Botanica Is the First NFT-Exhibiting Cocktail Bar on the West Coast
Any stroll through a museum behaves more or less the same: a glance, a thought, a comment, a nod and on to the next. But what if you could bring the look-don’t-touch experience of an art gallery to the rest of your senses? That’s the goal of Botanica, Saha Hospitality’s newest women-led, art-inspired cocktail bar.
The unassuming exterior of the North Park building opens to a sweet surprise: a dimly-lit, contemporary space that has carefully selected works of art displayed on every wall take center stage, immediately immersing you in the evening’s theme to come. The intimate space gives off speakeasy vibes but withholds the feeling of uncertainty; it feels exclusive, but there’s no password or secret doorway keeping outsiders from coming in.
Every specialty cocktail is a drink based on a famous art piece, mirroring the muse from presentation to palate, and each one comes with an element of surprise. Take the Heads Will Roll for example: served in a bodacious body-shaped glass, the refreshing base of gin and passionfruit waits to be topped off at your table. Your server will explain that the upper layer of Lambrusco they’re pouring is a sparkling red wine symbolizing the blood in Caravaggio’s gruesome work of art from the early 17th century, “Judith Beheading Holofernes.” Fret not, faint of heart: there’s lighthearted works to try as well! Sip on The Warhola Diaries’ sweet house-shaped surprise honoring Andy Wharhol or the calming Salvador Dalí-inspired Meditative Rose—there’s a reason this one’s a staff favorite. Curated by General Manager Ariana Sadre and beverage director Marina Ferreira, Botanica’s drink menu has a strong focus on gin- and genever-based cocktails. Often described as a cross between whiskey and gin, the idea behind highlighting the lesser-found liquor genever is to expand the drinker’s horizons and go against the norm. Are you sensing a theme yet?
The food menu is an art original within itself. Just as some artists stick with finger painting, not every dish requires utensils—especially not the ones you’ll find here. Botanica’s finger foods and inventive small plates make a name for themselves with flavor profiles that are anything but ordinary. Each ingredient has been carefully selected to enhance the flavors of the others, and it’s beared in every bite. The food menu was created by Executive Chef Tiffany Tran and Saha Hospitality’s Culinary Director Janina Garay, who worked together previously at Michelin-starred Addison in Del Mar. Go with their recommendations and order the omakase (chef’s choice of six bites), then watch as the best of the evening comes to you. The staff will explain what’s been hand selected, whether that’s their Wagyu oysters tartare, salmon served three ways or yakitori shrimp botanica rolls. Their bite options will come and go with the seasons, so a return visit will definitely be necessary.
Botanica’s hope is to bring a creative, experiential space to the eclectic neighborhood of North Park through art and a one-of-a-kind dining experience that tells a story; it’s also the first NFT-exhibiting cocktail bar on the West Coast! The building itself shares a space with the local nonprofit Art Produce, working to connect artists, cultural organizations, schools and more. Operating on a like-minded agenda, the ever-evolving NFT art available for purchase inside Botanica supports artists just the same by donating a portion of sales to Create Purpose, a nonprofit providing educational programs to orphanages in Mexico.
It’s all a connected, creative experience. The lush mural lining the exterior was done by local muralist Gloria Muriel, as are many of the digital NFTs on display. Botanica houses the classics and the contemporary to honor art in all its forms, and every lucky guest gets a (literal) taste of each.
When each bite elicits a “wow, this is so good” and an inability to choose a favorite, that’s when you know it’s top-notch. Don’t be fooled by the small bites—paired with the drinks, we walked out full and more than satisfied.
The modern, classy feel creates an exclusive and comfortable dining experience, and the central bar gives a look inside the action. Bright, digital NFT art neighbors canvas paintings and iconic art-inspired drinks to create a juxtaposition of classic and contemporary—a perfect talking point!
Just right. The price of a drink is typical of a San Diego restaurant or bar, and the careful ingredients and preparation of each dish and drink make them all worth the splurge. The bites are small, but the bold flavors make up for it.
Choosing a favorite dish was impossible, and finishing each drink created a strong urge to try another—which piece of history would we be poured next!? A second visit is in the books, as Botanica is a must-visit.
Botanica Art & Cocktail Bar
3139 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92104
Jaclyn is a sunshine chasing San Diego native with an extensive writing background. When she isn’t word-smithing, you can find her playing beach volleyball, skating the boardwalk, or on a rooftop enjoying a drink in the sunshine with her pals.