There’s a new, all-ages music venue in San Diego. Here’s the low-down on Bridges
The Clairemont Mesa concert space is located inside of Communion Church
Bridges is arguably the cleanest music venue in San Diego.
You’ll find no concert flyers plastered on the walls; no beer-stained carpet under your feet. Instead, the space greets you with bright white walls, massive windows and a sky-high ceiling, propped up by light wood beams. From the green rooms to the bathrooms to the glossy concrete floors, the place is nearly spotless.
There’s another factor in venue’s clean image: Bridges is located inside a church. But owner and general manager Kyle McMillan doesn’t want that element to deter nonreligious folks from stopping by for a show.
“I want people to feel comfortable,” said McMillan, who manages the venue alongside his twin brother Kendrick. “Yes, it’s a church. But that’s where the name Bridges comes from — it’s bridging the music world and the secular world, and making people feel comfortable coming into this church building that has no judgments.”
And while the church venue may be clean, a squeaky-clean persona isn’t what McMillan is after.
“This is a place where people can just come and feel free and enjoy themselves ... some people might be outside smoking cigarettes, or an F-bomb might drop or whatever — we want that,” he said, laughing. “You’re welcome here.”
That open invitation is extended to all ages. Unlike many concert venues in San Diego, Bridges is not a 21-and-up joint.
“There’s a lot of young people that want a stage to do their thing,” McMillan said, adding that there are few local spots for musicians, and music lovers, under 21.
The concert-hall-inside-a-church concept might remind some San Diegans of The Irenic, a now-shuttered music venue situated in North Park’s Missiongathering Christian Church. That comparison is no coincidence, as McMillan was previously The Irenic’s show manager from 2014 to 2017. McMillan plans to bring that experience — and lessons learned — to build up a venue that’s “100 times better.”
“There’s no shade to The Irenic,” he said. “But I want it to be a better experience.”
Bridges’ primary building — the picturesque space where all church services are held — is on the corner of Mt. Albertine Avenue and Mt. Ada Road in Clairemont Mesa. Behind it is a long, two-story structure owned by Communion Church, lined with rooms that will house everything from a recording studio to a four-chair barbershop. (The latter, named Forte, is another project of McMillan’s.)
The concert venue serves as a place of worship during the day, but that’s not the only dual-purpose space. Many rooms throughout the complex serve multiple functions. McMillan’s barbershop will be a part-time recording space for an iHeartRadio podcast, and during the day, those pristine green rooms are full of kids — not 18-year-old musicians, but toddlers in daycare.
It’s an unconventional approach — and a lot of work — but McMillan said he’s “excited to do things a little bit different.” And he’s already thinking of expanding, citing plans to convert one of the spare rooms into yet another music venue, an intimate space more suited for mid-size shows with the potential for a professional camera set-up.
“I want to do something kind of like ‘Tiny Desk’ in San Diego,” McMillian said, referencing NPR’s live concert video series.
For now, McMillan is focusing his attention on the main concert space, which just held its first show on Nov. 5. The evening was headlined by San Diego surf/alternative/jazz trio Foxtide, and featured openers Big Fun, Kocean, Aloe Vera and GONE (Elijah Gonzalez). Although no alcohol was served — the venue doesn’t have a license — there was a coffee vendor set up outside for concertgoers.
The crowd’s energy fluctuated throughout the evening, with everyone sitting and playing close attention for the first few acts to folks dancing and even starting a mosh pit later on. According to Samer Bakri, one of the sound engineers, attendees were engaged and respectful at the concert. And while a large majority of the audience was young people, the show was truly all ages.
“The crowd was amazing ... I think even someone’s grandparents showed up, so anywhere from (age) 15 to 75,” Bakir said.
It’s important to note that the venue is a rental space, not a promoter with its own programming. Bridges’ first show was presented by Soda Bar and the Casbah, two local music venues that collaborate with McMillan. The large square footage of Bridges, which can hold approximately 400-450 people standing and 200-250 people seated, grants bar venues the opportunity to host larger events.
While McMillan frequently works with other venues and promoters — another Soda Bar show is on the books for Nov. 26 — Bridges is open to anyone who wants to rent, use or visit the space.
“It’s going to be its own little community, and everyone is welcome to come out and chill with us,” McMillan said.
Bridges is located at 6555 Balboa Ave. in Clairemont Mesa. For venue and show updates, follow @bridges_sd619 on Instagram.
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.