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The Whaling Bar dusts off its literary pretexts

La Jolla's lost midcentury cocktail destination returns with clever cuisine

The Whaling Bar's "lobster roll dip," served with shellfish broth
The Whaling Bar's "lobster roll dip," served with shellfish broth
Video:

FEAST! The Whaling Bar dusts off its literary pretexts


Of course he would be drinking here. In a room barely buttoned enough to contain its bar. Behind windows that dull the scolding, morning-after daylight down to a chiding whisper. Where the plush green booths look easier to fall into than that next, neat glass of bourbon.

Place

The Whaling Bar

1132 Prospect Street, La Jolla, CA


I've walked into The Whaling Bar, a centerpiece of La Jolla's La Valencia Hotel, which originally opened in 1949, but closed for ten years prior to being resurrected this spring. They say Dr. Seuss drank here, as well, but I prefer the colorful language of Raymond Chandler, who spent his final years living in La Jolla. He even set the last novel of his hardboiled Philip Marlowe detective series in a fictionalized version of the tony beach town, which he dubbed Esmeralda.


He might recognize today's La Jolla, which he once called "A nice place for old people and their parents." (To wit, I've brought my mom with me, for lunch.) But it's doubtful Chandler would recognize the Whaling Bar.


It once operated, side by side, with the eatery Cafe La Rue, which wound up taking over the entire space in 2013. Now La Rue is gone, and it's all Whaling Bar. Yes, vintage elements are weaved throughout, including the fractured remnants of the whaler mural originally placed behind the bar—now framed and mounted in four sections on the dining room wall. But the overall design concept is a contemporary brand of sumptuous: consciously mismatching textures and eras.


The newly reopened Whaling Bar



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And, to the right of the arcaded bar area sits an open kitchen, signaling how this iteration of The Whaling Bar features dining and drink menus developed by stars of the local food and cocktail scene. We're here more to try the food than the truffle-infused Old Fashioned—it's not something Marlowe would drink, but I'm sure it hits as hard as a stooge with a cudgel.


The food menu's more about small plates. Or at least the reality that $15-30 only gets you small portions on Prospect Street. These plates would surprise Chandler too. The liver and onions are a paté ($19); the croutons in the Caesar salad are large, perfect cubes and filled with mascarpone ($20); and the scallops are served over a cauliflower-broccoli hybrid called a caulilini ($29).


The "Twinkie" Caesar Salad, with marscapone-filled croutons


I only order the Caesar to see how those croutons worked, but wind up appreciating how its cold, crispy wedges of lettuce are practically frosted with dressing and thinly grated parmesan. I also enjoyed the creamy polenta with eggplant caponata ($15), and especially the lobster roll topped with tiny potato chips and served French dip style, with a foamy shellfish broth ($26). If one dish could be a little more filling, I'd wish it were this one.


While we're wishing, I'm also sorry I missed dinner. The menu's not that different from lunch—either in cost or content—but one of few dishes only served evenings is an Is It Cake? worthy "Hamburger" dessert, which in Yelp photos does a marvelous pretending not to be caramel cake toped with vanilla ice cream. 


Posted by Yelp user Sleen D., this photo shows how closely The Whaling Bar's "The Hamburger" dessert resembles a cheeseburger.


As a famous Whaling Bar patron might have written, "Burger, sesame bun, and cheese / burger and cheese and bun, not these / that cake's got no bun, it's vanilla bean / that bun's not a burger, it's cake and ice cream!"

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The Whaling Bar's "lobster roll dip," served with shellfish broth
The Whaling Bar's "lobster roll dip," served with shellfish broth
Video:

FEAST! The Whaling Bar dusts off its literary pretexts


Of course he would be drinking here. In a room barely buttoned enough to contain its bar. Behind windows that dull the scolding, morning-after daylight down to a chiding whisper. Where the plush green booths look easier to fall into than that next, neat glass of bourbon.

Place

The Whaling Bar

1132 Prospect Street, La Jolla, CA


I've walked into The Whaling Bar, a centerpiece of La Jolla's La Valencia Hotel, which originally opened in 1949, but closed for ten years prior to being resurrected this spring. They say Dr. Seuss drank here, as well, but I prefer the colorful language of Raymond Chandler, who spent his final years living in La Jolla. He even set the last novel of his hardboiled Philip Marlowe detective series in a fictionalized version of the tony beach town, which he dubbed Esmeralda.


He might recognize today's La Jolla, which he once called "A nice place for old people and their parents." (To wit, I've brought my mom with me, for lunch.) But it's doubtful Chandler would recognize the Whaling Bar.


It once operated, side by side, with the eatery Cafe La Rue, which wound up taking over the entire space in 2013. Now La Rue is gone, and it's all Whaling Bar. Yes, vintage elements are weaved throughout, including the fractured remnants of the whaler mural originally placed behind the bar—now framed and mounted in four sections on the dining room wall. But the overall design concept is a contemporary brand of sumptuous: consciously mismatching textures and eras.


The newly reopened Whaling Bar



Sponsored
Sponsored

And, to the right of the arcaded bar area sits an open kitchen, signaling how this iteration of The Whaling Bar features dining and drink menus developed by stars of the local food and cocktail scene. We're here more to try the food than the truffle-infused Old Fashioned—it's not something Marlowe would drink, but I'm sure it hits as hard as a stooge with a cudgel.


The food menu's more about small plates. Or at least the reality that $15-30 only gets you small portions on Prospect Street. These plates would surprise Chandler too. The liver and onions are a paté ($19); the croutons in the Caesar salad are large, perfect cubes and filled with mascarpone ($20); and the scallops are served over a cauliflower-broccoli hybrid called a caulilini ($29).


The "Twinkie" Caesar Salad, with marscapone-filled croutons


I only order the Caesar to see how those croutons worked, but wind up appreciating how its cold, crispy wedges of lettuce are practically frosted with dressing and thinly grated parmesan. I also enjoyed the creamy polenta with eggplant caponata ($15), and especially the lobster roll topped with tiny potato chips and served French dip style, with a foamy shellfish broth ($26). If one dish could be a little more filling, I'd wish it were this one.


While we're wishing, I'm also sorry I missed dinner. The menu's not that different from lunch—either in cost or content—but one of few dishes only served evenings is an Is It Cake? worthy "Hamburger" dessert, which in Yelp photos does a marvelous pretending not to be caramel cake toped with vanilla ice cream. 


Posted by Yelp user Sleen D., this photo shows how closely The Whaling Bar's "The Hamburger" dessert resembles a cheeseburger.


As a famous Whaling Bar patron might have written, "Burger, sesame bun, and cheese / burger and cheese and bun, not these / that cake's got no bun, it's vanilla bean / that bun's not a burger, it's cake and ice cream!"

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