By Dr. Ink
Sitting unobtrusively in one of the most charming spots in South Park is Fernside, which resides in the structure South Park Abbey occupied for several years. It was here, at this postcard-ish intersection of Fern and Grape streets where I first started reveling in the local craft-beer craze, at a time when it was super cool to do so.
That was in 2011, still some years after San Diego breweries started gaining steam. Admittedly I was a little behind the trend back then, as I probably was when finally stepping into Fernside, which opened a year ago to the delight of craft-cocktail aficionados.
Yes, there’s the expected selection of local brews, but at this point in time, they seem like footnotes compared to the bar’s hyped focus on mixology.
Fernside launched with the backing of cocktail maestro Christian Siglin of Cutwater Spirits, and Shane Gerde, previously with Underbelly. Their concept was to furnish South Park with a spirit-forward hangout that also serves decent bar grub. Fortunately, for us bargain hunters, part of that commitment extends into happy hour.
South Park Abbey’s somewhat grungy atmosphere is a thing of the past. Now, the building has big windows and features two-tiers inside. Colored string lights hang above the bar area, adding a festive feel, but without coming across as some rowdy party bar.
Happy hour menus placed on every table reveal a tight selection of plates and draft beers for $5 each; a few wines by the glass for $6 apiece; and five cocktails priced at $7 each. Those, surprisingly, pale in comparison to the bar’s normal selection of intricately constructed drinks.
We’re talking basic margaritas, mojitos, and Moscow mules as your happy hour options. There’s also a Tom Collins, which I settled for out of nostalgia. It was my drink of choice eons ago for copping a fast buzz.
But this wasn’t as tart or kicky. Either my taste buds changed and I developed a higher tolerance for alcohol (very likely), or the drink was sorely lacking in lemon and gin. Soda water was the dominant force. But refreshing it was. And the booze-soaked cherry bobbing in the fizz gave me a thrill once I reined her in.
A trio of “party burgers” topped with American cheese, thinly sliced pickles and pinkish “Fern sauce” went down easily as well. Each contained loosely formed beef patties sporting caramelized, well-done edges.
Fernside picks up where South Park Abbey left off, but in a sleeker, more modern sense. The aesthetics are far better, the drinks are fancier (outside of happy hour) and that charming South Park vibe still envelopes the place.
The cocktail list during happy hour includes only a few pedestrian drinks and a couple of classics: a Moscow mule, a margarita, a mojito, an Old-Fashioned and Tom Collins. The latter was refreshing but weak in gin and lemon.
Flair is given to a short list of noshes, which include chicken liver toast and a meat-and-cheese plate with chocolate crème de menthe. A trio of small “party burgers” were tasty.
The noshes and select draft beers are an easy $5. Wines by the glass and the cocktails are $6 and $7, respectively.
Full table service was provided by an efficient waitress, who quickly brought water to the table before taking my order. The cocktail and food followed soon after.
A warm-industrial design pervades throughout the multi-level space, which features two walls of windows that look out to one of South Park’s quaintest commercial intersections.