When I agreed to temporarily cover Cocktail Tales for Kinsee Morlan, I was admonished by my editor to not "write about Noble Experiment every time." Admittedly, I could extol the virtues of San Diego's best cocktail bar to the exclusion of most others during my tenure here; however, I'm not quite the snob I'm made out to be.
Case in point: For my first installment, I direct your attention to a drink that you'd never find on the menu in a high-end cocktail-revival bar. The Whaler—a booze-spiked milkshake-like concoction that isn't really a cocktail at all—has been the signature drink of The Whaling Bar at La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla since it was invented there in 1964. Ordering a Whaler affords you a rare opportunity to sit in a bar brimming with old-school style and history and have a famous mid-century drink served to you by its inventor.
Rey Arcibal, a former Marine steward, started as a bar back at the Whaling Bar in 1960. Once he learned the ropes, he was promoted to bartender. Then, one day, a customer made an uncommon request.
"He asked me to mix some Kahlua and ice cream. It wasn't very good," Arcibal tells me while standing behind the bar he's manned for 51 years. He's wiry, sharp and crisply dressed in a vest and tie. "I thought I could make it better. I must've created 10 different versions of drinks with ice cream and liquor in a blender. This is the one that stuck."
Over the years, he's tweaked the recipe, which remains a secret, though he will divulge that it contains a mountain of vanilla ice cream (five scoops!) along with Kahlua, brandy, Grand Marnier, Creme De Cacao and Bailey's. If that sounds like an explosive calorie bomb, you're right. But the proportions and preparation he's calibrated make this thing delicious, and it has remained popular.
Does he plan on retiring in 2014 when he turns 80?
"I don't really want to retire because I don't have hobbies," he says. "I like it here because I meet lots of people."
The best time to get yourself a Whaler and be one of those people: Saturdays by 4 p.m., before Arcibal leaves.