Gaslamp 101: Drink up, class!
TEST SUBJECT: The Gaslamp for Beginners
THE BIG PICTURE
San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter is the place where flashy locals, carousing Chargers and rowdy tourists break out the sausage-casing frocks and hair gel for a weekend of pricey dining and adventures in nightclub debauchery. This makes the nighttime Gaslamp an intimidatingNo-Fly Zone for the rest of us, which is where the So Diego touring company’s “Brothels, Bites and Booze” jaunt comes in.
HOMETOWN OR BUST
Since I feel like a stranger in the Gaslamp anyway, playing hometown tourist seemed like a fine way to kick off my San Diego summer. “Don’t judge me!” I could say to all those fiercely stylish hostesses and tattooed bartenders. “I’m just visiting!”
True to its cheeky name, the evening “Brothels, Bites and Booze” walking tour combined juicy bits of red-light district lore with stops at five Gaslamp restaurants. Under the cheery supervision of tour guidePaloma Barraza, our party of six learned about ladies of the evening and politicians of ill repute while consuming enough small bites and not-so-small drinks to make me glad my evening accessories included stretchy jeans and a designated driver.
As we ambled down the lightly trafficked weeknight streets, Paloma regaled us with wild stories from the Gaslamp’s pre-valet past.
Best real-estate factoid: Pioneering developer Alonzo Horton purchased massive chunks of downtown land for 33 cents an acre.
Most intriguing lexicon lesson: The wild “Stingaree” district got its name from all the ways a visitor could get “stung” by an evening on its mean streets. The damage could include losing your shirt at the card table, losing your wallet to a prostitute or being kidnapped by a saloon owner. And you thought the Fluxx bouncers were scary.
Questionable trivia we really hope is true: The last Gaslamp brothel closed in 1987.
EAT, DRINK, DON’T WORRY
More Gaslamp Anxiety Relief waited at the restaurants, where we were spared the indignity of the Uncool Order because food and drinks had been ordered for us. Somewhere on Fifth Avenue, a snobby waiter was weeping.
Best Eats: Plump oysters Rockefeller (Donovan’s Circle of Fifths), pork tacos and black bean soup (Tequila 100), thin-crust pizza (Krust Pizzeria), shrimp ceviche and popcorn brussels sprouts (Analog).
Best Drinks: Circle of Fifths’ fizzy Moscow Mule and Tequila 100’s skinny margarita.
Most Disappointing Overall: The much-touted Quality Social, which slapped us back to outsider reality with smallish glasses of beer and little piles of soft-pretzel balls.
SAFETY IN NUMBERS
In addition to the booze and bites, your $45 ticket also buys you a safe place in the tour bubble. If the restaurants are jammed, you can swan through the masses to your reserved table. If the restaurants are dead, as they were during our weeknight visit, you will not be marooned in a sea of empty tables as the waiters continue to ignore you anyway.
Is it possible for the non-fabulous among us to enjoy San Diego’s glitziest historical district without feeling like a pauper or looking like a dweeb? It is. And if you take the 6:30 p.m. tour, you’ll be home before your sweatpants start wrinkling with worry.
email@example.com • (619) 293-1275 • Twitter@karla_peterson