The Story of the Original US Navy I-Bar Featured in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

Photo Credit: andrewz / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: andrewz / MovieStillsDB

The famous I-Bar, a favorite spot for US Navy aviators at Naval Air Station North Island, is making history, thanks to the release of Top Gun: Maverick. At the I-Bar, you can see real-life fighter pilots shooting pool, debriefing flights or just blowing off steam, just like Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and others do in a fictionalized version of the bar in the Top Gun sequel.

From prestigious officer’s club to naval pub

The “world famous” I-Bar was originally the Bachelor Officers Quarters Building “I,” as part of the US Army Air Corps‘ Rockwell Field. The building was completed in 1933 in the Spanish Revival style that was popular at the time. In 1939, Naval Air Station North Island acquired Rockwell Field and turned part of the “I” building into a bar for senior officers.

Aerial view of Naval Air Station North Island
Naval Air Station North Island. (Photo Credit: Inez Lawson / US Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

In 1956, the Tailhook Association – a nonprofit organization and fraternity that supports the interests of naval aviators, especially those deployed on aircraft carriers – had its first meeting at the I-Bar. The location was first refurbished in 1969 with the nautical theme it has today, and other iconic features were added throughout the years, including model airplanes, historic memorabilia and the countless squadron patches that crowd the walls.

Top Gun: Maverick features a replica of the I-Bar

When scouts began searching for new filming locations for Top Gun: Maverick, they immediately fell in love with the history and charm of the I-Bar. However, they knew filming would be impossible in such a small space. After getting permission from the US Navy and Pentagon, the film crew created a temporary bar on NAS North Island’s Breakers Beach.

Producers of 'Top Gun: Maverick' standing in the "Hard Deck" set
Behind the scenes of the “Hard Deck” set. (Photo Credit: andrewz / MovieStillsDB)

Unlike the I-Bar, the film’s version had more of a beach-shack look than the stunning Spanish Revival style of the original. Top Gun: Maverick writers named the replica the “Hard Deck,” and at the beginning of the film, Maverick stumbles upon old flame Penny Benjamin, played by Jennifer Connelly, at the establishment.

Many traditions from the I-Bar found their way into Top Gun: Maverick. When Penny first encounters Maverick at the Hard Deck, she points out a wooden sign with a list of rules. These same ones apply at the I-Bar, including “he who touches any aircraft here shall buy the house a round of cheer” and “whoever places their phone on the bar shall buy a round of cheer.”

Top Gun: Maverick‘s Hard Deck also features the same model aircraft, ceramic beer steins, dart boards and pool tables that have made the I-Bar a unique California gem. In fact, at the end of long shoots, the production crew would frequent the real-life location, excited to support such an iconic landmark!

Miles Teller as Lt. Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw in 'Top Gun: Maverick'
Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, portrayed by Miles Teller, plays piano at the Hard Deck in Top Gun: Maverick, 2022. (Photo Credit: yassi / MovieStillsDB)

Top Gun: Maverick left its mark on the I-Bar, including its own “squadron” patches that now hang alongside the hundreds of squadron patches from former naval aviators. The Hard Deck was dismantled after filming, but rumors suggest it may find its way back to Breakers Beach in the near future.

The new and improved I-Bar

After Top Gun: Maverick wrapped up filming in 2019, the I-Bar underwent extensive renovations to fix its deteriorating condition. Locals were anxious that the iconic interior of the bar would be gone forever, but many of the original features were returned to exactly where they were before.

New additions, such as a larger bar with brown and gold granite countertops, pay tribute to the “brown boots and gold wings” of naval aviators. There’s even a new footrest for the counter, which was made from the same wire used to catch aircraft landing on the carrier deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71).

USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) at sea
The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) departs from its homeport in San Diego. (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / Getty Images)

If the I-Bar wasn’t famous enough before Top Gun: Maverick, it certainly is now. With movie fans hoping to grab a pint and share in the incredible stories of aviators past and present, it looks like the bar remains a prestigious hangout. So long as patrons follow these three house rules – no hats, no touching the model airplanes on the ceiling and no cell phones on the bar – they’re bound to have a great time!

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

The Digital Dust Podcast