they also stock up on dips, flatbreads, hot dogs, and a surprisingly eclectic palette of grilled cheese sandwiches-priced at US$7 apiece.
Casual though the menu is, the Tipsy Crow also includes a lounge, pool tables, a dance floor, and live music, meaning that it straddles the line between eatery and nightclub. That's another major attraction of the Gaslamp Quarter: nightlife. The neighborhood offers a wide variety thereof; whether you're looking to take in a performance, dance, or just hang out with some friends and drinks. In some of the best places, likeBang Bang(across the street from Blue Point), you can do all of the above. Bang Bang has three separate spaces within one venue: An Asian fusion restaurant; a well-stocked bar; and a combination theater/dance club, which lets it host both live music and DJ sets, and proudly boasts the largest disco ball on the west coast. Bang Bang is also renowned for its specially designed entrance, a tiled tunnel staircase that's based on Tokyo's subway stations.
Two of the hotels in the Gaslamp Quarter offer rooftop lounges with breathtaking views of the city.Altitude Skybarsits atop the 22-story Marriott Hotel, and is often acclaimed as the best view in town-when the Padres are playing at Petco, you can sit down and watch the game;Rooftop600, above the Andaz Hotel, is open-air but more like a club than Altitude's lounge. Both places offer fire pits, water features (a pool at Rooftop600, a fountain at Altitude), plenty of comfortable seating, and full bars with bottle service.
If live music is of more interest, there'sProhibition Liquor Bar, a basement speakeasy-really, with a password and everything-that features live jazz, blues, and soul. Not far away,Patrick's Gaslamp Puboffers mostly blues, with some rock and soul mixed in.Tin Roofis more of a rock joint, with rotating nightly acts;Moonshine Flatsis country-themed (right down to billing itself as a honky tonk);The Shout Houseis a piano bar featuring two dueling grands. If big-name headliners are what you're looking for, the Quarter still has you covered, with theBalboa Theaterand San Diego's outpost of the popularHouse of Blueschain.
There are other options for live performance than music, too. The aforementionedBalboa Theater, in addition to music, features performing arts such as opera, ballet, theater, and comedy. TheHorton Grand Theatre, a 250-seat off-Broadway venue, is the home of the San Diego Musical Theatre, which is exactly what it sounds like, and the Intrepid Theatre Company, which offers smaller, more challenging and experimental productions. And theAmerican Comedy Co.is an award winning stand-up club.
But one need not restrict an expedition in the Gaslamp Quarter to dinner and nighttime hours. There is shopping aplenty, from retail giantsUrban OutfittersandOakleyto the local favoritesDolcetti BoutiqueandThe Wine Bank. There are art galleries:Michael J. Wolf Fine Art; Sparks Gallery; the gallery of artistTim Cantor, voted the best in San Diego; and-for the connoisseur, of course-theChuck Jones Gallery, which exhibits and deals in animated art. Museums include theChildren's Museum, theSan Diego Philippine Library & Historical Heritage Museum; and, most prominently, theGaslamp Museum, which resides inside the 1850 home of the district's original speculator, William Heath Davis, which was also later owned by itssecondspeculator, Alonzo Horton. (It's the oldest standing building in downtown San Diego.)
A city to itself, in other words. The Gaslamp Quarter is a popular destination for all of these reasons, and its proximity to ICA's 2017 Conference makes it an ideal place for a visitor to begin exploring the exciting possibilities of San Diego.