Bluegrass Corner

The End of an Era

Urban Solace closes its doors for good, ending its famous Sunday Bluegrass Brunch.
Quality opportunities to regularly hear great live bluegrass music in San Diego, while enjoying a meal, and for top performers to secure those reliable bluegrass gigs, are limited. Every once in a while something special comes along. There was the Old Time Café in Leucadia, which served wholesome food while presenting outstanding bluegrass music from the mid 1970s into the ’80s before closing. There was Anthology in Little Italy, which presented classy dinners with live music, including great bluegrass until its owner Howard Berkson closed its doors in 2013.

Eleven years ago, in 2008, a new restaurant opened in North Park called Urban Solace, which ran a successful Bluegrass Brunch every Sunday, right from the beginning, featuring top local bands that performed for patrons enjoying the outstanding brunch fare. Last month, on March 13, Urban Solace closed its doors for good, ending an era of qualify food and great Sunday bluegrass. Now closed also is Urban Solace’s sister restaurant in Encinitas, Moonlight Solace.

Urban Solace was started by two college buddies—Matt Gordon and Scott Watkins. It was their dream to open a quality local eatery that offered classic American comfort food but with a twist. So, the Bluegrass Brunch fare included not the regular eggs benedict but Salmon benedict; they offered not a Monte Christo sandwich, but one with an Urban Solace twist called the Monte Diegan. They had watermelon salad, to-die-for cinnamon rolls, a full bar, house-made veggie burgers, classic southern grits, and much more. Every part of the menu fair was creatively designed, beautifully prepared, and well presented, bringing culinary greatness to each plate. The positive write-ups and accolades about this special place are too many to mention.

From the beginning, part of the dream for Matt and Scott, and for their spouses, was to have live bluegrass music as an integral part of the restaurant, so they gave birth to Sunday Bluegrass Brunch from the day the doors opened. I was fortunate enough to play, with my then band Second Delivery, for the very first Sunday Bluegrass Brunch. Note: The San Diego Troubadour was in on the Bluegrass Brunch from the get-go, by helping the owners find and hire bluegrass musicians to play there. It was also a drop spot for the paper for years.

Because the restaurant was brand new, attendance was light that first Sunday, but the patio setting and food were excellent. When I saw the spouse of one of the owners crying on the patio I was distressed and asked her “are we that bad?” She responded, “No.” She was crying because, for years, they had dreamed of their own restaurant with live bluegrass and now here it was, a reality. I was moved by this level of passion for food and music and stand in awe of the commitment to both as they continued for the next 11 years. At the end of our session on that first Sunday, because attendance was light, the band played a few tunes inside the kitchen for Chef Matt and his crew.

From those humble beginnings the Bluegrass Brunch went through growing pains when the ABC threatened to suspend the restaurant’s liquor license if amplified music continued. This lead to a period of a couple of years where performers at Bluegrass Brunch all played unamplified, until we could work it out with the ABC and get the license issue cleared up. Scott Watkins moved on during this period and Matt Gordon took over as sole owner. From there, the program grew ever more successful. Sunday brunch was in high demand, often with wait times, and those in the bluegrass community came to know this special spot for its great food, friendly staff, beautiful outdoor patio, and excellent bluegrass bands.

Each Sunday of the month presented a different live bluegrass band. Over the 11 years performing bands included: Second Delivery, Prairie Sky, Virtual Strangers, Chris Clarke and Plow, Shirthouse Band, Gone Tomorrow, Chris Stuart and Janet Beasley, Drought Tolerant, and periodic fill-ins by other performers, including fiddle champions, performers from Colorado, and on one day the bass player from Louis Prima’s band who happened to be enjoying the brunch.

Our thanks to Urban Solace for 11 great years. May Urban Solace and its Bluegrass Brunch be fondly remembered as a stellar moment in San Diego bluegrass history.

Julian Family Fiddle Camp concerts. The annual Julian Family Fiddle Camp will take place April 10-14 at Camp Cedar Glen in the mountains near Julian. Instruction on fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, mandolin, and more is offered in a great family environment. Also part of the program is a series of evening concerts presented by the super talented faculty. These evening concerts are open to the public and provide a wonderful up-close opportunity to hear some of the best of the best. For details about this year’s concerts and for tickets, visit:

Temecula Valley Bluegrass Festival. The third annual Temecula Valley Bluegrass Festival will take place April 12-14 at the very cool Tuculota Ranch in Temecula. There is a great line up, and lots to see and do for the whole family. For information and tickets visit:

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