BEACH BAR GETS BONANZA MAKEOVER
A favorite Venice Beach locals bar for the last 70 years, the Venice Whaler may very well have been thought of as a little seaside shack where Washington Boulevard meets the beach, but it’s been made over and transformed from watering hole to a proper beach destination for quality food and drinks.
New owner Michael Dobson (who is also behind Ma’Kai in Santa Monica and the Red O chain) had his eye on the Whaler and new what its potential could be.
“It’s the same old Whaler that everyone loves,” says new General Manager TJ Williams, “just cleaned up, with better food and better drinks.”
The Venice Whaler first opened in 1944 as a single-story Crab Shell Bar (the upstairs bar was originally rent-controlled apartments). It was a popular hangout in the ‘60s and ‘70s when music legends including the Beach Boys, the Doors and the Beatles came by regularly.
“We have the best real estate in all of LA, but this place has never been known for its food,” says new Chef de Cuisine Nick Liberato. “I’m going to the Farmers Market four times a week, but we are not doing anything pretentious here. We are calling it ‘upscale dive-bar food.’”
During our recent visit for food and cocktails, we made our way to the downstairs bar and the top level bar is a madhouse come sunset and happy hour time. Downstairs it’s pretty chill and more relaxed, although after sunset, the bar area tends to fill up as well. While the sun was still out, we started with a house favorite, the “Crab Shell” Bloody Mary, an ode to the 1944 history of the building and to add to the legend, an actual crab claw is included.
Our next round of drinks included the Moscow Whale, which features your choice of vodka or bourbon (we opted for bourbon) along with ginger citrus syrup, ginger beer and Angostura bitters. “I’m 100 percent confident it’s the best Moscow Mule in town,” Williams declares.
If you’re looking for a light cocktail, you may opt for the Skinny Beach, made with Veev Acai Rapberry, agave and house made lemonade. It’s very reminiscent of lemonade and, not to sound offensive, is more on the “girly” side of the glass.
Looking for some hearty bar bites, we started with the Grilled Cod tacos, served with house made flour tortillas, chipotle crema and cucumber slaw. Props to the taco bar! Good stuff. The taco bar offers your choice of seafood (grilled or crispy cod, or grilled shrimp), and grilled chicken or chicharrón. Likewise, the Crispy Brussels Sprouts with pickled Fresno chile, capers, roasted grapes (add a grilled slab of bacon for $3) is fine “upscale dive bar food”.
Our next round of cocktails included the Grandpas Chair mixed with Bowmore Scotch, pipe tobacco smoke, Marin Vermouth and black walnut bitters, which is a fine stiff drink. I really enjoyed the smokiness.
The Dulces Sueños is a terrific day drinking choice. Made with Broker’s Gin, El Silencio Mezcal, cucumber, key lime, orgeat and smoked salt, it’s boozy but very well balanced. This and the Bloody Mary are what you want when you’re beachside, soaking up the sun and scene with drink in hand.
Another favorite of mine was the Cat Daddy, made with moonshine, Fernet Branca, Sassafras bitters and root beer. It tastes just like a root beer float. Loved it! What a great throwback cocktail as it reminded me of growing up when a root beer float was a total treat.
If you’re looking for larger selections from the food menu, and if you’re working your way down the cocktail menu, sustenance is key, go for the Flat Iron Steak, served with crispy fries and herb butter, or the Westside Salmon (especially if you want lighter and healthier) served with cedar plank smoked Kalamata olives, lemon and mixed greens. Both of these dishes are thoroughly satisfying.
Kudos to bar manager Anthony Settecase for coming up with a tasty and creative beach-oriented cocktail menu. “I’ve always wanted to be by the beach, so the Venice Whaler is perfect for me,” Settecase says. “I want anybody to get whatever they want here, so I created a list of fresh, tasty, beach-friendly and accessible drinks.”
My only real cocktail complaint (other than the Skinny Beach) is the Bubble Butt made with Svedka Vodka, boysenberry shrub, lemon with a prosecco float. I thought it was too gimmicky, and too sweet for my liking. Likewise, the AWOL, made with applejack brandy, orange curacao, and pineapple gum was too sweet for me but I must admit it was tasty.
I do have to hand it to the bar for creating the Whole Foods, which is complex yet well balanced. A mix of Broker’s Gin, carrot juice, orange juice, green chartreuse and beet bitters this is a great tasting drink. There’s a lot going on yet it manages to be pleasant without any one ingredient overpowering the drink.
I like that the new Venice Whaler fully embraces beach life, from bar food to beach fare, serving up a bacon-wrapped Spicy Street Dog with chili and the Whaler Burgeralongside Tuna Poke with macadamias and microgreens, and a Shrimp Roll on a brioche roll from local bakery Rustico. Life’s a beach so make the most out of it.
The Venice Whaler is located at 10 West Washington Blvd and is open from 11am to 2am seven days a week. Call 310-821-8737.
Story by Jose Martinez
Photography courtesy of: Venice Whaler