Who knew that far down an endlessly winding highway, through deep forests of legendary giants and cliffs dropping with vertiginous abandon into the deep Pacific’s roiling waves, well past the point of cell phone reception and superstores (forget yellow cabs and open table reservations), is where you find the most innovative mixology scene and imaginative cocktails you’ve encountered in quite some time. Forget Apothéke or Milk & Honey of New York’s worn out mixology legend. Skip San Francisco’s 15 Romolo or Rickhouse – you’ve seen it all before. Instead, head straight up Northern California’s Highway 1 and don’t stop until you’re sitting at the The Grey Whale Bar in Mendocino.
You’ll find bar tucked cozily inside the exquisitely charming MacCallum House Inn – a splendid B&B that perfectly embraces everything we love about the historic, seaside town of Mendocino: the unpretentious welcoming warmth, the untamed rustic beach beauty and the untouched quaintness of the tiny streets and unique architecture of this antique settlement.
At such a place, you would expect the fine-dining restaurant to be top notch–sourcing from local fare–fish caught off the immediate coastline, locally harvested produce (a good deal from their very own backyard garden), an inventive, seasonal menu, and a staunch commitment to organic and sustainable practices. Exquistely refined, yet still wholesome cuisine goes hand in hand with the atmosphere. What you wouldn’t expect would be the wildly inventive and fiercely raging mixology scene happening behind the rather diminutive (but impressively stocked) bar.
Even a quick glance at their concise Cocktail Menu will immediately reveal that they take their cocktails seriously (even if it’s with a twinkling eye). After all, when was the last time you had a Tamarind Whiskey Sour? And perhaps even more thrilling than looking at their menu is a glance at their bar mise en place, when you realize that their spectacular backyard garden is supplying more than just the kitchen. It is fair to say that once you’ve tried a lemon just picked off the tree and mixed into your martini, you will never be the same.
Felicia Fratus, head mixologist at The Grey Whale, is a true artist and a wonderfully gracious bartender. Our recent visit resulted in a fine sampling, not only of their fancifully composed cocktail menu, but also a number of astonishingly creative and hauntingly delicious off-menu cocktails, whipped up on the fly by the skilled hand of our attentive bartender, Felicia. We recommend that you try at least one of their house specialty cocktails (almost all of which showcase their supremely fresh garden ingredients), and then, after a brief chat with your charming host, go for a “bartender’s choice.” Sometimes, it’s nice to leave the enjoyment of your evening in the hands of fate–especially when those hands deliver something that intoxicates you, not just with booze, but with unforgettably delightful flavor and unique style.
Photographs courtesy of MacCallum House Inn & Restaurant, additional photography by Jeffery Owens for Socially Superlative