There are dive bars down dusty alleys that are hard to find and then there’s San Diego’s The Tower Bar, fittingly found underneath a massive 110-foot tower impossible to miss. The structure occupied by The Tower Bar has stood on its current location since 1932, first built as a drive-in soda fountain with a glass-lined observatory atop the second floor. And that’s only the beginning of the rich history attached to what is now one of San Diego’s most iconic dive bars. The original brick parking lot was repurposed in 1946 to create a low wall along the property and the tower once featured clocks since removed because kids shot out their glass housings one too many times.
Numerous bars and restaurants cycled through the first floor of the Zigzag Moderne building, the second floor converted into a kitchen connected with the first floor via dumbwaiter in 1973. The fact that The Tower Bar made it to 1973 was fortuitous given the car that crashed into and nearly through the building in 1964, killing one person and injuring seven others. That feat would be repeated in 2017 when a police car sideswiped by a drunk driver careened into the building.
Sadly, the original tower began to lean in 1999, ultimately removed and then restored in 2009 with a fresh, bright paint job. The dive bar that occupies the space today is a blue brick classic dive, a tattoo parlor on the second floor. Inside, a bar counter windows through the compact space, just room enough for a series of booths along one wall and a stage fit for live music. Beer signs dot the walls and an illuminated series of shelves behind the bar reflect on the bar’s liquor bottle selection.