Exploring San Diego


Exploring San Diego: Aero Club, or 'that' bar by the airport

Posted at 5:01 PM, Aug 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-01 20:27:43-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — You've likely seen the bar nestled next to Interstate 5 on India St., just across from the San Diego International Airport.

Its plane-shaped sign pointed toward the heavens, glowing neon red as the sun sets on the city.

The Aero Club has sat near the airport since 1947, serving residents of the Mission Hills area, factory employees who worked near the airfield, and service members passing through town or deployed to San Diego.

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Since it was opened by Mariam Profit in 1947, originally as a place for employees working at the nearby aircraft factory, the bar has been a spot for the everyday worker.

It's that colorful past that has added to the bar's history decade after decade, according to bar owner Bill Lutzius.

"Over the years, different groups come and go. For a long time we had the Coast Guard helicopter pilots coming in all the time," Lutzius recalled. "In the 70s, it was like a cop bar, they called it. I know it was like a biker bar for a while."

Lutzius ran through the times of the day when certain clientele roll through: The neighbors first, those heading home from work second, people out for dinner next, the late-night crowd after, then finally the late-night workers just getting off a shift.

Behind him, photos of past guests: Locals, military pilots, sailors, an array of aircraft nose art.

He recalls the former Aero Club owners as well. One owner used to leave the keys for guests to lock up at the end of the night. Another owner was actually a group of Greyhound bus drivers.

"A lot of characters came and went ... A bar is an awesome place for the neighborhood because it's sort of a meeting place," Lutzius said. "Everybody catches up on what's going on."

While not an owner, Lutzius said one frequent guest used to be a dog. The bar's then-owner would give it a free beer.

Today, the bar continues to serve an eclectic crowd, boasting 1,200 different types of whiskey. The wall behind the bar is clad in bottles glistening against a ceiling covered with strings of lights.

While the whiskey sign outside the bar reads 900, rest assured there's much more. Lutzius says it just became too much to continue updating it.

But how did they all get there? That's on Lutzius.

"I guess I'm just an obsessive person. It may not even be logical, you know, to do it. But just because of my personality we'd just buy anything we can buy," Lutzius said. "We ended up with about 1,200 whiskeys ... There's lots of good stuff.

"I just had a vision of a wall of liquor, and that's what we started with ... it just evolved into being whiskey," he added.