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East Village’s Neighborhood restaurant gets a $2M reboot — plus a hidden bar

Reopening of Neighborhood restaurant downtown
Staff at the Neighborhood restaurant in East Village prepare for its reopening following a two-year closure to renovate the dining and drinking venue that also includes two cocktail bars.
(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The craft beer-centric eatery owned by high-profile restaurant group, CH Projects, will make its debut following a two-year closure that predated the pandemic

When the craft beer and burger-focused Neighborhood eatery opened in East Village 14 years ago, it was the first foray into restaurant ownership for the now prolific Arsalun Tafazoli, whose hospitality group boasts such high-profile venues as Born & Raised, Craft & Commerce, and Raised by Wolves.

At the time, Neighborhood was considered fairly cutting edge with its more than two dozen craft beers on tap — and not a Heineken in sight — and an indoor-outdoor design that included artificial grass around the perimeter and faux moss and ivy on the walls. In recent years, though, the G Street venue no longer felt all that avant-garde as San Diego saw an explosion of craft beer-centric pubs. And so Neighborhood shuttered in March of 2019 — a year before the pandemic — in anticipation of a six-month-long transformation.

Two years and more than $2 million later, Neighborhood, along with its companion speakeasy Noble Experiment and new bar, Youngblood, are making their debut Monday, the latest in the CH Projects’ portfolio of 15 dining and drinking venues.

“For us this is emotional. I spent the best and worst moments on that corner,” said CH Projects co-founder Tafazoli, recalling Neighborhood’s first year when he applied for Sears credit cards to make payroll. “As it relates to restaurants, groups don’t always get better as they scale. It’s something we’re horribly aware of and insecure about. How can we apply this decade of experience and hopefully it will be our best work yet?”

Gone now from the reinvented Neighborhood are its former industrial-chic vibe, open windows and outdoor seating. And banished from Noble Experiment are its TV screens and wood paneling, replaced with faux-finished walls. Still ever present, though, are CH Projects’ signature whimsy, fanciful design and obsessive attention to detail.

The 2,000-square-foot Neighborhood boasts a custom oak parquet floor, cowhide leather-covered bar stools, and a “Hi-Fi” wall with turntables and reel-to-reel tapes that will play a selection of music spanning punk, metal, new wave, rock and hip-hop. The banquettes are upholstered with fabric from the longtime Ben Davis workwear clothing line (the menus will be inserted in the pockets).

The 34-seat restaurant, with a seating capacity that is now half of what it used to be, will still showcase craft beer with a focus on San Diego brewers, plus rare selections that CH says date back to the early days of the movement. New to Neighborhood is a section of the eatery that has been reserved for the retail sale of specialty brews. The culinary offerings will be ever-changing, from crispy tofu curry to schnitzel and falafel.

Ch Projects’ chief information officer, Brian Eastman, enthuses over the restaurant’s rare selections, including a legendary Double IPA from 1996 that is among only a few such bottles remaining in the world — “a true piece of history,” he said.

Noble Experiment, which still retains its wall of rows upon rows of golden skulls, is a refreshed cocktail bar with no menu — “you’re going to tell us what you like and we’ll make you that drink,” Tafazoli says — while Youngblood is a new addition to the G Street location. Together, the two bars encompass 2,000 square feet.

Nobel Experiment
Nobel Experiment, much of which is unchanged following the Neighborhood renovations.
(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Occupying a former loft apartment, as Noble Experiment does, the elegant Youngblood is suffused in warm, gold lighting, amplified by a large neon chandelier. The bar top is fashioned from layers of marble and granite, and the upholstered bar front is gold crushed velvet.

The hidden speakeasy is accessed through a door that has a deceptive facade — a glass-front refrigerator case. The concept behind Youngblood is a more customized, intimate cocktail experience that will be marketed as a fixed-price tasting of initially three cocktails and rare champagnes that will change daily. Pricing will start around $65 per person but will vary based on the offerings.

Pointing to a shelved area of rarer whiskeys, Eastman said one single cabinet space can house as much as $150,000 to $200,000 worth of vintage spirits, which have been curated by the restaurant group over the years.

Bucking the prevailing hospitality trends is something Tafazoli says is both risky and seductive.

“I love nerd culture where you take a very specific genre and you put this irrational level of attention into it and go deep with it,” he said. “We are the nerds of restaurants and bars, and we get into the weeds and detail that can seem trivial to most.”

He acknowledges that his restaurant group is fortunate enough to have so far survived the pandemic with its businesses intact, but says this latest project couldn’t have made it this far without the concessions made by both its lender and landlord.

“When the pandemic hit, we were already one year and two months into this project, and the train had already left the station so the only path was forward,” Tafazoli said. “Our bank was local and everyone shared a common belief that there would be light at the end of the tunnel so we pushed forward. The bank basically gave us a 12-month reprieve. That allowed us to see this through. Between landlord and the banks, they really supported us through this dumpster fire of a year.”


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