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50 years and still ‘Whaling’

Bartender celebrates his golden anniversary

Rey Arcibal never wanted to tend bar. But somehow 50 years after first being “drafted” to do it at La Valencia Hotel’s legendary Whaling Bar & Grill — he’s still at it.

And on Monday, his friends and co-workers gathered on the hotel patio for a private party dubbed “Rey’s 50 years of happiness celebration.”

Still spry with a twinkle in his eye, Arcibal, a Philippines native, stood recently at his post behind the Whaling Bar talking about how he got started bartending at the LaV a year and a half after waiting tables there after military service as an officers’ steward during the Korean War. The maitre d’ died and the bartender took his place.

“I guess you have to go behind the bar now,” management told Arcibal. “I said, ‘Why, I don’t want to tend bar, I like to wait tables ... I don’t like to handle money.’ They said, ‘Go and tend bar until we find somebody.’ They never found anybody. I don’t think they looked for anybody. I said, ‘What’s going on? You guys looking for somebody?’ They said, ‘No, we pick you.’ ”

The affable Arcibal is known for his warmth, charm and unassuming manner. He’s also credited with concocting “The Whaler,” the bar’s signature blended ice cream drink. Rey said he got the original recipe from a patron and has been “perfecting” it ever since.

“I had a customer who kept ordering this Kahlua and ice cream blend,” Arcibal said. “I started putting different ingredients in it — brandy, rum, crème de cacao. I give them a little touch of Bailey’s (Irish cream) and it becomes real, real good.”

During his tenure behind the Whaling Bar, Arcibal has seen a few famous faces, including numerous Hollywood actors and actresses — Anne Baxter, Raymond Burr, Pat Morita, Victure Mature, Charlton Heston, Jack Lemmon and Ida Lupino — and one famous admiral, William “Bull” Halsey.

Barkeep Arcibal has three standard methods for handling those who’ve overindulged, with a little psychology involved in each.

“I’ll tell them, ‘I’m not cutting you off ... but tonight I would like for you just to relax. I don’t want you to drink anymore because I want you back: I don’t want to see you 6 feet under.’ ”

Or he’ll cut a deal with them: “I’ll give you another drink, if you give me your keys,” he said.

Failing at the first two methods, Arcibal employs the third: “I tell them, ‘You’re not going home,’ and I get them a hotel room.”

Arcibal said La Valencia’s Whaling Bar’s staff have “worked here a long time,” which he added makes patrons “feel right at home.”

His friends made him feel right at home on Monday. Cocktails in hand, laughter in the air, guests mingled, talking about the man they’d come to pay homage to.

Asked whether Rey has changed over the years, retired stock broker Tom Creamer who’s know him half a century said, “Not a bit, not even a little.” Of his friend, Creamer added, “He’s always kind, always interested. Always a smile on his face.”

David Goodell has known Rey for 32 years and met him because his Rotary club meets weekly at La Valencia.

“I think the people from Cheers learned their whole plan through Rey,” he said. “He remembers everyone’s name, what you drink. He makes you feel comfortable.”

Forty-year Whaling Bar patron Ivan Bunster agreed that Arcibal has an incredible memory.

“He could write an oral history of the people that are here, the people who have died,” he said. “He could tell you a million anecdotes, like the one about actor Lee Marvin who was drunk here once.”

Anita Henderson noted Rey makes the Whaling Bar special.

“Rey makes it a local place, it’s not just a tourist place,” she said. “He makes it a club: People are loyal.”

Regarding his experiences at the Whaling Bar, Arcibal’s patrons always tell him, “You should write a book.”

But, pointing to his head, Arcibal said he always replies, “I’m going to keep it right here.”