Onyx/Thin San Diego, California



No dancing, please – we’re posing.

A few years ago owner Greg Strangman opened up Onyx, a throwback to the speakeasy bars of the 1920s. It’s proved to be a popular place, and a nice median between the drunken Pacific beach crowds and the big money spenders in the Gaslamp district. The club/lounge parlays a variety of nights ranging from a Wednesday jazz night, to a ’70s funk and soul Thursdays, with hip-hop and house on the weekends. Recently the buzz about Onyx heated up when the stunning Thin opened up above, catering to a younger, more moneyed clientele, and described in the local press as “[the] Star Wars Cantina Bar meets a London lounge.”

Stalker #1
Onyx/Thin represents everything that’s wrong with San Diego nightlife – gorgeous venue/lame people. Sad, really, ‘cause the service, the venue, and the drinks are all topnotch. Hell, you even get two venues (Thin upstairs, Onyx downstairs) for the low price of 10 bucks on the weekends (weekdays are free). In theory this place would be perfect: In reality your night might go something like this:
You and your friends step out of taxi, and the girls in the group immediately grind to a halt at the sight of the name of the street-level club: Thin. They will bemoan for 20 minutes about how fat they feel, and how they should’ve worked out that day, and if we can just go to a club where there will be other women of size. (Combined median weight of the girls in our group: 115 pounds). They will suddenly be over it, conspire together and excitedly enter the club to see if there are actually any fat girls in a club called “Thin.”
From the outside, Onyx’s outside basement entrance sits nearest to the second right hand door of Thin. A long single velvet rope connects both venues. Seems easy enough: Enter left, turn right, exit right hand door. But on a packed Saturday night, military maneuvers are executed easier. Get there before 10 pm, because people will seek out spaces to stand and pose; they will remain there for the rest of the night. For your convenience they will block off any sort of short cut to the right-hand door. You can try and push, claw and kick your way up past them, but will be thwarted by the chairs and sofas that have joined forces with the stand-and-model brigade to block any escape. Your best bet is to get a drink at the bar and wait.
Onyx is a pretty classy place. Done up in the style of a ‘20s-era speakeasy, the lounge area in front holds about four banquettes and several smaller tables (all at no charge, though they do offer bottle service if you like). Though the place holds only 300 people, it never feels too crowded and you are able to move about freely. Everything is nice and relaxed…maybe too relaxed. I’ve never seen anything like this on a Saturday night. Everyone kinda gets their drink and convalesces. The crowd was good-looking, with a mix of rich Persian men, the blondes who love them, pseudo-socialites (“Gucci dress purchased exclusively on Ebay”), and the glitterati, aka those young women who tarted up in glitter. Who started this? Can someone please explain why it is necessary to dunk oneself in a vat of glitter before going out?
To fend off sleep, explore the place, which consists of the lounge/naptime area and a second room on the far right side of the lounge where you will find a small circular dancefloor and surprisingly decent house and hip-hop music. Don’t even think about dancing, for the crowd has designated this area as standing room only.
There is an elevated VIP area that is rather nice, all plushy and stuff, and a rather nifty DJ booth. The entire place is stunning, the music is great and the sound system for such a confined space is terrific. But the main draw is the bar, where attitude-free bartenders mix you a mean drink. The Onyx is the kind of place where you scan the drink list and want to sample everything. Every cocktail is done with the kind of skill and care that you rarely find anywhere in the Gaslamp district. Amazing still that each drink comes out perfect, considering the amount of people that they serve on a weekend night.
If you’re not looking for anything “fun” or “exciting,” the Onyx is for you. This point wouldn’t stick as much if they weren’t marketing the place as a “rocking” club rather than what it truly is – the very definition of a lounge. Wanna party? Go to On Broadway down the street. Wanna kick back? Head toward Onyx, and get one of their cucumber or red apple martinis. Guaranteed you’ll head home and have one of the best night’s sleep you’ll ever have. Glitter and all.

Stalker #2
It’s hard find a crowd that can suck the energy out of a room, but Onyx’s was certainly up for the challenge. Now if only they can package that shit up and put it into pill form. To be fair, just about everyone was pleasant and friendly enough I guess, a far cry from the icy glares you usually get from most of the downtown clubs, and chicks actually talk to you without demanding a drink first. The club itself is nice – there were a lot of people there that night, but it never really felt crowded. The dancefloor was empty, which was a shame since the DJ was trying hard to tear it up. Later on though the floor did eventually go off, particularly one person who turned herself into a one woman disco inferno.
The drinks cost a lot less than most places downtown ($5 for a beer; $7-8 for a mixed drink) and if you get bored you can go to the bar upstairs called Thin…or not. The place had the look and feel of a hospital corridor. Onyx is a decent place – I’d go back for like a Happy Hour during the week, but to be honest this is more of a place to start off your night, rather than a park-it-here-and-dance type place.

Stalker #3
I just have to say that Thin and Onyx Room are not for those who are over 120 pounds or more than a size six. Even the name tells you what to expect. The girls here are beautiful and impossibly skinny, which caused my friend to lean and hiss that, “this place should actually be called ‘starved.’” I had to agree with her. I’m an average girl in size but in this place…it’s one thing to be average, and it’s another to become the very definition of irony. Getting to one side of Thin to get to the door heading toward Onyx was ridiculous, but Onyx itself was really really nice. I like to think of it more as a lounge than an actual club (which is how it bills itself). The dancefloor is small and doesn’t really go off until a little later in the night, but the music is good and everyone seems to be having a fun time, which was a far cry from what was going on upstairs at the other place. The guys are hot here and don’t creep on you like at too many other places. In all I had a pretty fun time, but some of the people in our group hated it. But like most things in life, if you’re not expecting too much, you might wind up pleasantly surprised.

— Compiled by Eric Pereira

Copyright 2003 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2003 TESTA Communications