Blonde Ambition

Photos by Nancee E. Lewis
Born in Alaska and raised in Orange County, Bartender of the Month Jeremiah Zimmerman settled in San Diego more than a decade ago and has called North Park home ever since. If his face looks familiar, it may be because he plays keyboards and guitar for The Silent Comedy, the San Diego-based rock and folk group he founded with his brother Joshua. Several of the band’s songs have appeared on TV shows and in commercials, and the group has toured internationally and opened for Dave Matthews Band (in 2011 and 2012).

While his band is working on a new album, Zimmerman also stays busy as chief bartender and booze manager at Mission Hills’ new Blonde Bar, which takes its name from Blondie, the ‘70s rock band fronted by Debbie Harry. Taking a break from his work at this cocktail-bar/live-music joint (which has taken up residence at the former site of the beloved Bar Dynamite), the music man talks about what makes him tick.

PacificSD: How are things going so far at Blonde Bar?
JEREMIAH ZIMMERMAN: It’s been really good. We opened a couple weeks ago, and so far the entertainment lineup has worked really well.

“It’s a music fan’s take on a dive bar.”

How would you describe the place?
I’ve been telling people it’s a music fan’s take on a dive bar. Everybody that’s involved has either been in bands a lot or has been DJing and curating events a lot. We all come from music and we all want a place to go where we can hear great music that isn’t only stuff we love, but also that we haven’t heard before. We started talking about it in those terms before we even talked about the booze or the drinks. That’s sort of the different angle we’re taking. It’s not a straight-up music venue like the Casbah, or just a dive bar like Live Wire. It’s in-between. We want to play vinyl during happy hour and have music be the center of the whole thing. Music that will just be refreshing, where it’s not the same sort of thing you hear everywhere on the weekends. It’s not the same Top-40 playlist, but kind of an eclectic mix reflecting the tastes that we all have.

What’s on the menu?
Beer and cocktails. We have a cocktail menu that I put together, and I wanted it to run the gamut from more spirit-forward [stuff] that’s a little strong and intimidating, all the way down to the summery and refreshing options that are easy to drink. We tried to make the cocktail menu still have enough complexity to be interesting to people who are into cocktails, but we wanted to do it where any bartender could walk in and make the same consistent drink.

So, how are the drinks made?
Rather than spending 10 minutes on a drink, we batch the cocktails ahead of time. It just makes it more dive-y. You’re not necessarily going to watch 30 things go into a tin and be shaken up. You’re just going to get that quick pour the same way you do with a Jack & Coke, but you still have all that complexity of a drink. So, it’s like a dive bar’s take on cocktails, basically.

What drinks do you recommend?
I’m on a big tequila kick right now. So one of my favorites is this tequila cocktail, Life on Mars. It’s tequila, mezcal and green chartreuse stirred with ice and strained into a glass and garnished with a lemon. There’s a little bit of citrus in it, because I like to peel the lemon over the glass and add a little bit more citrus oil than I normally do. And then you’ve got the smokiness of the mezcal and that sweet, herbally chartreuse flavor. That’s one of the more spirit-forward drinks we offer. It’s kind of all booze.

I also love this drink that’s a take on an Italian cocktail. It’s Amaro Averna mixed with lemon juice and vodka. We’re going to do a gin variation on it as well, and it’s named after one of the most hard-working musicians in town, Daniel Crawford, who’s in Blackout Party and does a lot of producing for people. He and I were drinking those one night. It was just the Averna and lemon, and I was like, ‘I’m going to build a cocktail around this. This is just delicious.’ It’s actually really, really popular. It’s weird to have an Italian amaro be something that people are like clamoring to drink. So that’s kind of unique.

And one of the more novelty drinks on the menu is call the Gold Fashioned. There’s nothing special about the ingredients, really. It’s just your standard bitters and whiskey and orange peel, but we take the sugar cube that dissolves in the bottom of the glass and use the bakers’ gold dust used in cake decorating. When you blend up the sugar and the gold, it floats all through the drink. And if you shine a light on it, it reflects off all these gold crystals throughout the whole thing. That was kind of a gimmicky thing that I just wanted to do because it looks cool, and people get a kick out of it. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it is kind of entertaining.

What’s your band up to?
We just finished recording a new record. We did a six-week European tour at the beginning of this year, and then we got a couple of one-off shows in the States since then, around the West Coast and on the East Coast. We’re really just trying to get the record put out.

1808 W. Washington St., Mission Hills

Follow Jeremiah Zimmerman: @finallytired


First car: The first car I bought myself was a ’69 Volkswagen Squareback. It was the slowest car I’ve ever had, but it was just so much fun. It ran for exactly six months, then the engine exploded. It was the most heartbreaking thing in the world.

Current ride: I drive a 15-passenger, white Ford van. That’s my main mode of transportation, but I also have an old ’74 Honda motorcycle that I’ve been trying to get back working again because I miss it. It’s also much easier to park than the van.

Dream car: I’ve always kind of wanted to get a VW bus. That was what I learned to drive on back in Huntington Beach.