4696 30th St @ Adams Ave.
San Diego, CA
When I was just a young kid many years ago, I remember visiting my grandparents back in South Bend, IN, on a family trip. One morning, my grandfather took me done the alley next to their house to a small drug store and soda counter where he shared with me
not only a sundae but that my mother had worked in this very store when she was in high school. As a young boy hearing this I recall my eyes widening and being sure to take in every bit of this for even then I knew that such places were a rapidly dying breed.
That’s lovely, but what does it have to do with whiskey? Because it was the first thing that I thought of as I drove by Polite Provisions and got a look through the windows while finding a place to park. Secondly, I double checked the address because I thought that I might have gotten it wrong, as this looked like no other bar I had ever seen and there is no real signage to indicate what really lies inside, except for the RX sign above the door.
Upon entry I quickly determined that it was, in fact the right spot, and a wonderful find at that. I surveyed the bar area and realized that my eyes had not played tricks on me but that this was a perfect replica of a late 1800’s style pharmacy and soda counter, except that instead of pulling a sarsaparilla from the soda counter-style taps, all lined up on the inlaid marble wall, it was beer, and some select pre-mixed and aged cocktails that were being dispensed.
It was mid-afternoon and the bar was fairly quiet, except for the activity of employees preparing for a busy evening, and the bustling activity at the ice table. Yes, I said the ice table, where a pair of determined young men were diligently carving away at a huge block of ice to make the ice cubes for the evening. This ice table is an immaculate stainless steel counter top with a drain sink. It has a stainless steel grate that covers most of the table top, and a water faucet at the end. It looks like it could pass as an autopsy table, except it has none of the nasty tools or other elements, and the only thing being dissected here is crystal clear ice.
The Ice Captain explained to me that their ice cubes for cocktails are carved out of a 300# block of ice that is specially made for ice carving, utilizing a method that eliminates air bubbles and creates as clear and solid a product as possible. This method allows for maximum clarity, and with the lack of air inside it stays frozen significantly longer. This creates a beautiful look in their cocktails, and makes an ice cube that can outlast even the slowest drinker.
The bar has an extensive list of 28 cocktails, 11 of which are whiskey based. There are quality liquors available, in combination with a healthy craft beer list that is regularly updated. The whiskey list has some very nice selections, but initially appears somewhat limited, until you realize that they are not all on the list. Lucky you. I am going to share the secret to the additional selections that are available. In the lounge area next to the bar, where the ice table is, along the far wall you will see cabinetry with a display bookcase look to it. This bookcase display is not only displaying books but some very select and rare whiskeys, rums, and other liquors. If you ask nicely, they will allow you to partake in these selections. They keep them
off the list to weed out the real aficionados from those just trying to look hip. So just ask nicely and you will do fine.
The overall atmosphere is fun and playful. You will quickly gain an instant appreciation of the incredible amount of time, effort, and energy that went into the remodeling of what was previously a dive bar with a very sketchy history. The attention to detail in the marble back wall in the bar, the tap hardware, the cabinetry work, and the authenticity in furnishings and decorations are a true testament to the owners and their dedication to authenticity in reproducing a by-gone era.
Polite Provisions offers a nice Happy Hour menu of drink and beer specials, and food is available from, Soda and Swine, an attached sister restaurant that will bring your food to you.
By the way, an advisory to those that go and visit this lovely spot, don’t try picking up the nickels off of the bathroom floors. First, that is kind of disgusting, and secondly, they are actually set into the concrete and are not coming out. Believe me, I tried.