SDCC 2011: Wheelin’ and Dealin’ at the Hyatt Bar

On our first visit to San Diego Comic-Con, years ago, my wife Whitney and I ended up, quite by accident, at the foyer bar at the Manchester Grand Hyatt down the block from the San Diego Convention Center.  It was our first SDCC; we were staying up in Old Town and really did not know anything about anything, we just saw a bunch of people go to this bar and figured we'd check it out. 


The Hyatt bar (aka, "The Grand Lobby Bar," which apparently offers a setting 'seemingly ripped of the pages of an international spy thriller') for those of you haven't heard of this place, is basically an industry mosh pit, where comic book industry types unwind and hang out with a few stiff drinks. There have been attempts from other hotel bars to displace the Hyatt's stranglehold on this powerbroker fest, but, like it or not (and we all get the feeling that the Hyatt staff hates it), this is where people just end up at the end of every night. If you miss someone at another party, you invariably end up saying, "No problem, I'll just see you at the Hyatt!" 


The bar itself is nice enough–'tis a hotel lobby bar after all–but woefully ill-suited for casual hanging out, given it's relative lack of comfortable seating.  It's gleaming marble floors probably look good in photographs but, wow, is it unforgiving in terms of dropped glasses. The way the bar is situated, with its ironwork dividers, high ceiling, with everyone pressed together in this drunken rectangle…well, it's a scene, to be sure (though you have to appreciate the the lobby bar's unseemly cousin, the smoking section outside the hotel, just for staying "open" far past closing time).  


(photo of Mike Romo and Ryan Haupt doing business by Molly McIsaac)



Why do people go to the Hyatt bar? Well, we got an idea during our first visit. When someone asked what we did, as, like, in comics, Whit and I both replied, "Oh, we're just readers." Our questioner's eyes widened and he sputtered, "Then why would you ever come here?"  Only then did we realize just how much insane networking was being done here. Once you start matching names with faces, you realize that, pretty much anyone who is anyone comics (and who is in San Diego) turns up here, at least once, during the convention.


I have to tell you, I find the scene incredibly exhilarating–totally silly and ridiculous, but a ton of fun. I mean, on the surface, it probably sounds awful:  this is basically a shark tank of movers and shakers (real and imagined), wannabes, industry mainstays and bleary eyed newbies. It's a cesspool of writers and artists trying clamoring over each other get a word in with a publisher or an editor, editors trying to avoid other editors, and creators constantly having to smile and shake hands with nervous fans while just waiting, desperately, for the damn bartender to get him his damn drink. (It takes forever to get drinks.) This is where the scene of "just one more drink and then I am gonna go up and talk to that person" plays out, over and over again.  


But, like I say, I love it. I love that this opportunity even exists, you know?  This is, again, what I love about comics–there is access to be had for those who want to be part of this industry.  I just don't know of another industry that has this kind of openness. (Of course, it comes at a price–by Saturday night, people are just tired of meeting people and can't wait for the show to be over, but that's another situation entirely.)


Invariably, as I walk back to my hotel after a few hours witnessing this craziness, I find myself being truly grateful that I do not really want a career in comics. The lives our favorite creators lead is crazy: hustling their asses off to get a job that is really hard, requires a lot of time alone, and rarely gets the respect it deserves. And that's a big reason why I enjoy going to the Hyatt: yes, it's fun to see the artists and writers you know hanging out and enjoying themselves, but it's also fantastic to get a chance to meet the writers and artists of tomorrow, who are there because they want to make a living doing this.  It really is the best kind of inspiration, listening to stories from up and coming creators, especially those who are attending San Diego Comic-Con for the first time and experiencing the shark tank that is the Hyatt at 11:34pm on a Friday night.  


It's an odd feeling. For pretty much most of my life, if I was interested in something, I wanted to be that something. From firefighter to astronaut to graphic designer to actor, I saw someone doing something and said to myself, "That must be me!"

Not so with comics.  First off, while I admit the sketches I do during meetings are not terrible, I can't really draw, at least for comics (I can draw one person, but the moment I have to put another person in the frame? Disaster).  And while I like writing (more or less–I do enjoy it, but never seem to make the time for creative writing), I don't think the writer's life is for me.  And color? Ask me what color shirt you are wearing if you see me this week and chances are I'll be wrong. I mean, it sounds like a pretty fun industry to be a part of, but it also just sounds like a ton of work for not always a great reward–unless, of course, the end result is the reward, which is why I admire comic book creators so much. They love the medium, and talking to a person who really loves what they are doing is a great way to spend the evening.


(The Grand Lobby Bar – I've never seen it this empty.)


If you are going down to the con and are thinking of swinging by, make sure to visit the rooftop bar on top of the Hyatt as well (creatively called "The Top of the Hyatt"). By all rights that should be the place to go, with the incredible views and numerous tables.  We tend to split our time between the two places, especially when the downstairs bar just gets too crowded.


San Diego Comic-Con, for most attendees, is a celebration of all that is good with the world. It's a way to meet the storytellers of our time, in a place where people can just be themselves.  It's exciting, frustrating, tiring, energizing, it's everything you've read about and more.  But it's also a place where a lot of work gets done, where the gears of this industry are exposed, where ideas are hatched and relationships are formed. And as I wrote last week, this year's SDCC comes at such a crossroads, with the future of comic books very much in the spotlight, and now that DC can talk about they are doing publicly, I think we're in for some very lively conversations, both onstage and off. If you're not going to be able to join us, I know we'll do our best bring you along virtually, with regular updates via Twitter throughout the event.



Mike Romo arrives at SDCC on Thursday morning. He'll be easy to spot at the parties — he'll be the one constantly squirting hand sanitizer to fend off the dreaded Comic-Con SARS.  Check him out at the Marvel booth at 11am for the Norton-sponsored Q&A with Stan Lee! Twitter/Email/Facebook.


  1. At the end of the night, is the Hyatt Bar floor littered with business cards like confetti in New York on New Year’s?

  2. Mike always seems to be having so much fun.  Enjoy SDCC.  Maybe I’ll make it next year.

  3. @stuchlach Well, it IS fun, but it usually comes at a price of being deathly ill the next week. I am downing Airborne and using hand sanitizer all weekend and may default to germ-free fist bumps at opposed to handshakes…

    @dgazzulolo – there are lots of business cards exchanged, but mostly what you find at the end of the night is every flat service covered with glasses and/or bottles.  it’s a total mess!!

  4. @mikeromo  But Airbone is just a placebo….

  5. @mikeromo  That’s a small price to pay.

  6. @TNC – I seem to remember hearing about it being useless…but I have no choice–I gotta be healthy!