For 116 years, bartenders have been slinging drinks at 965 Orange Avenue [see note below].* Well before the introduction of the Slam Burger or the World Beer Tour and long before the iconic mural took its place on Danny’s wall, there existed other bars and publicans.
The first bar was The Palm, established in 1907 [see note below].* This bar operated until the 18th Amendment to the constitution made it no longer legal to sell alcohol. Necessity being the mother of invention, they turned the front of The Palm into an ice cream parlor while secretly serving drinks in the back. The Palm continued to operate as a speakeasy behind the parlor for 13 years until the repeal of prohibition in 1933.
* Note: This would all be very cool if it were actually true. My research was incorrect. The Palm actually started in the late 1950s, and the rest is urban legend. Since the early 1900s, the location has been occupied by multiple other diners, restaurants, and food service, as well as some businesses not needing a food & beverage license. Coronado has always been passionate about its history, but it also has its fair share of tall tails. [edited January 20, 2023]
A fun side note: The Waterfront Bar and Grill downtown was the first bar in San Diego to open after prohibition. They as well have a legendary burger called the Waterfront.
In the ’80s, during my high school days, a bunch of us worked next door at Baskin Robbins scooping ice cream, so Danny’s was an easy choice for lunch.
The front side of the menu at Danny’s featured burgers, while the back offered Mexican food. The Slam Burger was a big hit, voted the best burger in San Diego for years, but most people didn’t realize how legit their Mexican food was. The killer chips and fiery salsa reminiscent of the ones served at bars in TJ should have been their first clue.
In those days, Nacho Madera captained the grill, and boy could he cook. Legend has it that Danny’s stole him from the Jalisco Café in Imperial Beach. Jalisco still serves generous portions of great Mexican food, and like Danny’s, it also has an iconic mural that will bring back fond memories. When Nacho left, he took the B side of Danny’s menu with him.
Returning to Coronado after college in the early ’90s was a shock. Many of us thought if we were going to have any fun, we would have to venture across the bridge to the bars in the Gaslamp or head out further to Pacific Beach. That was until we discovered Danny’s World Beer Tour.
The tour featured 100 beers from around the world. The goal was to drink them all. To take the World Beer Tour, you received a card listing all the beers you needed to drink. The bartender would check the beers as you drank them. The cards remained behind the bar for safekeeping. Take one down, and pass it around, 99 bottles of beer on your card.
The prize for consuming all these beers was the most expensive t-shirt you would ever own. It was a cutthroat summer trying to win that shirt before one of your friends did.
In the old days, Danny’s and music went hand in hand. There used to be an actual jukebox with an all-time lineup of song choices. Today everything is digital; you can hear anything you want.
Bars used to be judged by the selection of music they provided on the jukebox, and Danny’s always won first prize. That old jukebox provided the soundtrack for those carefree days of our youth.
My brother married at Christ Church just down the alley from Danny’s. He and us groomsmen bellied up to the bar prior, and then had a short but lively walk to the church. Both my parents had their memorial services at Christ Church. Some friends and family were at Danny’s before and after those services. We have had drinks there in good times and in bad. We have toasted loss and celebrated a win or two.
Like the ocean tides, the clientele at Danny’s ebbs and flows. What does not change is the feeling of community and fellowship for all.
I strategically left out the relationship the Navy SEALs have to this bar. If you want to know more about it, ask a team member, it is their story to tell.
You get a free slice of Coronado’s rich history for dessert when you grab a Slam Burger and a cold beer at Danny’s. I hope to see you there.
For more Coronado history, check out the Coronado Historical Association. See the latest exhibit: A View from the Periscope, which will close on January 29, 2023. The exhibition includes twenty-eight paintings on loan from the Navy’s History and Heritage Command and highlights Coronado’s little-known connection with submarine history.