La Valencia Hotel picks operating partner for Whaling Bar with plans for fall reopening

The windows of what will be the Whaling Bar in La Jolla's La Valencia Hotel
The windows of what will be the Whaling Bar in La Jolla’s La Valencia Hotel are lined with decorative paper that reads “Once an icon, always an icon.”
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The new concept that ‘honors the history of this beloved bar’ will be in its original location and run by the operator of several other San Diego establishments.


The long-awaited return of the Whaling Bar to the La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla is planned for the fall as a “new iteration” of the iconic establishment where authors, Hollywood personalities and more would hold court.

Details are scarce, but La Valencia General Manager Summer Shoemaker said the hotel has chosen restaurant group SDCM as its operating partner for the new concept, which will keep the Whaling Bar name. Other eating and drinking spots in the hotel will continue to be run by La Valencia.

Surveys of Whaling Bar loyalists were “very influential” in design decisions, Shoemaker said.

SDCM — which also operates establishments such as Kettner Exchange in Little Italy, The Grass Skirt in Pacific Beach and Vin de Syrah in downtown San Diego — will lead day-to-day operations, including development of a cocktail and complementary bar menu, with beverage director Eric Johnson and executive chef Brian Redzikowski.

“We’re really excited to bring back this new iteration that honors the history of this beloved bar,” Shoemaker said. “We chose SDCM because this is going to be a high-volume location and wanted to partner with them to make it an experience for hotel guests, visitors and locals alike.”

A representative of SDCM could not immediately be reached for comment.

La Valencia Hotel
The La Valencia Hotel plans to bring back the Whaling Bar this fall in a “new iteration.”
(Justin Halbert)

The La Valencia opened as an apartment hotel in December 1926. The nautical-themed Whaling Bar cocktail lounge opened in 1949 and regularly played host to children’s author Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), novelist Raymond Chandler and Hollywood luminary Gregory Peck.

The Whaling Bar officially closed in February 2013 and became Cafe La Rue later that year.

But in 2021, plans were announced to bring the Whaling Bar back at its original location. The hotel issued a survey that year about the features that Whaling Bar guests would like to see and received more than 300 responses. At the time, marketing director Annalise Dewhurst said the hotel was “aiming to finalize a design that celebrates the Whaling Bar’s rich history.”

Some of the top themes among the survey responses, Shoemaker said, were nods to the original Whaling Bar, such as booths, a dark space and the return of the Whaling Bar mural.

“We were kind of surprised by how many people used those two words [“booth” and “dark”] in what they wanted,” she said. “It was really interesting and a great experience to go through the responses to make sure the design was on the right path. There were a lot of really amazing stories, and they continue to come through.”

Booths in the original Whaling Bar
Booths like those in the original Whaling Bar were among the top suggestions from survey respondents for the new Whaling Bar expected to open this fall at the La Valencia Hotel.
(La Valencia Hotel)

“The space is different from what it was [following renovation to create Cafe La Rue], so we want to blend the design appropriately and achieve a common goal of what this could be,” Shoemaker said.

As the Whaling Bar was becoming Cafe La Rue, a mural by Wing Howard called “The Whale’s Last Stand,” which hung behind the bar, was taken down and put in storage. In 2018, it was installed in the hotel’s Ballernero Boardroom. When the boardroom was renovated recently, the mural was put back in storage. It now will be restored in the new Whaling Bar.

“It means a lot to see this come together,” Shoemaker said. “It has been four years since we started planning this, and we think it will be a huge achievement and an important piece that our guests look forward to having again. I’m honored to be a part of that.” ◆