Mid-Century glamorous Cocktails in Mission Hills

Starlite   |   3175 India St., San Diego   |  Neighborhood: Middletown   |   (619) 358-9766   |   StarliteSanDiego.com

By Miles Roberson

Over the years, the classic softly lit wood-paneled interiors, starched tablecloths, curved black leather booths, tuxedoed waiters and table-side service that once defined classic fine dining have gradually disappeared. Equally, the number of historic restaurants filled with character and old-school ambiance dwindle with each passing year. Luckily, seven years ago Starlite was introduced to San Diegans in Mission Hills, and the glitz, glamour and sophistication were back!

Stepping inside Starlite, you feel as if you’ve walked back into a business meeting with Roger Sterling. The feeling of all things classic is captured as you open the smoke tinted glass door leading to a sunken white bar. Above the bar hangs a breathtaking, twinkling chandelier reminiscent of days gone by. The former lesbian bar turned modern lounge is undeniably one of the best places in America’s Finest City to imbibe.

With that being said, let’s talk cocktails: Locals who know fine cocktails know the Starlite. The unassuming, almost sleepy part of India Street just north of Little Italy has undeniably been on the upswing in terms of drinking choices since the opening of Starlite. A welcome injection of sophistication to the area, Starlite is an elegant, classy destination with mid-century-inspired decor. Starlite pays homage to old cultured cool while staying contemporary. It’s a sophisticated place that takes its drinking seriously, offering topnotch handcrafted cocktails with all-natural juices and housemade syrups and bitters, imported and local beers and impressive fine wines.


Starlite Mule
Known for being the first bar in San Diego to make mules popular, Starlite ranks its mule the most ordered drink to date. Rumor has it this drink is so famous that it gets ordered mistakenly at other bars. A riff on the Moscow Mule, this is their signature drink. The Starlite Mule mixes Rain Handcrafted Vodka, ginger beer made specifically for Starlite, fresh lime and a dash of Angostura Bitters to differentiate theirs from all others. Served in their very own branded copper mug, Starlite Mule is discounted on Sundays and Mondays. The branded mug also serves as a vessel for their Kentucky Colonel, which includes a blend of Buffalo Trace Bourbon, ginger beer, fresh lemon juice and housemade cherry vanilla bitters. Just beware, both of these drinks kick like mules!

Velvet Diablo
Tequila lovers, here’s something for you. Starlite has taken the liberty of rewriting the age-old holiday punch recipe to include Azunia Blanco Tequila, Velvet Falernum and crème de cassis liqueurs (which provide hints of almonds, cloves, vanilla and black currant), fresh lime juice and a touch of ginger beer. The only thing missing is a scoop of rainbow sherbet bobbing on the surface like Granny used to make.

Pola Negri
If you like a spirit-forward cocktail, order this. The star of the party begins with a smoky mescal followed by Heering Cherry, a Danish cherry liqueur, Carpano Antica Formula, a sweet vermouth, sour orange and housemade thyme syrup. Pola Negri was a Polish-born actress in the 1920s, and I’m not sure if this drink was named after her but if she was smoky, sweet, mysterious, rich, layered and complex, then I have to assume it was. If you’re unfamiliar or not necessarily a fan of mescal, this is a nice, slow introduction … baby steps on your way to tequila’s misunderstood cousin.

Strawberry Fjords
The well-rounded cocktail offers something for everyone: No. 3 London Dry Gin, Linie Aquavit, Bertina Elderflower Liqueur and strawberry puree. Floral with hints of vanilla and sherry, it’s just the right amount of sweetness from the elderflower liqueur and strawberry puree. I would say this is a good fit for Sunday brunch. As they say in Norway: Strawberry Fjords forever!

If you’re summoning for divine help, the Benediction is for you. Currently not on the menu, ask Tony for it by name. The Benediction begins with Rittenhouse Rye whiskey, Heering Cherry, Benedictine herbal liqueur, a dash of Angostura Bitters and garnished with an orange twist. The rye immediately jumps out at you but is immediately followed up and balanced by the cherry liqueur and herbs of the Benedictine before finishing off with the bitterness of the Angostura. This one’s well balanced, flavorful and definitely spirit-forward.

In this age of Instagram, Mason jars and handlebar mustaches, it’s no surprise that retro-inspired bars are hot again. San Diego has been hooked on craft cocktails with Starlite being one of the first, and many craft cocktail bars draw recipes from historic sources. Prohibition-era speakeasies and Mad Men-esque drinks have been the reigning styles for the past several years, but a bar like Starlite expands the flashback to include cocktails from every decade. The trend shows no signs of losing steam. And why should it, when everyone knows a history lesson goes down easier with a stiff drink in hand? Hop in your time machine and explore the cocktail menu at Starlite. Starlite is easy to miss unless you know where to look: on the corner of Spruce and India off a somewhat barren street paralleling the 5 freeway. Have a light lunch, ditch the sneakers, and put on your fancy duds honey, because tonight we’re going to Starlite in Mission Hills!


When: 5-7 p.m. seven days a week

Early Drink Happy Hour: 4 p.m. Fridays
Featuring “Happy Snack” food specials, which are  unique snacks every hour from 5-7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

Happy Hour Prices
$4.50 draft beer

$4.50 well drinks

$1 off all other drinks


The Moscow Mule
As the story goes, Jack Morgan, who owned the Cock ‘n’ Bull bar on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, was trying to get rid of his stock of Smirnoff when he came up with the combo of vodka, ginger beer and lime. He called it a mule and served it in a copper mug.