VENICE WHALER REVISITED
VENICE BEACH DESTINATION IS LIGHTS OUT
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 since its make over last year, it has transformed from watering hole to a proper beach destination for quality food and drinks.
The Venice Whaler first opened in 1944 as a single-story Crab Shell Bar while the upstairs was originally rent-controlled apartments. It was a popular hangout in the ‘60s and ‘70s when music legends like the Beach Boys, The Doors and The Beatles came by regularly.
On a recent beautiful Southern California afternoon, I decided to make an afternoon of it at the cool and casual beach spot. Props to bar manager Anthony Settecase and Chef Nick Liberato for creating cocktails and food menus that are tasty and wholly beach-oriented.
During our recent afternoon visit for some quality day drinking, we actually started with some much needed small plates in order to last for hours of cocktails. I don’t necessarily advise this kind of outing, but if you’re game, pace yourself, go with the flow and have a blast.
We started with a wonderful half dozen order of Char-Grilled Oysters with Parmesan and oregano garlic. The Tuna Poke Bowl with crispy wonton, spicy aioli, macadamia nuts and micro greens (made spicy with nuts) is a light and refreshing dish. And you can’t go wrong 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.
With sustenance in our bellies, the cocktail tasting started with the Solera—think Old Fashioned made with 23-year old Zacapa rum, agave and house made chocolate bitters. Made with a fantastic rum—really, this is top quality rum you won’t find in just any drink—you’ll be hard pressed to find a better Old Fashioned drink by the beach or in town.
“The Solera is a plain and simple three-ingredient drink, but the rich caramel vibe of the Zacapa works well with chocolate and makes something really wonderful,” Settecase says.
Likewise, the Whaler Rye Cooler is akin to a shaken Old Fashioned. A nice mix of Wild Turkey Rye, Luxardo Abano, amaro, Pierre Ferrand curacao, and orage juice, this is a cool version of a summer drink.
Up next we took on the mescal and tequila libations. The Abelhinha (Portuguese for “little bee”) is Settecase’s most unique new creation, shaking together mezcal, Yellow Chartreuse and honey syrup in a sweet, herbal, smoky and complex cocktail. “I started with the classic Bee’s Knees and then gave it a fun twist for the beach,” Settecase explained. This is a killer cocktail. Maybe killer bees aren’t all that bad?
Unfortunately, the Siciliano, a mix of El Tesoro Añejo tequila, Averna amaro, agave, lime, egg white, and bitters came across to me as a sour play on a margarita. I found it too earthy and just not up my alley.
If you’re looking for an off-menu favorite, give the Sazerac Martinez a try. It’s a great play on the original martini or just go with the classic Martinez. It’s an absolute favorite of mine.
Another cocktail menu winner is the Grandpa’s Chair—a smoky play on the Rob Roy. This is a mix of The Black Grouse scotch, pipe tobacco smoke, Antica, and black walnut bitters. This is a really fine stiff drink.
With the boozy afternoon well underway, we ventured to the upstairs bar, which is a madhouse come sunset and happy hour time. Downstairs it’s pretty chill and more relaxed during the day, although after sunset, the bar area tends to fill up as well. Taking in a breathtaking sunset, we started with the “Crab Shell” Bloody Mary, a house favorite that includes an actual crab claw as garnish.
I have to admit, while it may be more gimmick that classic cocktail, I’m a big fan of the Whaler’s Snowgroni (yup, Snowgroni) made with Bulldog Gin, Campari, Antica Carpano and shaved ice. This may very well be the perfect beach, day drinking cocktail. I loved the originality and well, the damn taste of a Negroni. Think of this as a grown-up and sophisticated snow cone. “It is all red and yummy looking, and served with a cherry on top, but it is still a bitter Negroni,” Settecase says. “It is freaking people out, but they love it.”
A refreshing drink is the classic Aperol Spritz with Aperol, Campo Viejo Cava, soda water and orange. This isn’t as daring as other drinks on the menu but when you’re at the beach, sometimes simple and satisfying is all you really want.
By this point, I have to confess that we really need more food. The Beach Mussels with fennel pollen, kaffir lime cream, and served with grilled sour dough is a great starter to share. And you can’t get better beach comfort fare than the Flat Iron Steak served with fries and garlic aioli. This not only hit the spot, it saved our lives. Likewise, the spicy Linguini with clams with Serrano chile and breadcrumbs is a hearty and satisfying plate. It may be heavier than what you might expect for beach food but it’s also what you really want (need) when you’ve spent the day at the beach drinking.
Besides its new craft cocktails and satisfying fare, the Venice Whaler still remains the same fun, beachside bar locals have known and loved for years, offering live music five nights a week as well. Let the good vibrations take over at this beach bastion.
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.
Photography courtesy of: Venice Whaler
Story by Jose Martinez