An unexpected destination for tropical cocktail enthusiasts and sci-fi lovers has landed in San Diego’s South Park neighborhood. Step aboard Mothership, a retro-futurist cocktail lounge filled with creative design elements that tell its unusual story.
Mothership is a permanent manifestation of the tropical pop-up Permanent Vacation. The team at goth-chic vegan joint Kindred ran the weekly event inside their space for six years, which served as a playful contrast to the bar’s otherwise edgy persona.
However, Kindred strayed from the conventional tiki revivalist aesthetic of the mid-20th century. “It didn’t feel authentic to go heavily in that direction,” says Kindred owner Kory Stetina. “We blended tropical aesthetics with this space pirate kind of vibe that felt punk but also honored that parallel path or crossover between retro-futurism and the Atomic Age,” he says, noting the similar shared obsession between tropical escapism and sci-fi.
Upon the pop-up’s closure in January of 2022, Stetina felt that Permanent Vacation was more deserving of a permanent home. Stetina and his team transformed a former cantina down the street into the “crash landing site” of Mothership, dreaming up a fictional space narrative for the galactic saloon’s aesthetic. “We have an elaborate story about a space crew in the future that has been forced to crash land on this tropical, unknown, forbidden alien planet,” Stetina explains. “And the space wraps right into that story.” Once inside, visitors are transported to the planet by way of unique, immersive touches.
Acclaimed designer Ignacio “Notch” Gonzalez helped execute the concept. His reputation for creating unique spaces can be seen in other bar buildouts across the West Coast, including Smuggler’s Cove, False Idol, and Whitechapel. “When Kory called me about the build, I kinda already knew what I wanted to do,” says Gonzalez. “Right away, I sent some prototype sample ideas, and off we went. [Kory and I] walked through every aspect of the build, feeding mad ideas to each other. ‘Is it possible?’ he asked. Oh yes, my friend, hell yes!”
Gonzalez hand-sketched nearly every aspect of the 1,500-square-foot bar before bringing in a team of plant, lighting, sound, and visual specialists from all over California. Freelance synth builder Tucker Braga built the bar counter that resembles a spaceship control board. Britton Neubacher of Tend Living constructed a faux plant species that “spontaneously” grows out of the walls. Tom Neely designed animations of the fictional crew and ship. Scott Jones of Scepter Designs created chunk lamps shaped to resemble sci-fi-inspired “fruit pod plants.” Gonzalez sourced salvaged CRT monitors and pond tubing to mimic faux circuitry, making use of everyday items in an otherwise unfamiliar format.
A lineup of original tropical drinks by David Kinsey and Juan Castañeda complements the space, showcased on menus that look like vintage technical manuals. The one classic drink you’ll find is the Saturn, mixed with an exclusive You & Yours gin, which is distilled with baking spice-inspired botanicals. Patrons can sip cocktails alongside “Earth food” (plant-based dishes) developed by Dylan Craver. They might also hear an original soundtrack by instrumentalist Justin Pinkerton, and even the original Apollo mission coming out of the red, neon light–tiled bathroom.
Mothership spent a year planning and building out the space, which opened on August 2. “There’s no blueprint for what we did. There’s no guy we could have called for building spaceships, or alien lamps,” says Stetina with a laugh.