July 24 2012 01:11 PM

Will North Park embrace an upscale whiskey bar?

cocktails (1)
Photo by Kelly Davis

It's tough putting a new bar in North Park—especially one with L.A. ties. Seven Grand, which opened July 1 where Bacchus House used to be, at 3054 University Ave., is part of a chain of 10 bars owned by L.A.-based 213 and modeled on Downtown L.A.'s Seven Grand—a whiskey-focused bar with upscale-hunting-lodge décor.

There have been some jabs about Seven Grand not being the best fit for the neighborhood. General manager Mike Vizcarra disagrees.

"It wouldn't work well in Downtown or P.B.," he says. "They [213] did a lot of research; they felt [the concept] fit this area really well."

Perhaps it's through the low-key Vizcarra that Seven Grand will earn its cred. Prior to taking the helm here, he worked at several Downtown clubs, like Fluxx and Stingaree, and knows what he doesn't want his bar to be.

"Those were all great venues," he says, "but I got stuck in a rut—vodka-Red Bulls, really loud music, LED lights."

At Seven Grand, the lighting's dim, and Vizcarra wants the music to be low enough for conversation. Throughout the bar, glass cases display whiskey-related artifacts in museum-like style. Right now, the cocktail menu includes only five classics—a Whiskey Sour (highly recommended), Rye Manhattan, Sazerac, Old Fashioned and Kentucky Mint Julep. Vizcarra wants to make sure his bartenders nail those drinks before they try their own creations. Seven Grand's still in soft-opening mode, he says, "so we can fine-tune things on our end."

Fine-tuning includes the staff meeting with whiskey makers, from bigger names to small-batch producers, to get the full understanding of each product. On Thursday, Aug. 2, the bar will launch its "Whiskey Society"—for an annual fee, members can attend twice-monthly tastings, held in Seven Grand's tavern-like back room, with those same producers.

Asked how he thinks Seven Grand fits into San Diego's craft-cocktail scene, Vizcarra noted that bartenders from respected spots like Noble Experiment and Craft & Commerce have become regulars.

"I think they're really wanting to see what this place can do," he says.

Email kellyd@sdcitybeat.com or follow her on Twitter at @citybeatkelly.


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