Bar Pink and Small Bar permanently close their doors

Small Bar in University Heights announced its permanent closure via social media on Nov. 12.
Small Bar in University Heights announced its permanent closure via social media on Nov. 12. Pictured is the bar’s interior, which was remodeled last year.
(Courtesy Photo )

Small Bar and Bar Pink, two beloved San Diego hangouts, have recently been forced to shutter due to COVID-19. Though many trendy restaurants and bars have popped up over the years in the two neighborhoods, both Bar Pink and Small Bar’s doors have been open for more than a decade.

Bar Pink, which opened 13 years ago in North Park, was known for its intimate live music shows and affordable drinks. In October, online rumors broke that the bar was closing and a hospitality group was taking over the location.

Bar Pink has not officially announced its permanent closure on its social media, but alluded to the end of an era in a handful of Facebook posts, which promoted a final run of music livestreams dubbed #RIPink.

And though Bar Pink has not confirmed the online rumors, co-owner Robin Chiki told the San Diego Union-Tribune on Nov. 13 that “Bar Pink is done for good.”

Chiki said that since the March shutdown, Bar Pink took out three government loans: two Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and one Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.

However, it was not enough money to stay afloat. While Bar Pink’s landlords cut the rent in half for the first two months of the pandemic, the bar was expected to pay the full $13,000 monthly rent thereafter.

In total, Chiki said it cost Bar Pink $20,000 a month to be non-operational. Bar Pink, which does not serve food, attempted to sell to-go beverages for a bit without much success. Chiki said they didn’t think partnering with a restaurant to sell food would have worked for the nightclub, which caters to an evening crowd.

“We’re not the venue that people go to to have a burger — we’re the place people go see bands and DJs,” Chiki said.

Bar Pink in North Park
(Sean M. Haffey)

Longtime patrons have posted supportive comments online about Bar Pink closing its doors.

“I am so incredibly sorry to hear this! You all created magic and feel lucky to have been able to experience it,” Faith Pickings’ comment said in part.

“I will always remember you as ‘Pink Elephant’, and sometimes remember the hazy $2 Tecate afternoons. Safe travels ...” Roland Telebrico wrote, referring to the bar’s original name.

“We created a family [at Bar Pink] and to have that all just be taken like that was kind of hard, it still is hard,” Chiki said. “Money is one thing but it was more that — and a lot of people said this to us — it was a gathering place.”

Bartenders work to fill everyone's orders at a crowed Small Bar on July 23, 2015. (Michael Cali)
Bartenders work to fill everyone’s orders at a crowed Small Bar on July 23, 2015. (Michael Cali)
(Michael Cali / San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Pre)

A few weeks after Bar Pink’s stage went dark, Small Bar announced it is following in Bar Pink’s footsteps. Karen Barnett, the owner of Small Bar, posted a video on Facebook and Instagram on Nov. 12 announcing the closure.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I must announce the closure of Small Bar today,” Barnett said in the video. “We have navigated — and survived — years of challenges, but 2020 has proven to be more than this little bar can handle.”

“I couldn’t even begin to start a list of people who helped make this business so special — it was like a second home for so many people, including myself,” she continued.

In the video, Barnett notes that the 11-year-old business had incurred debts from “last year’s failed remodel” — a reference to Small Bar’s renovation in collaboration with Trust Restaurant Group — which only grew larger with the challenges COVID-19 had on the restaurant industry.

According to Barnett, the final straw for Small Bar was a COVID-19 scare earlier this month , in which an employee’s possible exposure to the virus paused operations as all staff members were tested for coronavirus.

“Losing a week of sales basically made our fate unavoidable,” she said.

Small Bar did not immediately respond to San Diego Union-Tribune’s request for comment.

With the news that San Diego is now back in the purple tier restrictions, the future of the San Diego restaurant scene continues to look grim.

“I fear, and I unfortunately had a feeling this was going to happen, that us [Bar Pink] and Small Bar — we’re not the last [to permanently close],” Chiki said. “There’s a lot more small businesses that are going to be going down also, unfortunately, and that just really sucks.”