San Diego music fans weigh in on their favorite, now-defunct concert venues and nightclubs
From AMSDconcerts, Anthology and the Old Time Cafe to the Bacchanal, Iguanas and Street Scene, music fans here have vivid memories to share
Musical memories resonate deeply for many San Diegans.
So do their memories of AMSDconcerts, Anthology, the Bacchanal, Iguanas, the Old Time Café and the other now-defunct venues that were part of our Oct. 2 Sunday Arts cover story, “Gone, but not forgotten: San Diego’s five best concert venues you can no longer visit.”
Musical memories still echo from such defunct venues as Iguanas in Tijuana, the Old Time Cafe in Leucadia, the Backdoor at SDSU, the Palace Bar downtown and and AMSDConcerts, which operated in at least four different area neighborhoods
In that article, we asked readers to tell us about their favorite area live-music venues that no longer exist. Here are some of their responses, which have been edited for clarity and length.
Dave Mason at the Bacchanal
Just wanted you to know I so enjoyed the article about no longer existing music venues..
My favorite was the Bacchanal in Kearny Mesa. I went there on a date in the early 1980s and saw Dave Mason. What really knocked me out was the opening act was a blonde lady guitar player who said she was from Kansas. She sang a rock ‘n’ roll version of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” that was awesome.
I didn’t get her name, but I am sure hoping it could have been either Sheryl Crow or Melissa Etheridge.
Street Scene was ‘seminal’
Your Sunday article reminiscing about the legendary San Diego County music venues that have bit the dust was excellent. The concerts that I continue to miss the most, especially in September, were all the ones I attended at the San Diego Street Scene festival during the many years it survived.
This was without question the seminal signature musical event. Each year, during September, outdoor stages were strategically set up throughout downtown in the Gaslamp Quarter area. Some of the marquee acts heeding the call to perform included Los Lobos, Chris Isaak, Dave Alvin & The Guilty Men, Stanley Turrentine and Tracy Nelson, to name just a few, (plus) an eclectic assortment of zydeco, jazz, rap, reggae, pop, Latino, bossa nova and all other types of musicians ... The sheer variety of music available to be heard, over one glorious weekend, was truly mind-boggling.
Street Scene, San Diego’s largest and oldest annual rock music festival, will be dormant this summer after incurring major financial losses during its 25th anniversary edition last year.
There has never been another San Diego music festival that has captured the scope and organization of Street Scene. For three magical days, San Diego became transformed into a musical mecca, attracting the best and brightest stars in the music and recording industry.
Gary A. Sernaker
Meatloaf at Iguanas
My most interesting concert was Sept. 13, 1989, at Iguanas. Meatloaf was coming back to performing and put on a great show. It looked like less than 100 people were there in that huge venue. I also miss the Tiki in Pacific Beach; it had great live music and Anchor Steam on tap.
Jimmy Buffett at the Backdoor
The Backdoor at SDSU would probably be the one “gone but not forgotten” San Diego concert venue I miss, even though I was there for only one show.
I still remember that it was a rectangular shaped room with a raised platform at one end for the stage. The refreshment stand was at the other end, if I recall correctly. Wooden benches attached to walls running the length of the long walls of the venue. Everybody else sat on the carpeted floor, as I did.
I discovered Jimmy Buffett’s music in 1974 and attended my first live show in Sept. 1975 at the Backdoor. It was a small venue and there were maybe 200 to 300 people there that night. Buffett played his ass off. He had a cult following back then, as he was not well known at the time.
“Margaritaville,” which made him very well known, came out in the summer of 1977. I saw him a second time in 1978 at the SDSU Open Air Amphitheatre. It was another great show with his Coral Reefer Band.
Jazz at the Catamaran
One of the most memorable venues for me from long ago was the Catamaran in Pacific Beach. In the 1970s, they hosted world-class jazz acts every month.
My favorites were the Bill Evans Trio, perhaps the year before his (1980) death, and Les McCann — we sat right next to him and his piano. He spent a lot of his time trying to convince my brother’s wife and my friend’s girlfriend to come to his room for an after-party. That old horn dog! LOL. Good times! Thanks for all the great reviews over the decades, George!
A vote for Anthology
I really enjoy your articles and today’s made me nostalgic for my favorite concert venue of all-time, which sadly closed in 2013: Anthology on India Street in San Diego. Aside from being located in the just emerging, and then still a bit gritty, Little Italy, it was simply the best place to see music for a variety of reasons, including: the small, intimate setting; the superior acoustics of the venue; the “vibe” — we really enjoyed having a dinner-music venue; and the acts they were booking.
After extensive remodeling and expansion, the new/old downtown music venue will debut in September.
Anthology became my “go-to” place to hear new artists that I hadn’t previously been aware of. My favorite concert there was Brandi Carlile, around 2009. She was known, but hadn’t hit the big time quite yet. To hear her music and voice in that venue was unforgettable, not to mention her engagement and interaction with the crowd, which only enhanced the evening.
Another vote for Anthology
My favorite music venue was Anthology, which lasted only a few years in Little Italy. The design of that venue was first class and the floorplan was brilliant. The main seating level was literally only a few feet from the slightly raised stage. The second and third floors had a balcony setting of tables and booths in an L-shape overlooking the concert stage.
My favorite performance there was in 2009 by the legendary contemporary jazz pianist, Joe Sample. His energetic songs included “Hippies on a Corner,” “Carmel,” “Street Life,” “Melodies of Love” and “Cannery Row.” He sadly passed away in 2014. What a talented performer!
‘Huge female following!’
Mony Mony’s was a large club on Sports Arena Boulevard, right across from the San Diego Sports Arena. From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, a band named Flyweil used to pack the place, especially on weekends.
They had a huge female following ... so much so that the Navy used to direct sailors to go see the band if they were looking for some female eye candy. Mony Mony’s is now a parking lot for Home Depot, I believe.
Incidentally, there was one of the last remaining Tower Records on the same block. It was the first store to carry Flyweil’s debut album.
Nirvana at Iguanas
One of my favorites was 4th & B, for sure, and the California Theater, when Pat Travers played it back in the day. My favorite show was at Iguanas, the night Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr. & one other band played. It was sold out, so my buddy and I walked around back. Kurt Cobain and crew were there smoking a cigarette. I told them it was sold out, slipped them a $5 spot and he opened the (stage) door where the bands go in. My pal and I slid in, right into a massive mosh pit. It was epic.
‘824 concerts and counting!’
I really enjoyed reading your article in the Union-Tribune. I’ve been to 824 concerts and counting! Iron Maiden at the North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre in Chula Vista was No. 824 and the upcoming Elton John concert at Petco Park will be my 825th concert.
Elton John adds November San Diego concert at Petco Park and 10 other stadium dates to his farewell tour
The pop-music legend’s first farewell tour concert in San Diego took place in January 2019 at Pechanga Arena. Ticket prices for his Petco Park concert start at $55, plus service fees
Although I never saw a show at Old Time Café, Palace Bar, or the Backdoor, I’ve seen Venice and Ambrosia multiple times at AMSDconcerts, and saw two concerts at Iguanas: Lynch Mob in 1991 and Pearl Jam on their “Ten Tour” in 1992.
My favorite performance at Iguanas was Pearl Jam, May 10, 1992, hands down! My favorite memory was when (singer) Eddie Vedder made his infamous trek (hand over hand) around the balcony rails. My girlfriend and I were standing next to the balcony edge on the left side of the stage. Eddie started his balcony climb right in front of me. I got nervous for him and reached down to grab his arm, thinking I was helping him to not fall. He looked up and shook his head at me, as if to say: ‘Let go of my arm!”
He then proceeded to climb all around the Iguanas balcony to the right side of the stage while the band jammed and the audience cheered, clapped and raised their fists in the air. He mounted the speaker tower on the right side of the stage and looked down at the crowd on the floor below him for a few seconds, then spread his arms and fell backward onto the crowd of fans with their hands raised in the air.
Thankfully, the crowd provided him with a cushy landing and he then body-surfed back to the stage and finished the song. So awesome!
My favorite San Diego concert venue that no longer exists was The Bacchanal. I saw over 25 concerts there, from Quiet Riot, Foghat, Ted Nugent and Y&T to Steve Morse, Trevor Rabin, Bad English and the Chris Squire Experiment. My favorite memory was when my band, The Current, opened up for Ambrosia on Nov 1, 1990 (unfortunately, I don’t have the flyer for that show). I got to meet Ambrosia backstage and have been friends with (bassist/singer) Joe Puerta ever since. I was the singer for The Current from 1984 to 1992 and got to play The Bacchanal at least five times, had some great gigs there. Fun times!
Thanks again for the great article and for taking me down memory lane!
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