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Whaling Bar to return to La Jolla’s La Valencia Hotel

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

After almost a 10-year absence, La Jolla’s Whaling Bar will make its return to the La Valencia Hotel in its original location (now Café La Rue), likely next year. Management is in the “very beginning phases” of planning and design, said marketing manager Annalisa Dewhurst, and seeking the public’s input as to which beloved features from the original Whaling Bar should be incorporated into the next iteration.

“We know the Whaling Bar was such a special place for people in La Jolla, so we are welcoming feedback of favorite designs, menu items, stories, what they loved about it,” Dewhurst said. “We can’t put it back exactly the way it was, but we want to hear from the public as we go into the conceptualizing phase.”

A survey was launched last month, and hotel management received over 200 responses in the first few days. The survey, which will be live through the summer, can be found at surveymonkey.com/r/P8QNDBS. It asks about which features were most important and what made the bar iconic.

“We learned about special events people had there and just how many people met their current spouse and the Whaling Bar,” chuckled Dewhurst. “People are really excited to have it come back.”

Final design choices would be determined by the feedback obtained through the survey and with which firm the hotel partners to execute the relaunch.

Management did not immediately respond to request for comment as to why the bar would be converting from Café La Rue to the Whaling Bar.

The La Valencia opened as an apartment hotel in December 1926 and was designed to integrate the “finest elements of various styles of the Spanish school of architecture,” according to its history. It survived the Great Depression and, over the years, became a gathering place for performers from the early days of the La Jolla Playhouse, including actor Gregory Peck. The Whaling Bar opened in the late 1940s and hosted authors, Hollywood elite and more.

“The Whaling Bar’s two most famous frequenters were probably Dr. Seuss and Raymond Chandler, the latter especially fond of its gimlets,” said La Jolla Historical Society historian Carol Olten. “Hollywood types visiting included Bob Hope, Joan Crawford, Charles Laughton, Jack Lemmon, John Wayne and Groucho Marx. Ray Archibal was the Whaling Bar’s legendary bartender who started at the hotel in 1960 as a busboy and stayed for decades, once surmising: ‘You can talk to a person that’s drunk and talk to them sensibly.’ Barry Manilow was once kicked out of the bar for wearing shorts.”

In 1986, La Valencia joined the Preferred Hotels Worldwide network. In 2010, Pacifica Companies acquired it and ushered in a string of changes. The Whaling Bar officially closed Feb. 14, 2013 and became Café La Rue later that year.

The establishment had four paintings by artist Wing Howard, who lived at the hotel as a young bohemian artist and reportedly painted to cover part of his room and board.

Former La Valencia Hotel managing director Mark DiBella partnered with the younger son of artist Wing Howard, Harrison Howard, to determine the most appropriate placement of the artwork. Many of the pieces were relocated to other rooms of the hotel, often boardrooms.

In 2018, a mural was created honoring the Whaling Bar and hoisted a few blocks away as part of the Murals of La Jolla public art program. At the time, muralist Raúl Guerrero said his work “Raymond Chandler at the Whaling Bar” paid homage to the late author, his book “Playback” set in La Jolla (disguised as the town of “Esmeralda”) and the Whaling Bar.

He said, “I thought of it as a noir-looking image celebrating [Chandler] hanging out at the Whaling Bar with his characters.”

The La Valencia Hotel is located at 1132 Prospect St. ◆