Bar Tour: Upper East Bar

They say location is everything, and it’s something that Kimpton Solamar Hotel has in spades.

The boutique hotel is located right in the heart of downtown San Diego in the city’s bustling Gaslamp Quarter and growing East Village neighborhood. The 235-room hotel is steps away from Petco Park, the San Diego Convention Center, as well as a variety of San Diego’s best dining, shopping, nightlife, and entertainment venues.

Hotel Solamar wanted to reflect the vibe of the neighborhood and remake its rooftop bar into a primary destination for not only hotel guests, but those in the San Diego area as well.

“Previously, the space used to be the place you’d go before heading to your next destination, and our goal was to have this be the place that you go,” says Shannon Foster, General Manager of Kimpton Solamar Hotel. “It’s a destination in and of its own.”

The refresh of the rooftop area came on the heels of two other renovations—the hotel’s restaurants in 2014 and the guest rooms in 2015 and 2016.

“We felt like we needed a change in that space that aligned more with the new look and feel of the hotel,” explains Foster. “We have anything from guests of the hotel that are in for a week away on vacation to business travelers that are staying with us that are having big events on property to people that are attending a wedding here.”

The hotel also wanted the rooftop area to better reflect Hotel Solamar’s brand and commitment to guest service. “We want to pamper and cater to our guests,” says Jeremy LeBlanc, Food & Beverage Manager of Upper East Bar. “We want that vibe to come out with a cool, crisp look and feel.”

The renovation included a total update of the rooftop area, but it started with a rethinking of the layout and the use of the space overall.

Originally, the rooftop bar had four large planters that divided the space nicely for smaller events. However, any time a client wanted to host a large event in the space, they had trouble visualizing it because of the way the area was divided.

To open up the space, Hotel Solamar took out the four planters and replaced them with hedges on wheels, which offer the versatility to custom divide and design the space for each individual event.

“When we divide the space with those hedges, it creates this feeling of exclusivity in your location,” says Foster. “You can’t really see what’s going on across the rest of the deck if you don’t want to.”

The movable hedges also allow for separation of the pool area from the bar. “We have some planters on wheels that we have fixed behind our lounge chairs to try to create a little bit of a divide between the actual bar and the pool area,” says Foster. “It creates a little bit of privacy in the pool area for the guests that are laying out enjoying the pool.”

The newly opened layout and the ability to custom divide the space has allowed Hotel Solamar to host events they previously weren’t able to, such as wedding ceremonies and receptions.

In addition to opening up the space, the rooftop bar also gained a name change to Upper East Bar, three new fire pits, a resurfaced bar, and all-new cabana coverings to match the updated color scheme.

Previously, hunter green was a prominent color in the bar. Now, the cabanas are chartreuse green, which ties in with the blues, yellows, and whites in the space.

All-new lighting was also installed throughout the rooftop bar, including in the cabanas and at the bar. “Lighting can definitely set the tone for an event you have up there, so if you have this bright white light or bright blue light up there, it’s just not going to create the same appeal,” explains Foster. “We really wanted to warm it up and create a more inviting feel so we have softer tones with the lights.”

In an effort to promote a more social atmosphere, Hotel Solamar also added new furniture and seating to the Upper East Bar.

They added a large sofa in the moon dome area to replace the tall tables that were there previously. “That was more like a gathering area,” says Foster, “but now there’s really purpose in that moon dome. It definitely gave new life to that space.” In fact, guests can now rent out this area, much like the cabanas.

New tall tables and chairs were added by the bar area, as well as white mesh chairs around the firepits to promote conversation. Coffee tables and plenty of soft seating like coaches and ottomans were also added.

“Just about every piece of furniture up there is custom for the space,” says Foster. “We worked with different furniture designers to help create the space that now exists.”

In an area with artificial grass, Upper East Bar also offers a variety of outdoor games like cornhole, a shuffleboard table, and a giant Connect 4, and the hope is to add more soon. The games, coupled with the soft seating, encourage guests to settle in and stay for a while. “We want people to come and spend several hours here,” says Foster.

The food menu was also overhauled, and it promotes the social atmosphere of the new Upper East Bar with shareable plates.

Chef Anthony Sinsay is at the helm of the menu, and the sharable plates include citrus-soy beef skewers, freshly made ceviche, and the “Ridiculous Grilled Cheese.” “We kept a few of Chef’s menu items, but 99% of the menu has changed,” says Joshua Liberman, Food & Beverage General Manager at Hotel Solamar. “We took the approach of ‘feeling sexy while eating,’ and Chef is still sourcing from local purveyors.”

Upper East Bar will also be serving brunch on the weekends, with Chef Sinsay’s Sunrise Social Hour brunch menu inspired by plays on classic brunch dishes.

The cocktail menu was also completely revamped as Hotel Solamar wanted to offer guests a more approachable menu that will change with the season.

“The goal of the new cocktail menu is to focus on clean, acid-based cocktails that reflect the space. Every spirit I chose from the rum to the vodka complements the drink. We are incorporating bitters in a few drinks to complement the spirits,” says Liberman. “I am sourcing local distilleries here from San Diego along with using produce we get every week from the farmer’s market.

“All of the cocktails have a feminine component to them but are still masculine in nature. I also wanted to reintroduce a few classic cocktails while adding some modern variations.”

The new signature cocktail for Upper East Bar is called “The East Fizz,” which is made with Belvedere Vodka, Giffard grapefruit liqueur, lemon, and prosecco.

Also new is a champagne promotion on Wednesday nights called Veuve O’Clock. Veuve Cliquot Champagne by the glass will be served every Wednesday starting at 5pm, and the price goes up as the hour does—$5 at 5pm, $6 at 6pm, $7 at 7pm, and $8 at 8pm.

Everything at the Upper East Bar may be new, but LeBlanc cites his “seasoned staff” as one of the great parts of the bar. In fact, three of the bartenders have been with the hotel
for close to ten years.

Overall, the renovation took a few months to complete. The biggest challenge was unexpected rain delays at the start of the project. “We brought the rain to San Diego,” jokes Foster. “It never rains in San Diego, and then as soon as we started that renovation, it started raining.”

Foster unveiled the all-new Upper East Bar at the end of May, and the renovated space now welcomes a variety of guests and visitors.

“My overall goal was to appeal to a larger majority of people,” says Foster. “To have something for everyone and to be a space that anyone would want to enjoy.”

By Ashley Bray

All photos: JB Fitts.