“Most big cities have one iconic all-night restaurant,” said Brian Epstein, who took over the restaurant with his parents three years ago. “And San Diego never had that. We thought, ‘What if we went 24/7?”
Serving breakfast and diner fare 24-hours a day, Brian’s 24 sees everyone — from early morning business persons and tourists to afternoon shoppers and ravenous late-night partiers looking for a place to eat after the clubs close — walk through its doors every day.
Located in the historic St. James Hotel, one of San Diego’s first luxury high-rise accommodations, the 11-story red building with its trademark lighted roof sign jutting out of the Gaslamp is now a renovated Ramada Inn & Suites. Originally built in 1913 to serve guests of the Panama-California Exposition/World’s Fair held at Balboa Park in 1915, Brian’s 24 now provides room service for the hotel, one of the only 24-hour room services in town. The hotel and restaurant also team up to put on special events including weddings and parties on the rooftop terrace and in their meeting suites, which boast top views of downtown.
The large mahogany bar in the restaurant was purchased from the estate of actress Joan Crawford and legend has it you can still see the divots from her high-heel shoes as she danced on top of it during parties. The ceiling and chandeliers are original and help maintain the character of the World War I-era construction. Even the kitchen is small compared to today’s standards for a restaurant its size, harkening back to the days when living and working spaces generally tended to be more compact.
Brian’s 24 was purchased from the owners of Brian’s American Eatery in Hillcrest, (whose two owners, incidentally, were both named Brian), though the establishments are not affiliated anymore. The previous owners stayed open all night over the weekends to take advantage of the bustling Gaslamp party scene, and the Epsteins decided to extend this and stay open throughout the week.
Born and raised in San Diego, Epstein grew up working in various family businesses and spent time living in other parts of the country before being called back to embark on the venture with his parents. When they opened, his father worked the day shifts, he worked nights and his mother did the books. Two of his four sisters are also now involved in running the restaurant — one coming on full time since the loss of their father and the other helping out when in town visiting. Epstein lives close by the restaurant in the Gaslamp, but tries to make sure that he and the family have their days off — a challenge while launching a business that never closes.
Brian’s 24’s menu is extensive, with breakfast served 24 hours a day, as well as a lunch and dinner menu and a somewhat abbreviated late-night menu. Selections include pancakes and waffles, the Gaslamp Power Breakfast (three eggs any style, three strips of bacon, a sausage patty, an 8-ounce ham steak and two large biscuits topped with country gravy), early bird breakfast specials, and all of the requisite diner fare from chicken and waffles to meatloaf and from burgers and milkshakes to country-fried steak.
The restaurant also serves as a late-night meeting spot for the off-duty servers and bartender crowd. The lower traffic time, Epstein said, is dinner, even though the restaurant offers a full dinner menu with steak, seafood, pizza and pasta and a full bar.
The restaurant also prides itself on generous portion sizes, with most dishes containing more than a pound of food. Epstein said an eating challenge is in the works, though he hasn’t yet divulged what diners would be required to consume to vie for a spot on the Brian’s 24 wall of fame.
Brian’s 24 is located at 828 Sixth Ave. For full menu, more information, or to make reservations, visit www.brians24.com.