On the Menu: Captain’s Quarters drops anchor in Pacific Beach

The nautically-themed Captain's Quarters has recently opened in Pacific Beach.
(Courtesy of Captain’s Quarters)

Captain’s Quarters — a nautically-themed, highbrow speakeasy — has come ashore to Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach.

Stationed at its helm is San Diego native Matt Spencer, who said he caught the hospitality bug at 16 when he was a busboy at Quigg’s Bar & Grill in Point Loma.

He has launched the new addition to the SDCM restaurant group as a fledgling eatery and cocktail bar at the aft end of the stern through a passageway from the bow, The Grass Skirt entrance (another concept restaurant part of Spencer’s prized collection).

Want to visit?

Captain’s Quarters

Address: 910 Grand Ave., Pacific Beach

Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Sundays-Wednesdays; 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays.

Phone: 858-412-5237



The new venue captures the whimsical romanticism and grandeur of a captain’s private cabin of an 18th century Royal Naval battleship.

“Six years ago when we opened the tropical, tiki-themed Grass Skirt, we were looking at the space next door, and I thought it would be fun to be sitting inside of a captain’s cabin,” said Spencer, “so we created two concepts under one roof with a secret door veering to the left to Grass Skirt, and another one veering to right that takes you to Captain’s Quarters.”

When boarding Captain’s Quarters, guests will embark on a culinary expedition on the oceanic abyss seeking passage through that clandestine door that “magically” opens after lifting the receiver of an antique telephone situated in the foyer.

“I feel that restaurants should be more than food and cocktails, rather an experience that you tell your friends the next day,” Spencer said.

Decorations at Captain's Quarters include a Kraken tentacle around a skull.
(Courtesy of Captain’s Quarters)

Acclaimed designer Davis Ink has created a space reminiscent of a past era of seafaring travel and adventure featuring such swashbuckling extravaganzas as a whimsical, 15-foot steel art piece of a flailing Kraken, a mythical sea monster notorious for terrorizing sailors on the high seas, suspended from the deckhead while bursting out of a jail cell with a behemoth tentacle grasping a bottle of Captain’s Quarters gin on the bar.

Large, arched windows replicating those from an old-timey ship captain’s cabin give the illusion of a vessel sailing out to sea amidst a glorious sunset, while authentic portholes contain LED screens with animated scenes of both stormy nights, and smooth sailing days through crystal clear waters.

A sexy, sophisticated hand-carved wooden bar adorned with brass medallions, topped with a white marble-streaked slab “completes the pirate vibe, somewhere between ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘Master and Commander,’” Spencer said.

Perhaps a dash of “Treasure Island” and “Moby Dick” has also been thrown in the mix.

Now, up to the lips and over the gums with a gin-centric menu emblematic of the period when a Gin Commissioning Kit was mandated by parliament on all royal vessels as a cure-all for seaborne ailments. At that time when the naval doc, Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette, prescribed the addition of Rose’s Lime cordial to put the skids on scurvy, the gin gimlet was born. Of course, quinine or tonic water was also advised to ward off malaria creating the iconic gin and tonic.

Spencer’s drink of choice, the Rose G and T (one of three gin cocktails on tap), blends Rose Gin, Yzaguirre Rose Vermouth, citric acid, Elderflower Tonic and Peychauds Bitters with a sprinkling of red and pink peppercorns.

The Captain’s Orders is among beverage offerings at Captain's Quarters.
The Captain’s Orders — an eye-popping mix of Genever, Sloe Gin, pomegranate, lemon and Angostura Bitters — is among beverage offerings at Captain’s Quarters.
(Courtesy of Captain’s Quarters)

Some other house favorites include specially-curated gin cocktails by beverage director extraordinaire Eric Johnson. These include the Captain’s Orders — an eye-popping mix of Genever, Sloe Gin, pomegranate, lemon and Angostura Bitters. There is also White Famiglia Reale, a sassy blend of gin, Salers, Cocchi, Americano, Bubbles and grapefruit; the classic Dirty Martini with house-made brine, and Son of a Gun (Gunpowder Irish Gin, Arugula Amaro, ginger, honey, and lemon).

For non-gin drinkers — typically the crew — there’s a bottle of rum, along with mezcal, bourbon, tequila, and vodka for some refreshing cocktails, especially the Gunwale Old Fashioned mixing up Single Barrel Old Forester, coffee liqueur, Amaretto and Mole Bitters. The Fire Ship — another of Spencer’s picks — is a robust combo of mezcal, blackstrap rum, coffee, lemon, pineapple and Orgeat that goes down with a warm tingle. There’s also a small beer and wine selection.

In addition to fine spirits, acclaimed Executive Chef Brian Redzikowski with a Michelin Bib Gourmand award under his belt (at Little Italy’s Kettner Exchange) has gone overboard offering sumptuous sharable tapas with a Spanish flare.

Chef Brian forages his fresh local and organic produce from Trish Watlington’s Two Forks Farm in La Mesa to enliven his dishes like one-bite Smoked Salmon Poppers (see recipe below) filled with a blend of caviar, mascarpone mousse, dill and shallots; Halloumi Fries — a Middle Eastern sheep’s milk cheese stick paired with mint, yogurt, and spicy harissa paste; a sweet and savory Manchego Prosciutto Sandwich with quince jam; Grilled Prawns with feta, cucumber, dill and parsley; and Mussels Escabeche on toast, one of Spencer’s nibbles of choice, that is amped up with Aleppo pepper, dill, chives, chervil, citrus aioli and tomato confit.

Finally, the captain also recommends the fun and kitschy Caviar Bumps served tableside in an iced treasure chest, the dollops of roe on oyster spoons that are then placed in your palm to be licked off playfully.

Starting this month, restaurant workers can partake in an industry late night happy hour with half off cocktails after 10 p.m.

For now, intrepid culinary explorers of all manners and age groups enjoy navigating through the shoals of the fun escapades of Captain’s Quarters from locals and seasonal tourists to San Diego denizens throughout the county, especially Spencer’s mom, a regular patron. You might even see his son Marcos, who moved back from Barcelona, and is now a food runner.

“He’s Spanish, and this is Spanish food. It’s a happy accident,” his dad said while beaming.

Though Captain’s Quarters is the latest of Spencer’s exotic and refined culinary concepts, this fleet includes Camino Riviera, a Yucatan-themed restaurant on India Street in Little Italy; the Gaslamp’s Vin de Syrah, which blends a New York state of mind with a Parisienne je ne sais quoi; and Cardiff’s laid-back Waverly serving American cuisine with a European twist.

“It’s all about creating a more interactive experience,” Spencer said. “Pacific Beach gets a bad rap, so we’re trying to elevate the culinary experience and restaurant atmosphere, more than beer and peanuts on the ground.”

As for the distinguished Captain’s Quarters, you’re sure to fall in love hook, line and sinker.

Smoked Salmon Poppers are filled with a blend of caviar, mascarpone mousse, dill and shallots.
(Courtesy of Captain’s Quarters)

Recipe from Captain’s Quarters

Smoked Salmon Poppers


• 3 thin slices of smoked salmon (cut 2-inch by 2-inch squares)

In a mixing bowl whip the following to create the mousse:

• 3 oz. mascarpone cheese

• 2 oz. sour cream

• 2 oz. Parmesan cheese

• 4 each garlic cloves, minced

• 1 shallot, minced

• 1/2 oz. milk

• 1/2 oz. heavy cream

• Salt and black pepper, to taste

For garnish:

• Dollop of yogurt

• Olive oil

• Caviar

• Dill, small piece

To assemble:

1) On a 4-inch by 4-inch plastic wrap lay the smoked salmon down.

2) Create a ball the size of a nickel out of the mousse. Place in the center of the salmon

3) Using the edges of the plastic wrap cover the mousse with the salmon to create a ball. Twist. Untwist and unwrap. Proceed doing two more.

To plate:

1) Spoon a small dollop of yogurt on the plate.

2) Add a touch of olive oil to the yogurt.

3) Place the salmon poppers next to the yogurt.

4) Garnish each salmon popper with caviar and a small piece of dill.

Courtesy of Executive Chef Brian Redzikowski, Captain’s Quarters