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Rants And Raves: The Whaling Bar

Losing Some Noir History

Artist Raul Guerrero's rendering of The Whaling Bar in 2007.

Credit: Raul Guerrero

Above: Artist Raul Guerrero's rendering of The Whaling Bar in 2007.

My friend D.A. Kolodenko and I share a passion for film noir. So when he told me about the closing of the La Valencia Hotel's The Whaling Bar where Raymond Chandler would sit and drink, I decided it was worth noting.

Kolodenko is passionate about The Whaling Bar and its bartender of more than 5 decades Rey Arcibel. He wrote about the closing of the bar last month for a CityBeat article.

I went down to the bar last Saturday to have a drink and soak in the atmosphere before the bar closes on Valentine's Day February 14.

This is from the La Valencia Hotel's press release about the closing of The Whaling Bar:

Valentine’s Day, Thursday, February 14th, will be last call for libations and nostalgia at La Valencia’s Whaling Bar and Café La Rue. Renovated and remodeled several times in the past 60 years, the famous rooms will once again be re-crafted for success while continuing to maintain original artwork of Wing Howard as both theme and inspiration. La Valencia has selected West America Corporation and VP of Operations Mike Schmidt as general contractor. "I am delighted to work again with Mike as we both collaborated successfully on renovations at The U.S. Grant in the mid 2000’s which respected and enhanced the iconic property," quotes Managing Director Mark Dibella.

“We have diligently researched the history of our Prospect Street space from its retail beginnings to the early success of La Jolla’s first true café and the legacy of the current bar.” says Dibella. Plans call for opening up the two spaces and creating one grander venue. Café La Rue will include a larger bar, a signature wine vault and will maximize the architecture of the circa 1926 building by incorporating features of the captivating palm shaded patio as part of the dining experience.

Needless to say, Kolodenko feels a greater loss and is holding a farewell party this Saturday night at The Whaling Bar where he will read from Raymond Chandler, one of the famous celebrities who frequented the bar. The acclaimed noir writer was known to have written at the bar.

I asked Kolodenko to try and sum up his feelings about saying goodbye to a favorite hangout and a friend.

Over half a century of classic San Diego history is about to be bulldozed. This month, the venerable, beautiful La Jolla institution, The Whaling Bar at the Hotel La Valencia will be demolished to make way for a French bistro. Such is the decision of the massive real estate company that bought the hotel in 2011.

This is the bar where the greatest hard-boiled noir writer of them all, Raymond Chandler, hung out a lot during the 1940s & 50s during the time he wrote The Long Goodbye & The Little Sister. The list of famous folks who have enjoyed drinking in here is endless, from Gregory Peck to Dr. Seuss. I am especially saddened that longtime employees like Rey Arcibel, San Diego’s oldest and classiest bartender, who started working there in 1960, will be out of a job.

I hope you can be there to help me give the gorgeous little bar & its great staff a proper toast this Saturday night, February 2nd starting at 8 pm, before The Whaling Bar is only a memory of yours, mine and Ray Chandler’s. I’ll be reading a scene from his novel "Playback" that is set in the bar, and we’ll drink a few gimlets, his favorite.

A sad passing of history. Thanks to Kolodenko for sharing his passion for the bar and its people. Here's some of the video I shot on Saturday.

Saying a Long Goodbye to The Whaling Bar

Saying a Long Goodbye to the Whaling Bar

Suggested viewing: You could go with the 2 neo-noirs based on the novels Chandler wrote in San Diego: Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye" and "Marlowe" starring James Garner and based on Chandler's "The Little Sister." Or you could just go for a classic Chandler film noir like "The Big Sleep" or "Murder My Sweet," or "Double Indemnity" which he adapted to the screen from James M. Cain's novel.

You can also see more of Raul Guerrero's art inspired by The Whaling Bar at his website.

D.A. Kolodenko used to write the CityBeat column Inside a Whale's Vagina, he now is an occasional contributor to CityBeat.

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