The Whaling Bar at La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla will close this month and reopen later this year as a redesigned French bistro. The under-used and much-loved space is in desperate need of renovations, according to hotel management.
The bar, a haven for artists and writers for many years, does not see much traffic, according to Hotel Managing Director Mark Dibella
“The Whaling Bar of today is indeed a great legend, but sadly one that sits mostly idle with but a handful of loyal customers at any given time. The stories of past writers and celebrities are true and they are lovely but many decades long gone; their legacy however will always remain,” Dibella said in a letter dated Jan. 3.
“There are definitely amazing stories of what people have done there, but they are not going back on a regular basis. And that won’t sustain it. It hasn’t sustained it for a while,” he added.
Only 10 or so guests stop in for lunch and another 10 or so at dinner, according to hotel staff, despite the deep history of celebrity visitors.
“What happened in that space will never go away,” he said.
In a Huffington Post blog, author and former La Jollan Mary Duncan recounted her times frequenting the Whaling Bar. She spoke of the Whaling Room being a sanctuary for some artists.
“Dennis Wills, the owner of La Jolla's legendary D.G. Wills Bookstore, often used the Whaling Bar as his favorite watering hole for his famous guest authors. Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Christopher Hitchens, Maureen Dowd, Jill Abramson and Beat-era poet Michael McClure all drank there. Recently, Dennis delivered a dozen red roses to Francoise Gilot, the artist, who was mistress of Picasso and mother of two of his children. Gilot, who is also the widow of Jonas Salk, was celebrating her 90th birthday,” she said in the post.
In 2010, Rey Arcibal celebrated his 50th year at La Valencia as a bartender in the Whaling Bar. Over the decades he served up cocktails for a clientele that has included Lucille Ball, Jack Lemmon, Rod Stewart and Walter Winchell.
Also read: 50 Years of Drinks at La Valencia
Dibella said Arcibal is undecided if he will retire with the closing of the Whaling Bar. La Valencia’s staff will be laid off once it closes and staff will be invited back when the space reopens, according to the hotel.
"We certainly hope who wants to come back, will come back," he said.
The final closing date is undecided. It will likely be the end of January with a few special "closing" events for loyal patrons near and far. Patch will report more details when they are available.
The hotel bar will keep the name of the adjacent cafe space—Café Rue. Dibella explained that the bar and adjacent café space will be combined as one larger room. He said the inspiration for the décor is being taken from the Wing Howard paintings depicting French scenes from the 1920s.
The new space will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and have a French bistro feel with wine vault. Fare will be lighter than its current menu. It will have better access to the patio for outdoor dining, more seating and lobby level ADA public restrooms, something the hotel currently lacks.
The hotel is also looking with a local coffeehouse to offer a signature local coffee drinks. Cafe La Rue will serve up coffee and pastries for evenings guests looking for a sweet treats or guests hoping for a morning pick-me-up.
The Whaling Bar's notable painting above the bar, which features a whale hunt, will be relocated in the hotel. Other décor, such as booths and stools, may be auctioned off.
“We are taking names and numbers. We just haven't gotten to the point to decide if we want to auction off stuff or if we have a few locals attached to a few things,” said Dibella.
If you have an item that you are interested in, contact La Valencia's Marketing Manager Kristen Poole at 858-551-3741.
Since purchasing La Valencia in 2011 for $41 million, San Diego-based Pacifica Companies has already invested in renovations to the property. This is the latest change with a cost more $500,000.
Also read: Last Night to Dine at La Valencia's Sky Room Is NYE
The hotel hopes to start renovations next month.