While there remain plenty of happy hour karaoke singers chillin’ at bars between surf sets in San Diego, the city’s Downtown Gaslamp District is propagating a posh clientele who revel in the bottle service craze. To service the bustling new crowd, newbie Belo arrived this year with the hip club opening essential: DJ AM.
The 20,000-square-foot underground space, formerly the warehouse-like E Street Alley, was renovated and redesigned to ooze swank and haute funk. Mod touches, bold colors and oversized accoutrement offer flexibility for events and diners, but does it have the heart of a nightclub? We sent the NightStalkers to find out.
My friend and I, native to the East Coast, met up in San Diego to check out the city, especially the club scene. After bumping around town, avoiding the too-tan types who’d likely know the wee hours’ tide shifts over DJ sets, we shamefully powered up the laptop. We ultimately decided on Belo. The club’s site confirmed the place was new and showed promise of a glimpse of the local club scene. As an added incentive Belo’s sister venue, On Broadway, had plenty of clubland cred bringing in seasoned Cali idols (Sandra Collins, DJ Irene), big names (Deep Dish, Tiesto), and locals and up-and-comers (Jon Bishop, Marc Thrasher).
So we headed to Downtown’s Gaslamp District, which was like a 16-block oasis with the quaint but bustling feel of a Charleston, S.C.
Outside Belo the door was abuzz, vying for attention with nearby lounges. The bouncer checked our IDs and, learning that we were New Yorkers like him, gave us reduced admission tickets and sent us down the steps into what looked like an alleyway. At the bottom another staffer took our money and gave us re-entry stamps inside our wrists – a signature SD move.
Inside was spacious but the place had a fairly low ceiling. Open doorways and island bars made for interesting, circuitous trips around the venue. Bright colors and oversized furnishings gave it an overall a mod look.
The DJ’s mash-ups and scratching of hip-hop, Top 40 and Madonna dancefloor classics reeked of hipster. And there were certainly some degree of SD-style hipsters present, but there were also the button-down types and self-contented girls dancing together in jeans and camis. They all gathered on the dancefloor under the seemingly sporadic hanging JBLs. The other main area, with the big bar, was sort of empty though. Bright pendant lights gave it a pink swirly hue. Still we decided to stay away from the dancefloor intensity for a bit and have some cheap-for-us mixed drinks in oversized orange banquettes with large white buttons (how very Austin Powers).
Somewhere between this too-bright area and the typical dark club lighting decked dancefloor we found a cute little bar that had some uber cool hanging lights that looked like dripping Ghostbusters slime, but were just the right level of bright. Unfortunately hanging there led to an insatiable craving for Ecto Cooler. We bounced somewhat early to avoid potential parking tickets on our jalopy rental car, and search for Hi-C.
When this club was E Street Alley I liked that it was sort of a dirty dungeon, but there were always too many dudes and not enough ladies. I heard it was reopening as Belo and was still going to be open late, plus DJ AM was spinning the opening party and starting a residency there. I was banking on the girls going for it.
So I went to Belo and forked over the $20 cover. Inside everything was so much brighter and fancier than E Street. Heading through the rainbow of colors and to the back dancefloor I was surprised to see Stretch Armstrong at the floor-level booth. He was kickin’ it. I grabbed a beer and hit up the dancefloor. There were a ton of cuties bustin’ hot moves.
When I left to get another drink I walked around space to see what the VIP areas were like. The rooms were sometimes cheesy, like a 1960s added to futuristic theme with an Elvis-like gold mirror and blue couch, but the very white space by the dancefloor was swanky and the waitresses seemed to be servicing it well in black mini-skirts and go-go boots. Not so bad for the Gaslamp’s current crowd. Pay an extra $5 for a ton more hot chicks? Totally worth it.