A spicy concept behind the white brick building
One of the many things that San Diego is known for are the many historical buildings throughout the city. One such building sits right in the heart of Hillcrest. Built in 1917 as a carriage house, it still stands and has housed many different businesses. One interesting fact I did learn about was that it served as a bakery back in the 1960s. In 1978, they finally bulldozed the ovens down that were in the back of the building. I did learn more about this structure back in 2000 when my longtime friend Alex Martin created Exotic Bamboo Tea House, which offered hundreds of tea choices to choose from.
Since those early days, Axis Studios, the white building across the street from the Flagpole on Normal Street, located at 1469-1475 University Avenue has been a staple in the Gay community of Hillcrest for over twenty years. It started out as a simple tea house in the early years of the 2000s. They have survived their ups and downs, with many renovations and without having to compromise giving the spot up for commercial business. Owner of the building and business Alex Marin started his idea based off one of his favorite hobbies of drinking tea. That is how the Exotic Bamboo Tea House came into fruition. The space was so large Alex created a beautiful Koi Fishpond in the middle of the room, surrounded by beautiful furniture from all around the world which he sold. You could enjoy a cup of tea as you browse throughout the store and even purchase new treasures for your home or office and then leave with fresh tea leaves on your way out. A few years later he opened the business as a wine bar. Although Alex’s passion for tea was not lost, he decided to change his premise towards a familiar name to the Hillcrest neighborhood called T Deli. T Deli got its popularity after the infamous 2007 app Yelp came out and rated them twenty-seventh best Yelp destination to get your food in the United States. (I was saddened when they closed during COVID-19 as it was truly one of the best and my personal favorite place to go for a sandwich and Alex’s homemade soups). The review expanded their growth and led to future projects to be developed in later years. Bamboo Lounge was not only known for their wine, but they also had a Sushi Bar led by Chef Ditchi (one of the first few female Chefs in San Diego at the time).
As the years progressed, Bamboo Lounge was later changed to Brick Bar. After COVID-19 hit, change was inevitable, and this is when Axis Studios was born. What was known as the Brick Bar, then changed into AWOL (a military-themed bar), while Alex started to renovate what was known as T. Deli into a mini mall featuring several different shops such as Sir and Son, an up-to-date hip and one-of-a-kind men’s clothing and unique accessories shop, along with Joey’s Barber Studio (a clever hot spot to get a trendy haircut and shave), and Launchpad, a hair salon that specializes and features high end colorists. Additionally, the mini mall includes San Diego’s very own and very talented clothing designer Oseas Villatoro Studio, Wags (a Canine Luxury Boutique), and Jack’s Dispensary which is nice to have in the heart of Hillcrest. One of the highlights of the building space is the large patio that located in the back. With its own world charm, it features The Canteena, an authentic Mexican food restaurant with recipes from the T-Deli. Filled with lots of plants to make it feel exotic and tropical, it houses a stationary food truck for the chefs to cook all the many delicious Mexican plates: Adobada (generally pork marinated in a “red” chili), Carne Asada (grilled beef and, at its simplest, it can be no more than a steak, seasoned with salt and pepper, cooked over a hot fire), and Beef Birria (a rich and flavorful dish that is perfectly served as a stew topped with onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice). You will also find one of the most flavorful Chicken tacos as an option along with the many selections that you can to choose from. The Canteena’s signature dish though, is the Cochinitas, a recipe that has been passed down from many generations. Its barbecued pork is marinated for twelve hours with achiote, white vinegar, a splash of fresh orange and lime juices followed with a dash of salt and pepper to bring the flavors together. All plates come with Mexican rice and fresh vegetables, along with refreshing watermelon sugar iced tea. One of the house specials and a treat from the T-Deli is the spicy creamy Jalapeno Black Bean Soup. Alex expressed how he wants to make sure there is a delicious option for vegetarians as well, doing their very best to cater to everyone’s diet.
The Canteena has been open for a very short time, but they constantly see new faces trying out these wonderfully delicious dishes. The Canteena takes your senses to a different place and time, giving you a sense of adventure as you indulge in all the unique culinary delights. To add to the experience and flavor of your meal, Alex suggests you try one of their famous Mango Margaritas from the AWOL Bar. What stands out about Axis Studios is that you can take your drink with you as you shop while being one of the only places that will allow an opportunity to do so.
The bar is open Thursdays 4:00pm – 10:00pm, Fridays/Saturdays 4:00pm – 1:00am and Sundays 4:00pm till midnight; the Canteena is open Thursday 4:00pm – 8:00pm, Fridays/Saturdays 4:00pm – 9:00pm and Sundays 11:00am – 5:00pm. These hours allow their AWOL customers to have a full experience and gives them a totally different vibe that is not the same in any other location in Hillcrest.
Alex and his team celebrated Axis Studios one-year anniversary on September 30, 2022. The event they held supported the “Trans Fronteras” Foundation for their outreach for Trans, Non-Binary, homeless migrants, and teenagers with only a ten-dollar donation at the door which was rewarded with great food, drinks, and entertainment. AWOL Bar was also open to purchase beverages throughout the event. If you missed it, stop by and be sure to say congratulations to Alex!
Over the last twenty years of survival, Alex and his wonderful building have become historical in their own right. His entrepreneur endeavors have never allowed this building to stop providing services to our community. Alex always welcomes everyone to use this great space for events, parties, and celebrations. I encourage anyone who enjoys shopping, drinking, and eating good authentic Mexican food to take the time to explore this gem in our own community. Gay-owned and operated so you will be supporting LGBTQ+ businesses, and what could be better than supporting our brothers, sisters and siblings. It truly is a spicy concept in our own back yard.