The laid-back locals bar feels a bit more like the no-nonsense neighborhood bars over in North Park than it does most of its fellow Hillcrest hangouts. The Loft (3610 5th Ave., 619-296-6407) is a fun place to shoot pool, listen to tunes on the jukebox, and nurse affordable, well-poured cocktails. Many regulars stop by for happy hour before heading out to dinner or some of the neighborhood's larger clubs.
A great all-around neighborhood gay bar with a central location in Hillcrest, Number One Fifth Avenue (3845 5th Ave., 619-299-1911) succeeds because it balances an intimate ambience and friendly atmosphere without the sometimes tired, dive-y feel that sometimes dominates in smaller lounges. You can easily carry on a conversation here (and the staff is pretty chatty, on the chance you can't find a nice fellow patron to dish with), and there's pool, darts, and other diversions. It's a little inconspicuous - the sort of place you could walk by a dozen times without noticing, but it's a fine place to kick off a night of bar-hopping.
On the eastern side of Hillcrest (going toward North Park), Numbers (3811 Park Blvd., 619-294-9005) appeals to fans of dancing and clubbing. Patrons have two dance floors to choose from, with one area dedicated to hip hop, and different parties and theme nights cater to different crowds (Latin, lesbian, bears). Go-Go dancers, fairly affordable drinks, and less attitude than some Hillcrest dance clubs are reasons Numbers has developed a popular following over the years. That said, some nights it's a little quiet in here.
One of a handful of fun, friendly, and relaxed neighborhood bars in North Park, the cheerful Redwing (4012 30th St., 619-281-8700) keeps things interesting with its karaoke on many evenings (including all weekend), Tuesday night Latin parties, and multiple diversions: pool, darts, sports on TV, an attractive patio, and so on. There's also that second part of its name, grill - the Redwing serves genuinely tasty, straightforward pub fare. There's a nice selection of cocktails and beers, too, at very reasonable prices. The crowd is diverse, somewhat bear-ish and otter-ish depending on the night, and very welcoming of women and men.
For many years, Rich's (1051 University Ave., 619-295-2195) in Hillcrest has been San Diego's definitive gay warehouse-style disco, a good-sized space with an industrial, circuit-style vibe and music supplied by some of Southern California's most illustrious DJs. This is the place to cut loose, admire the shirtless boys and dancers (and women on Thursday's Touch Ladies Nights), and - as comes with the territory - prepare to pay a cover charger (usually nothing too steep, compared with other big dance clubs in California). Other amenities beyond the main dance floor, with it's pulsing sound-system, include a patio that's usually swarming with smokers, and a smaller space up front with pool tables.
As bars with the name Eagle go, the San Diego Eagle (3040 N. Park Way, 619-295-8072) is your classic dude's leather club - a place where real men cruise for real men. It's in increasingly gentrified North Park, but on a side street. And it has a very loyal following - leather, uniforms, military gear, and the like are the preferred attire. Hanky nights and drinks specials are among the ongoing special events.
Known for its great juke box, long history in the neighborhood, and a location that's much closer to downtown than gay bars farther north in Hillcrest, the SRO (1807 5th Ave., 619-232-1886) has a strong following among drag queens (and fans), but all kinds tend to drop by here, albeit not necessarily in large numbers. Some evenings, this endearingly dive-y spot can feel a bit quiet. The interior, with its bordello-red walls and enthusiastic use of mirrors, make this something of an unapologetic throwback to the cocktail bars of yore.
The lounge-restaurants at the historic Inn at the Park (525 Spruce St., 619-296-0057), formerly known as Park Manor Suites and popular with Hillcrest gays and lesbians for decades, each offer their own distinct vibe. Downstairs off of the lobby, the Piano Bar adjoins the Inn at the Park Restaurant and is a great spot to listen to the pop piano renderings of different local musicians. Upstairs in the hotel's 7th-floor penthouse space, Top of the Park, you can sip cocktails while enjoying one of the best views of Balboa Park in the city. Generally, the Friday-night happy hour draws the most sizable gay contingent, but there's always a good mix in both of the hotel's dining and drinking spaces.
For many years the home to San Diego's branch of Hamburger Mary's and the gay country-western bar Kickers, Urban Mo's (308 University Ave., 619-491-0400) still has the same friendly vibe, casual dining scene, great happy hours, and highly popular entertainment as its predecessor. But Mo's is more eclectic, still with occasional country-western nights but also with Latin dance nights, drag revues, champagne brunches and Sunday T-Dances, and other festive happenings. Urban Mo's has a huge patio and a handy central location in Hillcrest. The crowd tends toward the young and lively, and although this is definitely a gay scene, it's quite welcoming of hetero friends - it's pretty mixed here, and less cruise-driven than a lot of the city's gay hangouts. The restaurant serves pretty good American and Southwestern-influenced food, all day long - big portions, too. There's a long menu of breakfast, lunch, and dinner items. Just as was the case with Hamburger Mary's, Urban Mo's specializes in hefty burgers with a wide range of toppings. The same owners run another campy, festive restaurant and lounge, Baja Betty's, and the restaurant Gossip Grill, which are also on University Avenue.