4079 Adams Ave. (Kensington)
Happy Hour: 2 to 8 p.m., daily
Come On Get Happy! | Dr. Ink
If you’re looking for the polar opposite of a chic and trendy bar, you’ll find it at Kensington Club, which, according to its owner, ranks among San Diego’s oldest watering holes.
“I think we have the second oldest cocktail license in the city after The Waterfront,” said Brett Bodie, who purchased Kensington Club 17 years ago after it had changed hands several times over numerous decades. Bodie said the bar dates back to around 1935, but he’s yet to find any historical records showing its actual birthdate.
The structure is marked by an antiquated neon sign reminiscent of the Art Deco era, which flourished into the 1940s. Inside is a deep, narrow space dominated by an elongated bar the length of a bowling lane. Old wooden cabinets lend shelving to a large liquor inventory, which incorporates a glass-enclosed display of vintage cocktail shakers. Buried within them is a 1914 book of drink recipes that Bodie showed me as I sipped Clan MacGregor Scotch mixed with a splash of water.
“I’m not sure what it’s worth, but it’s in good shape,” he said while carefully turning a few pages.
The single-malt scotch qualified as a well drink, which sells for $3.50 during happy hour along with other bottom-shelf liquors. They’re normally $4 apiece. In addition, domestic bottled beers go for $3 each, reduced also by 50 cents.
As far as basic scotch goes, the Clan MacGregor was surprisingly smooth, and with hints of vanilla that I wasn’t expecting. Even better was that I could barely detect the float of water in the glass.
There are no signs or flyers promoting happy hour because “we have low-price drinks all the time, which is why people hardly notice the cost differences,” Bodie said. There is also no food, although customers are permitted to tote in sustenance from nearby Burger Lounge or Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant, or anywhere for that matter.
The daytime and after-work clientele normally begins to fade by early evening, when the adjoining “rock and roll room” opens for bands, karaoke and trivia matches on various nights.
“We’ve been part of the live, original music scene for a long time,” Bodie said, citing that Kensington Club continues attracting a mixed demographic that “changes like the wind.” And despite the somewhat dark and plain interior, Bodie defends his business as being “an old neighborhood bar” rather than a hardcore dive bar.
The beer bargains during happy hour are limited to bottled domestics, while well drinks using bottom-shelf liquors are made with decent pours, per the scotch and water I ordered that contained more booze than water.
Regular drink prices are already a notch lower compared to what other bars in the vicinity charge, although happy hour will save you an additional 50 cents per libation.
The owner was running the bar on this visit, and tended to customers in a personal, friendly manner attesting to his years in the business.
Happy hour starts in the afternoon and runs enough beyond to accommodate the after-work drinkers.