A first look at the return of La Jolla’s famed lounge, The Whaling Bar

SAN DIEGO (FOX 5/KUSI) — The famed Whaling Bar is set to have its grand homecoming to the La Valencia Hotel later this month, ushering in a new era for a quintessential piece of La Jolla history.

The nautical-themed, dark-leathered lounge was an fixture of Prospect Street for since 1949 — about 20 years after the La Valencia, also known as San Diego’s “Pink Lady,” opened its doors.

Over the decades, it became known as a hotbed for stars and influential San Diegans, regularly welcoming everyone from Dr. Seuss himself, Theodore Geisel, and local philanthropist Joan Kroc, to household names like Robin Williams and Tom Hanks.

That all changed when new ownership took over the La Valencia in 2013, closing the then-aging lounge in favor of a European-style bistro during a major renovation of the property — a move that was not very well received by the La Jolla community.

Now, over 10 years later, an entirely new version of the Whaling Bar will make its debut on Feb. 16, reviving the Pink Lady’s sultry hideaway for the next generation.

The SDCM Restaurant Group, known for other San Diego hotspots like Little Italy’s Kettner Exchange and joint speakeasies Grass Skirt and Captain’s Quarters, is at the helm of the $1.5 million renovation.

“(There’s) a lot of pressure with that,” SDCM owner Matt Spencer told FOX 5. “Reopening, it almost feels like bringing someone’s very loving grandmother back to life — just all the eyeballs that you would have on you doing that.”

When it is finished, however, Spencer explained their iteration of the Whaling Bar won’t look exactly like it did during its heyday.

“If you tried to bring back the actual Whaling Bar stitch for stitch, button for button, it just would be kind of a fool’s errand,” Spencer said. “So, we really went down a completely different design road.”

“We went to sort of recreate the vibe of the old Whaling Bar, but (to) have a new design that we hope will endure for another 10, 20, 30 years,” he added.

Instead of bringing back the characteristics like its dark wood and burnt sienna walls, Spencer says their version of the Whaling Bar will weave together the intimate and moody ambiance of the 1940s cocktail lounge with an updated Moroccan-style interior by Schoos Design.

Although, there will be touches that harken back to its predecessor, including the reinstallation of the original space’s centerpiece: a 20-foot long mural, “Whale’s Last Stand,” by Wing Howard — an endeavor Spencer likened to an Indiana Jones quest.

  • A design rendering of The Whaling Bar in the La Valencia Hotel, which is set to return later this month, including the placement of Wing Howards' "Whales Last Stand." (Courtesy of Schoos Design)
  • A design rendering of The Whaling Bar in the La Valencia Hotel, which is set to return later this month. (Courtesy of Schoos Design)

The food and drink menu has also been crafted with nods to the original space. Cocktails like “The Whaler,” a favorite among the bar’s regulars featuring cognac, coffee liqueur and ice cream, will return, as well as a wide variety of its old-school martinis.

Versions of the Whaling Bar’s popular dishes will also be scattered throughout the food menu concocted by SDCM’s head chef Brian Rezikowski, such as a version of the old-school liver and onions and an updated “Twinkie-style” steak tartare.

“We have really kind of reached into the past as much as we can to try to see what we can do to really show respect to that,” Spencer said. “I think that’s a big part of the history and probably the future of this place.”

The Grand Reopening of the Whaling Bar at the La Valencia is set for Feb. 16. Those who would like to visit the new lounge can make already make a reservation on the hotel’s website.

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