Known as North Bay, Sports Arena, the Midway District and Loma Portal, one thing the patch of land between Point Loma and Interstate 5 isn’t known for is electrifying nightlife. But with the arrival of the new Banzai Cocktails and Food, not to mention the DJs it’s bringing to this stretch of (almost) coast, that tide could be about to turn.
Taking its name from a Japanese battle cry, Banzai sprung up a few months ago on Midway Drive where the punk club Shakedown once stood. Owned and operated by the cousins behind the Gaslamp Quarter’s Werewolf and Little Italy’s landmark The Waterfront Bar & Grill, this 1,300-square-foot bar sports an old-school arcade room, an enormous fish tank and a menu of Hawaiian- and Asian-inspired plates.
Bartender Chelcie Lopez, a Bakersfield native who moved to San Diego a year ago, offers a closer look at what Banzai has on tap.
PACIFIC: What’s the vibe like at Banzai?
CHELCIE LOPEZ: Southern Cali dive bar with Asian-fusion food. We have a yummy cocktail list and rotating draft beers. The design of the bar is so rad. We’re pet-friendly and have spacious seating in the patio area.
How have Loma Portal locals been reacting to the new spot?
People have been really curious since construction was going on and they are blown away when they stop in, not only by the design but the food as well. This is the perfect spot to hit before and after a visit to the Sports Arena. We’ve met a lot of people from the neighborhood, newcomers and old, who we’ve been seeing a lot of.
What are a couple of Banzai’s signature drinks?
Our No. 20 is a hot drink. I’ll make ‘em all night after someone sees another guest with one. It includes our blackberry puree made in-house, matched with the perfect amount of bourbon.
The Smokeshow is my favorite drink, also made with our blackberry puree and a smoky mescal tequila. It’s just sweet enough to make you crave another.
What are a couple of your favorite items on the food menu?
One of my favorites is the grilled ginger chicken bowl. The cilantro sauce is to die for. It has edamame, carrots and cucumbers in there for that healthy feel.
What food-and-drink pairing do you suggest first-time guests try?
I don’t think most people know we’re a “scratch” kitchen. When guests see the menu, they get a look at a wide range of deliciousness. If you love poke, like me, then the crunchy poke tacos are a must. Your taste buds will thank you.
Aside from Banzai, what are a couple of your other favorite venues in S.D.?
I love being beachside at any opportunity. And any place with a rooftop has my heart already.
Where else in San Diego have you worked?
I got my start at Pacific Beach Cantina. The employees there were so rad. The girls made me feel like family right away, and who doesn’t love a huge margarita in their life?
Worst pickup line you’ve overheard at a bar?
“Are you Google? Because I’ve just found what I’ve been looking for.” I feel like I have heard them all, but every time it’s always the cheesiest that make a girl laugh.
What neighborhood do you live in now?
I just moved to the North Park area. I love the fact I’m so close to great coffee and the Observatory to see all my favorite artists.
What do you get into on your days off?
I go to different yoga studios and I’m looking for an awesome salsa studio. I also like to take my Yorkie to the beach to run around. It’s like my Disneyland.
What’s your jam right now?
“Feels” by Kiiara has been on repeat. I tend to listen to all types of music. Local Natives and TAME are my favorite.
Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?
To be a little bit more spontaneous and go/see beautiful places around the world or even closer to me. I also plan on running in a few marathons I’ve already signed up for.
Banzai Cocktails and Food
Address: 3048 Midway Drive, Loma Portal