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Designer Matthew Ellis of Bluemotif Architecture brought the retro cocktail lounge to life.


Big Apple Bites

By Brandon Matzek

Photography by Tim Melideo


A two-level, New York City-inspired bar and lounge opens in downtown San Diego.

AS YOU MAKE your way into the cocktail lounge and eatery at Queensborough—located on F Street in downtown San Diego—you’ll immediately take in an abundance of sophisticated details. Lofty ceilings are illuminated by chandeliers and gilded pendant lamps. Mosaic tile floors ground wingback chairs and tufted leather banquettes. A cozy back corner draws the eye with ornate ceiling tiles, exposed brick walls and shelves lined with old books. All are just the beginning of the enchanting eats and drinks you’ll soon be noshing on and imbibing from chef Taylor Houseman and cocktail consultant Travis Carter. Throw in owners Mike Vizcarra and Shane Brennan of Brethren Collective and you’ve got S.D.’s newest dream team.

Begin your evening at Queensborough with a cocktail and a series of handcrafted snacks like curry spiced bar nuts, chili-dusted popcorn and peach cobbler fruit leather. Chef Houseman switches up these sweet and savory treats on the daily, bringing seasonal sophistication to the humble bar snack. They’re perfect with one of Queensborough’s inventive yet approachable cocktails. The New Yorker pairs bacon fat-washed bourbon with lemon, Demerara sugar and cabernet sauvignon. An egg white shaken into the mix rounds out flavors while lightening the texture. Topped with a mound of shaved ice, the Matcha Julep is presented similar to a classic mint julep with the addition of housemade matcha green tea syrup.

For a more substantial starter, opt for the surf and turf sliders. Charred slices of rare hangar steak are topped with Schnebelhorn Swiss and fresh scallops painted with a vibrant chimichurri sauce—an irresistible combination of savory smoke and crisp ocean stacked between a buttery brioche bun. Queensborough’s golden fried Brussels sprouts arrive at the table amidst a mound of tasty rubble—crunchy bits of in-house pancetta, melting prosciutto, smoked asiago cheese and a dusting of vegetable ash. Swirls of balsamic reduction on top offer contrasting moments of sweet and tart and take the dish to heavenly new levels. 

Queensborough’s meat board featuring assorted seasonal meats and mustards, house nuts and fruit leathers ($16).

Chef Houseman approaches his entrees at Queensborough similarly to the rest of the menu—bar classics with the volume turned way up. The Caesar starts with two halves of grilled romaine dabbed with a rich, anchovy-free dressing. On top, a flurry of smoked asiago and breadcrumbs infused with umami-rich bonito flakes add crunch. Finished with a dusting of black vegetable ash, the dish inspires future cravings that are sure to bring you back for more. Albondigas soup, a traditional Mexican dish, features supple meatballs made with house-smoked pig’s head and long-grain rice. Light yet robust, the accompanying broth floats tender bites of celery, chayote and rainbow carrot. The steak board is one of Queensborough’s shareable mains, and it’s a triumph. Slices of blushing dry-aged steak donning a crust of golden char are served with punchy pickles, chimichurri and a vibrant gremolata made with fresh horseradish, parsley, lemon and smoked sea salt. The salt-roasted potatoes on the side are tossed in a buttermilk-based sauce set ablaze with five different chilies.

If you’re more of a sugar addict than meat lover, try Queensborough’s cookies and booze milk. Dusted with celery sugar, the peanut butter cookie dunks like a dream in a chilled glass of housemade banana milk spiked with dark rum. The steel-cut oatmeal chocolate cookie, thin and lacy in texture, pairs well with chocolate milk and coffee liqueur. Cookie flavors change seasonally, and you can adjust flavored milk and booze combinations to taste.

After dinner, take the subway-esque stairway located in the middle of the space to Downtown, Queensborough’s 6,000-square-foot social club. This industrial-chic space offers a menu of unique libations along with a build-your-own cocktail program. These custom concoctions are built by the 5-liter barrel, aged four to six weeks, and then tapped for consumption­—think bottle service with a twist. How’s that for one-of-a-kind? Two thumbs all the way up.  

The New Yorker cocktail featuring bacon fat-washed Elijah Craig, lemon, Demerara, egg white and float of cabernet sauvignon ($12)

777 Fifth Ave., downtown S.D., 619.546.4995

Appetizers, $6-$16; entrees, $10-$26; dessert, $8-$10

Uptown: Tues.-Thurs., 4pm-midnight; Fri.-Sat., 4pm-2am
Downtown: Thurs.-Sat., 8pm-2am