Downtown Johnny Brown's

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Downtown Johnny Brown'sDowntown Johnny Brown's
54 Ratings
Downtown Johnny Brown'sDowntown Johnny Brown's

Type: Bar, Eatery

1220 3rd Ave
San Diego, California, 92101-4102
United States

(619) 232-8414

// CLOSED //

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Added by xlperro on 04-07-2006

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Ratings: 54 |  Reviews: 44
Photo of HopHead84
3/5  rDev -27.9%

Photo of Jenray
3/5  rDev -27.9%

Photo of jim102864
3.39/5  rDev -18.5%
vibe: 3 | quality: 2.5 | service: 4 | selection: 4

A small beer bar tucked away and hidden from view. This was pub two after stopping in at the Yard House. The primary problem with Johnny's is the temperature beer is served. You'd think by now these guys would know that bathing every bottle in ice and serving pints at sub zero temperatures is just wrong. I had to specifically tell the Brit (no less!) bar keep not to chill my glass. Yeah, they had Lost Abbey in a bottle but encapsulated in ice? What's wrong with this picture? I killed them on "quality" for that very reason. As to the beer selection, they did have a handful of bottles available some of which were good quality. Roughly 12 or so on tap most of which were also good quality. The atmosphere is relaxed and somewhat interesting. A somewhat above average place but given that this was the last beer bar I visited on this business trip, I can't help but think the availability of good pubs in San Diego is somewhat dissapointing. This place is worth the stop, but it's just not a jaw dropper.

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Photo of radshoesbro
3.43/5  rDev -17.5%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 2.5 | selection: 4 | food: 2

went in for their 22nd anniversary party and were told to take a seat at a table. after waiting no less than 15 - 20 minutes we finally had a waitress come up and take our order. after maybe another 10 - 15 minutes we finally got our first round. this is sort of what happened the entire night, PLUS she forgot to get one of my friends her beer. i don't normally like to bash a place, but this doesn't make me want to come back here at all.

the food? TERRIBLE! i think i might have had the WORST chicken and french fries i've ever had there. the fries tasted like the oil was a week old and the chicken tasted like it was suctioned out of middle school chicken patties. a bar doesn't need amazing food, but the basics are easy and they couldn't even do that.

the beer selection wasn't the best i've ever seen, but it was pretty damn good. they had a case of '07 ichabod, which was sublime. the white zin was pretty excellent as well! they had plenty of stuff on tap that is fairly difficult to get a hold of, and that definitely makes it worth stopping by every now and then.

will i come back here? yes, but only for the beer!


After putting up this review I was contacted by someone I believe was the owner telling me that he was going to send me a gift certificate and that he apologized for the bad service. That was almost right after their anniversary, which was months ago, and I still haven't gotten anything from him.

Knowing that I went in again against my better judgement to find out that half of their taps were broken. However, their service was actually good this time. Their bartender seemed knowledgeable about the product and very friendly. Had a few drinks with friends and really enjoyed myself.

I guess if I only come in for the drinks and just skip the food I'll have a pretty good time.

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Photo of Retsinis
3.66/5  rDev -12%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 3.5

Update: 4/05/11

Shortly after originally posting this review, the owner of Downtown Johnny Brown's contacted me via BM, apologizing for the service received, and mentioning that some sort of remodel is planned in the future. As a result of this quick response, I am therefore updating my score to a "B" as to me, that shows a real concern for the business, it's customers, its perception, and in retrospect, one experience of mine should not tarnish the reputation of an establishment with such a long history. So, I am therefore updating my review for that reason, as craft beer bars are not nearly as common as just a bar, and adovacy, and access to better beer is very important to me, and obviously Downtown Johnny Brown's.

Below is my original review. 4/04/11 (score of C)

Stopped in this place after dinner as the last stop of the evening. Went to this place specifically off of the review’s here on BA.

Sorry to say, this place was pretty disappointing. First, the place was empty, at 10 p.m. on a Saturday when they close at 2. (by empty, I mean the bartender and three customers) Not the best sign for me, but then again I'm not crazy if it's wall to wall crowded either.

Second, they had erased their Entire chalk list beer board, because apparently a few kegs blew, not sure why they didn’t just erase those, instead of the whole list. I asked what they had on tap, on three occasions, and the bartender just kept asking me "what kind of beer do you like" instead of just telling me what they had. Maybe he thought him making a suggestion would be helpful, I get it, but by the third time of me asking, "what beers are on tap", and getting the same reply, it came off as condescending that I might not know anything about good beer, and that maybe he didn’t know everything they actually had on tap himself. The place had all of 3 people in there when we got there, so not as though he was too busy to list off at least a few of the taps.

All of the above aside, did get to try a coffee porter from Pizza port, and the SN 30th black barley wine (I had both before), but still good. They have a nice shuffle board, which was very cool, since those are not as common as say a Dartboard, and I always view those as plus to any bar. The place has a old east coast pub look and feel to the place, with some old framed photos on the wall, and wood molding. With that said, in my humble, and bluntly honest opinion, the place could use a bit of a facelift, as it also seemed like a bar a bit passed its prime, and one that use to be a great place to hang out, but has seen better days. For example they say on the menu "best bar in San Diego" 1987. Great, that's awesome, but it was also 25 years ago. Still promote that of course, since it shows a great history of the bar, and with the city, but maybe it’s time to strive for the best bar in San Diego 2011 now!

Anyhow, this is already sounding way too harsh, and I don't want to bash the place really, as the beers I had were great, I was just expecting" A" (meaning outstanding or world class) or better from other reviews, and it was just decent.

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Photo of Loki
3.71/5  rDev -10.8%
vibe: 3 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4 | selection: 4

Ok, I went in on a Wednesday night. Bad idea. I was literally the only person in the place that could hold probably 150-200+. In fact the bartender/manager was sending the other two people working home. It was 7:30 on a Wednesday, not late night. But in the middle of a City building and everybody had gone home, middle of the week. Place was D E A D, dead. Oh, and a little stagnant since it was a little hot/muggy that night and there wasn't much airflow in the place, and no A/C.

Quality was pretty good, but I didn't think it was that great for San Diego. Maybe I caught them at a bad time. I was on a hop bomb quest and there was only 1 to be found here. Some good craft beers, some mass produced beers. A pretty good quality

Service: Good, but again I was the ONLY one in the bar.

Selection: pretty good selection of draft and bottled beers

Value: good pricing.

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Photo of MickeyHops
3.75/5  rDev -9.9%

Photo of sholland119
3.76/5  rDev -9.6%
vibe: 3 | quality: 4.5 | service: 3 | selection: 4

After one failed attempt at finding this place (though it was only two blocks from our hotel), we managed to fight our way past the dozen Occupy San Diego protesters (and the half dozen newspeople and camera operators and police officers) and into the restaurant.

I did not really dig the vibe. Too bright, run down but not in a cool gritty way, almost completely lacking in charm. As was the service. Tap list was very nice (The Abyss and The Stoic on tap!), and the pours of moderate ABV beers was very generous (22 oz. for the price of 16 oz.).


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Photo of GJ40
3.86/5  rDev -7.2%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4

I stopped by DJB's while in SD on business based on the BA reviews. A truly authentic beer bar hidden away in a downtown location where you'd least expect it.

JDB's has a great lineup of tasty beers. I went with a Pliny the Elder. I planned to have another and maybe dinner but a few things stopped me. They have a very limited bar area; maybe eight seats. That's certainly a limitation for individuals. Also, my PtE came in a chilled glass. That's not the end of the world but with the lineup they have, do they really think that's the best presentation?

The vibe at DJB's was fantastic. It seemed to be a mix of locals, tourists and many in between. And they have some great outdoor seating. DJB's is well worth a visit if you're in the city; especially if you're not expecting a bar seat.

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Photo of freeeekyyy
3.88/5  rDev -6.7%
vibe: 3 | quality: 4 | service: 4.5 | selection: 3.5

It's been almost half a year now since I was there, but if I remember correctly, it was a decent place. I had a pint of brother thelonious, and some other beers which I can't remember. Bartender was friendly, and had a strong interest in beer. Good prices, and I didn't eat anything there so I can't comment on the food. Overall, a nice experience on my last day in san diego.

a- dark, noisy, they did have a pool table, which was fun. and you could eat or drink outside, which is nice.

q - beer was fresh, not really much else to say since i didnt eat any of the food.

serv - Friendly, knowledgable employees.

sel - There was a big chalkboard of the various beers on tap. I can't remember what all they were.

f - didn't eat any of the food.

v - cost was decent. not super cheap, but not real expensive either, and understandable given the quality and the location.

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Photo of magictrokini
3.91/5  rDev -6%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4

Good after-work spot for downtowners. Cozy, English-pub feel. Older vinyl booths, and a funky smell from the beer and kitchen. Open patio to smoke. Nice selection of local and West-Coast micros. More quality than quantity. Had a few I had not seen anywhere else in San Diego. Bartender was knowledgeable on what was what. Didn't have any food this time, but heard good things. Decent prices, can't complain. I'd go here if I was downtown for work to meet someone, but there are better establishments.

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Photo of RunDWP
3.95/5  rDev -5%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 3.5

It's hard to find, as you can't see it from the street. You have to walk into a little courtyard, and look around to find it. Has a great hole in the wall ambiance and mostly filled with locals. Had a great selection of revolving taps written on a chalkboard, mostly San Diego-area brews like Alpine, Stone, Pizza Port, Ballast Point. The bar tenders know their beer, while my waitress struggled a bit to tell me how various things tasted, but she gave me a couple samplers to try, so it worked out. The food is basically burgers and fries, and it was good, but not great. Off the beaten path from the Gaslamp District and some of the other touristy places in down town San Diego, but definately worth seeking out.

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Photo of crossovert
3.95/5  rDev -5%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4.5 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4

I liked the vibe of this place. Old school 80s ish bar and cafeteria grill. Definitely formatted to serve the local workers. When I went there was a kid sitting next to me at the bar drinking root beer for lunch, it was classic. Turned out he was the bartender's kid. That is nice to see. I basically got personal service since I was the only one at the bar and there were 2 bartenders. There were a lot of people just dining though. I peered into the kitchen, the grease filters hadn't been cleaned in decades but it looked pretty clean to me. My sandwich came out quickly and it was good. Standard pub fare nothing less nothing more. There was a good variety of hot sauce to throw on it. The beer selection was maybe 15 taps, a good variety once again, a few limited things.

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Photo of werdnacross
4/5  rDev -3.8%

Photo of kleffman
4/5  rDev -3.8%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4

Finally checked this place out before a Padre's game. Expected there to be some people around, but it was completely empty and the people working there had absolutely nothing to do. Pretty good size, with shuffleboard (always a plus for me) and a great tap selection. I had a New Belgium Eric's Ale (Sour peach ale) which is impressive because it's a rare beer. The bottle selection was also impressive. Sat outside on the deck which is quite nice. I think they should move to some place where they'll get more walk in traffic though. Overall happy with this place, and want to go back sometime.

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Photo of Flyer
4/5  rDev -3.8%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 3

Hard to find, because it's not actually on 3rd Ave. -- you have to go behind the civic center building. It was worth a few minutes of hunting. Not a huge selection, but all were quality taps, including more than their fair share of big beers by Pizza Port/Lost Abbey, Ballast Point, Stone, others. Mostly local (but San Diego has a great craft brewer scene, so that's okay) but I was pleasantly surprised to find Allagash Black. The bartenders were friendly, efficient, and reasonably knowledgable. One even comped me my second beer for no apparent reason other than shared love of great beer (and, possibly, the Clash). Food was basic bar fare, but my salmon burger was pretty good. The atmosphere is basic neighborhood bar. (One reviewer called it part sports bar, presumably because of lots of photos of ball players, but if you're looking for a lot of big screen tv's and conversation-free male bonding, you'll have to go elsewhere).

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Photo of VaTechHopHead
4/5  rDev -3.8%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4.5

Went here for a "Bitter and Sour" beer tasting while on vacation and it was a very nice find. They offer several microbrews from Southern California like Lost Abbey, AleSmith, and Russian River on tap plus they have a pretty decent selection of bombers and 750ml bottles for purchase also. It's not a very large restaurant, probably seats around 60 people, but it's a great place to go and get some really good beer. It's only a few blocks from the major part of downtown so it's a great place to start the evening or night!

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Photo of squaremile
4.01/5  rDev -3.6%
vibe: 3 | quality: 4 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4

Went to this place on a recent trip to Southern California after a Padres game. For a Saturday night the place was dead, but the bartender was very friendly and helpful. The taplist was diverse even coming off a special Allagash event. I had the Alpine Nelson, very tasty. We sat outside and looked out at the strange location in the midst of a bunch of office buildings. There were tons of TV tuned to sports and it seemed like the kind of place you'd hit if you wanted a good beer and were in the area, but maybe not a destination itself.

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Photo of NeroFiddled
4.05/5  rDev -2.6%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 3.5

Of all of the places I've visited in San Diego, only two really stand out in my memory. Downtown Johnny Brown's and Toronado. I'm not sure why. At least DJB's has a lot of character, but that's also a kind of love/hate thing for me. I like that it's kind of dark, dirty, and run-down with its linoleum floor and green panels on the walls, and the vinyl booths and the beat-up oak bar and everything. But it's also kind of college-like, and I guess that bugs me. Lunk-heads talking about how much of some good beer they drank one night bothers me. Drink piss beer! On the other hand I also like the cheap food (soup/chili $4-6, burgers $8.25-9.75, platters $13.25-13.75) so how can I complain?

But forget about all of that. If you can handle a grungy, low-key place with a great beer selection, then this is the place for you. If not, the very polished Yard House is not far away. Here's the difference, in reviewing the beer list at DJB's I couldn't fault one single beer. It may be a smaller list, but it's damned good. I found stuff here that I didn't see anywhere else, including Toronado. Let's hope that's still the case.

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Photo of scxcrunner
4.06/5  rDev -2.4%
vibe: 4.25 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4.25 | food: 3.75

food wasn't all that special but the tap selection had lots of great offerings. we were definitely glad we checked it out though the area at night appeared a bit questionable

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Photo of FosterJM
4.08/5  rDev -1.9%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5

Was at a work function and wanted to get my hands on Bad Boy and Odins so quick trip 1/2 mile away for 3 beers and back to the event.

Atm- A smallish place with a open feel with a couple pool tables, sports bar feel and a nice shuffleboard table. Small tables, old chair and in the middle of a city block. I would like to say the woman at the bar with her mom was gorgeous and I hope she enjoyed the opera.

Quality- Great rotating tap list from watching it before I headed down to SD. Great local options with some imports as well.

Service- Nice bartender who was quick to chat and help with grabbing beers when I needed a fill.

Selection- Great Alpine, RR, Deschutes, and some more harder to find options.

Food- N/A

Value- Was a good deal when I was there. for 3 pints about 15. Ill be coming back for sure.

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Photo of epearson
4.13/5  rDev -0.7%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4 | food: 3.5

I hit this place up a few times. Always a good selection of beer on tap, although there were two taps wasted on fizzy yellow beers (budwieser, coors). But the rest of the lineup made up for it. Plently of local beers and some out of towner microbrews. Large space, pool table, shuffleboard and plenty of tv's. Kind of set back in its own little space between high risers in the commercial plaza which is pretty cool too. Standard bar menu that bodes well as long as there is some awesome beer, which there is.

When I have been there it seems to be a little bit older crowd who cleared out pretty early leaving only my crew along with the owner Todd and some other bartenders and a few others which was enjoyable.

They don't post it but they also get a selection of casks on thursday's but you would have to call and find out.

Its a good place to hang out for the night or start the night out before going elsewhere downtown.

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Photo of jjboesen
4.15/5  rDev -0.2%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4

Being somewhat hidden in the bland Civic Center, Downtown Johnny Brown's is not that hard to find when in downtown San Diego - once you are able to wend your way through the herds of street drifters psychos and myriad homeless, which seem to own the city. But I digress ...

Upon entry, Johnny's is a small, but humble venue with an excrutiatingly small bar, where the well-oiled locals trade banters with the tattoed servers. The rest of the room is devoted to an array of tables and hightops, the latter being along the windows that look out onto the roomy patio.

The beer selection consists of local brews - as it should be in this beer-centric city. These are scribbled on the chalkboard opposite the "Order Food Here" sign. The service was indifferent but efficient enough. (The table service is initiated after 4pm.) I hit the place during the $1.00 Fish Taco special - these were damn good and obviously reasonable in price.

This was No 4 of my recent SDBW 2012 sojourn - there were plenty of decent specials held here, including one that included Pliny - who gonna quibble bout that.

A worthy stop in the downtown area.

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Photo of mrcraft
4.15/5  rDev -0.2%

This establishment is located inside a courtyard between a civic center and city government buildings, so it's not visible from the street. I was visiting San Diego and my hotel was a couple blocks away, so I walked around to find this place.

I ordered a burger which was good, somewhere between a really good gastropub specialty burger and average pub burger. The fries were quite good! They had some flat screens with games on.

The atmosphere was a bit dated, but was a functional space, lots of tables and chairs, and I believe there was outdoor seating too. The tap list is pretty decent. They were nice enough to give me some samples. I thought the person behind the counter was really cool.

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Photo of LittleDon
4.18/5  rDev +0.5%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4 | food: 3.5

Summary: Downtown SD sports bar with a fair number of interesting taps and standard bar food.

Stopped in on a Thursday night and the place was empty. The location is somewhat hard to find, as it on the inside of a large city block and does not face a street. Atmosphere was a cross between college ratskeller and sports bar. Despite the location there was good outside air circulation. All the windows were open and it was another day in paradise in SD. Spend a good deal of time talking with my server about what was available, what they would drink, etc. Unfortunately, they were getting ready for their 23rd anniversary party and a number of the taps were unavailable until the next day. Regardless, of the 10 or so available, the selection was interesting, mostly local stuff, but a few from outside the area (e.g., Jolly Pumpkin Firefly). Certainly enough there to make me happy. I appreciated that they offer a 10 oz pour. Lets me try more and keep my wits, particularly when drinking high ABV brews. Foodwise, I ordered two one dollar fish tacos. Better than I expected given the price. The menu was uninteresting, mostly barfood: burgers, fries, salads, wings, etc.

Worth a second visit.

Note: Free wireless is available for those who are in need of a mobile office.

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Downtown Johnny Brown's in San Diego, CA
Place rating: 4.16 out of 5 with 54 ratings