By VINCE MEEHAN | Downtown News
San Diego native Frankie Sciuto is the general manager of Downtown’s Side Bar, one of the more popular nightspots in the Gaslamp Quarter. He’s hanging out in the front bar room with his vice president of nightlife operations, Pablo Aguilar. As they go over business, he multitasks by sampling a new craft cocktail offered up by his mixologist. “It’s sweet, is it supposed to be sweet?” he asks. The bartender nods as Sciuto studies the flavor. This is typical of Sciuto’s hands-on style of management at Side Bar.
Side Bar recently went through a complete remodel where it had to be shut down for a few months. Now, with summer in full swing, the nightspot is up and running with a whole new look and feel. The vibe is very high end with the ambiance of a modern Las Vegas nightclub. Sciuto had a big part in coming up with the new vision, but also credits his team with helping to see it through. “The design actually started off on Pinterest to be honest, between our team,” Sciuto said. “We started off on a Pinterest board with me and a couple of my staff, we collaborated, then used our designer Davis Krumins of Davis Ink to come up with this beautiful venue.”
Side Bar is actually two venues in one, the first being the front bar area that now is open to the street via large windows. The second is the more secluded rear room, which is designed in the motif of a classic high-end bottle lounge. Before the remodel, Side Bar did not open until 9 p.m. and Sciuto noticed that the club did not fill up until almost 10. Part of the remodel strategy was to give the two rooms a different personality as well as utilize a previously unused kitchen to provide small plates and craft cocktails so they could open at 6 p.m. and take advantage of early business.
The front area serves as a typical bar that opens at 6 p.m. for people who stroll in off the street for drinks and bites. As 9 p.m. rolls around, the bar darkens and house music gets louder and people start to gravitate towards the rear lounge. This lounge rivals anything in San Diego as a night destination, and Sciuto is especially proud of it. “We got our guys at SJ Lighting to set this up, who have done all the big clubs in the Northern Hemisphere. They helped in coming up with the design. They’ve done clubs from LIVE in Miami to major clubs in Vegas as well. They’ve also helped with Rustic Root and the FLUXX project, they’re great guys.”
Sciuto says the difference is night and day from the previous design compared to the new remodel. “We definitely wanted to go with a lighter feel. Before… Side Bar was very dark, a lot of reds and blacks, so we wanted to do something completely different. And along with that, we added the food element. And another thing we did was to open up the windows along Sixth Avenue. So there are a lot of changes that we’ve added. We even opened up the front doors that haven’t been opened in 11 years.”
One hallmark of Side Bar is the weekly industry night event on Wednesday nights. Given the fact that the hospitality industry works over the weekends, Wednesdays are pretty much a Saturday for the bartenders, cooks and waiters. “We open at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays for industry night, which has been going on for almost 10 years,” Sciuto said. “We’ll have guest bartenders from different venues come and serve drinks, and other venues even bring tasters of their own food or their cocktails. Their staff will come in and we’ll get them bottle service and let them blow off some steam after working the full weekend.”
This camaraderie within the industry has other benefits such as mutual cooperation with special projects. This includes reutilizing the Side Bar kitchen, which stood dormant for many years. “We actually had a lot of help from Chef James, who is going to be the chef at Huntress, who came and helped us out,” Sciuto stated. “And along with members of our team, we came up with some small plates, and it’s actually worked out really well. We have everything from a charcuterie board, to our cauliflower bites that people love, to our Tokyo bites, some flatbreads and fries, of course.”
Side Bar is open at 6 p.m.to midnight on Wednesday and Thursday nights (the latter boasts an acoustic music set until 10 p.m.). Friday and Saturday nights are open from 5 p.m. to last call. There is also a Sunday night party, which is a scaled-down hip-hop-driven night. Side Bar is located Downtown at Sixth and Market streets.
— Vince Meehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.