One of the most interesting and enjoyable parts of San Diego is the Gaslamp Quarter, just south of greater downtown San Diego, and not far from the Harbor. This sixteen block area of downtown is considered the historical neighborhood, and is home to the liveliest of nightlife here in San Diego. Petco Park, where I will see our mighty Giants play the San Diego Padres, is just one block away in downtown’s east village.
The development of this area began when Alonzo Horton bought this land in 1867. He paid $265 for 800 acres, a bargain by today’s real estate standards. His vision was to create a new city center. It became known as Stingaree in the 1890s when it was home to gambling halls, saloons, dance halls, and bordellos. But after many decades of urban decay, urban renewal in the 1980s and 90s made the neighborhood an energetic business and entertainment district. It is officially listed as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Gaslamp Quarter name is a reference to the many gas lamps that were common to the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, four new gas lamps have been installed at the corner of Market Street and 5th Avenue. Ninety four historic buildings remain, most of which were constructed in the Victorian era. Many of these buildings house shops, nightclubs and restaurants now.
One anomaly in Gaslamp is the proliferation of cigar shops. Mind you, these are not Cubans, but rollers from across the border in Mexico. I am not a cigar smoker, but if you are, let me know. I will buy some for you and let you be the judge!
With so many venues now, my two favorite places are Blue Point Coastal Cuisine, and Croce’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar. If the name Croce sounds familiar, it is because of the late singer, Jim Croce’s widow, Ingrid Croce. She met Jim when she was at Villanova University (Philadelphia) when Jim was a judge, and she won a contest with her folk singing group, The Rumrunners.
They fell in love and married in 1966. In 1968, they moved to New York City to pursue a recording contract. In two years, they had driven over 300,000 miles playing small clubs and college concerts. Things did not go well, so they moved to Pennsylvania, rented a three room farmhouse, and served meals to friends and fellow musicians. This included Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor, Arlo Guthrie, Bonnie Raitt, and the Manhattan Transfer, among others.
Ingrid and Jim Croce
In September of 1971, he wrote “Time In a Bottle”, and “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim”. He started touring on demand, and ended up in San Diego in August of 1973. After another long road trip promoting his music, they walked around San Diego, hoping to find some live music. They found an urban decay of Gaslamp. They joked that someday they would open a place down here, similar to their place in Pennsylvania, with good food and good music. A week later, his plane crashed in Natchitoches, Louisiana, after playing a college concert.
Years later, a vacant storefront became available in the dilapidated Gaslamp District. Ingrid Croce realized it was the same corner where she and Jim dreamed of building their bar and restaurant. She felt it would be a perfect tribute to Jim and his music. They serve contemporary American cuisine, and offer nightly, live music to friends and visitors from around the world.
I have been there numerous times. The most chilling moments are when I read the actual scraps of paper and napkins that have the lyrics from his songs. They have won numerous awards over the years, including the 2012 Open Table Diner’s Choice Award, and Best Live Music in 2008, among many others. Drop by 802 Fifth Avenue any evening of the week. I promise you it is an experience you will remember.
BTW, the entire Gaslamp is covered with fans wearing orange and black. But we lost a heartbreaker last night in the bottom of the ninth! But good game otherwise! Petco Park is a wonderful venue.