When I first walked into Whisknladle, the thought that it might be just another La Jolla kind of place crossed my mind. And when I say “La Jolla kind of place,” I mean that it's got the requisite blindingly white walls, soaring ceilings, high prices and an all-around minimalist feel that looks really fancy, like you shouldn't touch anything. It has style, for sure, but does it have a soul? I'd heard and read good things about Whisknladle's philosophy (firm adherence to the phrase “What you put into the pot is what you get out of the pot”), but at first glance, there was no feeling that I'd discovered my new hangout.
Then I met mixologist Ian Ward. He's responsible for the specialty drinks at Whisknlade, a list of newfangled concoctions that combine ingredients I wouldn't dream of putting together. Ward, too, believes in the place's guiding principle: He would never serve a drink that contains an ingredient that wasn't fresh or locally sourced. (OK, so the vodka is from Sweden, but still.)
I barely had a chance to talk to him that night because he was so busy hand-juicing lemons, slicing limes and caramelizing sugar on top of drinks with a blowtorch—I felt like I was watching live entertainment. You wouldn't be able to tell from his quiet demeanor, but behind the bar, this guy owns it.
He says his cocktail creativity came out of boredom; I say he's got quite the imagination. The specialty-drink menu includes house sangria made from roasted summer corn, a hibiscus margarita topped with a frothy blood-orange foam and something called London's Burning, a spicy combo of avocado puree, roasted jalapeño water and lime. I stopped drinking my own hibiscus margarita for a second to ask Ward what the tattoo was on his forearm, a design made up of dashes and capital Hs, Cs and an O. “This,” he said, pointing to it, “means alcohol.”
Originally from Queens, N.Y., Ward's become a cocktail entrepreneur. On top of tending bar at Whisknladle most nights, he started his own consulting company, Snake Oil Cocktails, which helps bars revamp their menus. He's also a founding member of the San Diego Bar Guild and is working on another project: invite-only underground speakeasies. On his nights at Whisknladle, the concrete-topped bar gets extremely busy. Seems like no one can get enough of Ward's $10 creations—not even me. I really don't have that kind of money to drop on a drink, but I did, and I'd do it again.
By the time I got up to leave, every seat was taken, and I was hesitant to go. I spent two-and-a-half hours there, intrigued by Ward's experimental ways and, not realizing it, drinking quite a bit. Ward passed us, looked at our nearly empty drinks and said, “Need more booze?” I looked at him like he was out of his mind.
“You just got us drunk,” I said.
Come to think of it, I felt exactly how one should feel when leaving a bar: satiated and a bit wobbly.Whisknladle is located at 1044 Wall St., La Jolla www.whisknladle.com.