UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO / Summer 2007
[celeb magnet]
NightTime is the Right Time
James Brennan’s Stingaree is transforming downtown San Diego
by Greg Hardesty

The door to the women’s bathroom at San Diego’s Stingaree nightclub opened, and James Brennan casually walked inside. Brennan, 33, is allowed to do this. He owns the $7 million joint — the largest nightclub ever to open in the historic Gaslamp Quarter, and a magnet for party-hopping celebs and VIPs worldwide.

The trim, red-haired businessman with the thick New York accent pointed to the row of makeup mirrors on the bathroom counter — the type of attention to detail that’s helped make Brennan one of the hottest nightclub operators in the nation, as well as a successful real estate developer.

“I’m just at the beginning stages (of my career),’’ says Brennan ’96, who credits his four years at USD for launching him on his already gilded path to success.

He said the contacts he made at school, as well as a memorable course, The Principles of Real Estate, were invaluable.

Now, the social elite are clamoring to get inside Stingaree, a three-story monument to hedonism, complete with private rooftop cabanas and bottle service that runs $1,200 per table — or into Brennan’s other two San Diego nightclubs, the Side Bar, opened in 2003, and The Witherby, a private-event venue launched in December.

“It all boils down to service, and taking care of our customers,’’ Brennan said. “This is a very finicky business.’’

Brennan’s venue has jump-started the transformation of downtown San Diego into a nightlife destination, with venues on par with some of the finest clubs in New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

A poll by MSN.com in December ranked Stingaree — which opened in late 2005 — No. 5 on its list of the hottest clubs in the nation. And Brennan is just warming up.

Through his privately held company, EnDev Enterprises, he plans to open Bar West — a lounge and restaurant in Pacific Beach — this spring, and, in the summer, Universal, an upscale lounge and restaurant in the city’s Hillcrest district.

On the horizon is Brennan’s bold vision to transform the landmark Top of the Cove property, which overlooks La Jolla and for years has been in major need of a remodeling, into a glittering nightlife venue. If Brennan can pull that off, his EnDev Enterprises, now generating about $35 million in annual revenues, will grow to $45 million per annum.

Brennan showed early drive and ambition growing up in Queens, New York. He worked odd jobs starting at age 10 and moved out on his own while a junior at the private, all-boys Xavier High School in Manhattan.

He tended bar while in high school and got so-so grades. High SAT scores, however, earned him his pick of several top colleges, and he fell in love with USD on a scouting trip.

Having saved some money, and blessed with a mind for business, Brennan and a friend bought a silkscreen and embroidery business while in college, and sold it for a profit a couple of years later.

After graduating, Brennan bought into a friend’s real estate mortgage business and made his millions specializing in super high-end jumbo loans. Frustrated with a lack of San Diego nightspots to match his tastes, Brennan opened Side Bar on Super Bowl Sunday in 2003. He hasn’t slowed down since.

But it’s not all-party-all-the-time for Brennan. He’s been a financial supporter of USD’s men’s basketball team for years and is involved in other philanthropic projects, including Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

He’s a board member of the Tucson Academy, a boarding school for homeless teens and, along with other USD alumni, he’s spearheading a drive to launch an annual college scholarship for graduates.

“I feel a great connection with the USD community,’’ said Brennan, who is married with a 1 1/2 year-old daughter and a newborn.

Just then, his cell phone rang. It was a business associate he needed to schmooze with for a pending deal.

Brennan made dinner plans, hung up, and then excused himself. After all, being the life of the party takes hard work.