In San Diego's North Park neighborhood, the watering hole known as Gilly's Bar has poured its last round under the old moniker. In steps, a duo of cocktail craftsmen, Erick Castro and Jacob Mentel, took the reins and rebranded it as Gilly's House of Cocktails. Castro, a San Diego native and a figure in the cocktail scene with stakes in establishments like Raised by Wolves, and Mentel, who cut his teeth alongside bar luminary Sam Ross, aim to preserve the bar's legacy while slinging top-class tipples at down-to-earth prices.
Although the changeover promises a few subtle tweaks, the new proprietors are committed to maintaining the spirit of the storied pub. "It's going to be a local neighborhood bar that does incredible cocktails that aren’t $20," Castro told San Diego Magazine. The strategy is hands-off, with improvements including high-quality but affordable cocktails and the familiar games of pool and darts. Yet, in a nod to the bar's history and a misstep in continuity, the new name is the one major change witnessed by regulars.
The history of Gilly's, a staple of the local bar scene since 1968, isn’t lost on Castro and Mentel. Gill, the original owner, was reported to have been selective about passing the torch, wishing to keep the community focus intact. In step with this, the duo plans to invite the existing staff to stay, ensuring some familiar faces remain part of the furniture. Castro emphasized to Eater San Diego that they see themselves not just as owners but as "stewards of an institution."
In their mission to maintain the bar as a local haven, Castro and Mentel have committed to keeping prices in line with community standards: a round of well drinks or a shot will cost patrons a mere $5, with a beer and shot combo priced at $10. The updated drinks menu, featuring Castro's lauded vegan eggnog, among other concoctions, taps out at $12. Moreover, there’s an emphasis on staff welfare, with provisions for ongoing professional education and resources for health insurance and mental well-being—key concerns for Mentel. Despite the shift in stewardship, the familiar fabric of Gilly’s appears set to remain largely unchanged, from its no-frills décor to its open-door policy for takeout from neighboring eateries.
The bar's transformation took only a two-week hiatus for a "shine up" which, by industry standards, is a relatively short break. It's not just the pricing or staff retention that signals Castro and Mentel's commitment to the community; patrons will find no food offered on-site, cementing the bar's focus on hearty drinks and a pledge to support local businesses instead. They’ve also pledged to recommend other neighborhood bars to visitors, underscoring a belief in mutual lift over rivalry among local enterprises. Castro and Mentel took over on November 15, and after a brief closure for the holidays, plan to reintroduce the venue with subtle, non-drastic improvements, like a fresh coat of paint and a pinball machine.