Visitors should know the border city (yes, Mexico is 30-minutes south) boasts an authentic spirit unlike any other. The famously “chill vibe” has an unpretentious yet upscale style that feels inviting to all – sounds like the recently-renovated Kimpton Alma San Diego in the historic Gaslamp Quarter.
The unassuming urban property nods to the “lit” neighborhood with custom art murals, exclusive small batch kombucha and coffee blend in the all-day café, and agave tastings from neighboring distillers. Alma is not only in San Diego; it is of San Diego.
We spoke with Will Figueroa, relaxed resident beverage director at Alma on the current drink culture (accompanying the gastronomic cuisine) within San Diego. Figueroa discusses his latest venture: The Desmond, a SoCal-centric restaurant displaying San Diego “on a plate and in a glass,” and shares what’s to arrive at Alma.
In three words, define San Diego’s drink culture.
Creative, fun, local.
Re. locality. How is San Diego displayed both “on the plate and in the glass” at The Desmond?
All our ingredients (produce, purveyors) are fresh and sourced here in southern California, in addition to a lot of spirits that we use. He [Executive Chef Jason Neroni] uses a fair amount of yuzu in the food, which was worked into Acquiescence with [California-based] Lo-Fi Gentian Amaro and sparkling wine. There’s also a drink (in a bird-shaped glass) called Retrice, which refers to the flight feathers on the back of a bird’s tail, with an amazing fruit shrub we got together to make.
Sails Right is a San-Diego “tiki drink” with Brugal 1888 Rum, Falernum, jerk simple syrup, lime juice, and bitters, in a beautiful surfer girl tiki mug. I’ve been lugging around three different cases (with eight versions) of tiki mugs for the last six years, so I had that one in my back pocket!
Explain The Desmond’s beverage program.
The drinks at Desmond are elevated in both taste and presentation so that the experience receiving the drink matches the experience of consuming it. We have a version of a Dirty Martini called Porthole, but it has Fresno chili, olive, onion, and dill; brine added to it. It comes in a “porthole” (like the windows on boats) infuser and serves two. When the drink hits the table, you experience the bar environment [sans barstools].
Discuss Leave of Absence (L.O.A.) coming early next year to Alma.
In contrast, L.O.A. will live up to its name and be that destination vacation experience—a hidden oasis—we all desperately need but usually can’t make time for … until it opens, and then it will be minutes away … There will be a global, destination menu, ideally like a passport book so we can build onto it as we go. We are going to do our take on a Singapore Sling.
Share a sneak peek of Alma’s “mezcal partnership.”
Yes! We will be crafting our own bottle of La Luna Mezcal unique to Alma. It will be a hands-on experience (choosing our agave and interesting fruits, spices, and botanicals to blend in) with no other version like it anywhere else. It will be in cocktails at all [F&B] outlets, and ideally, in the rooms as an amenity for our guests. We hope to go in guestrooms with a 200ml bottle and a few ingredients for guests to use however they’d like. More to come in 2023 on that…
Which local bar programs are you currently impressed with?
Well, Polite Provisions has made the “one of the world’s best bar list” a few years back but has continued to maintain a very high level of excellence since its opening. Across the street is a new spot called Cantina Mayahuel, with a fantastic agave program (and great food as well). Vietnamese-inspired Kingfisher is just excellent all around—in food, beverage, and design for a neighborhood restaurant. I haven’t seen a more beautiful interior; everything else matches up with it.
Craft cocktails are flowing through San Diego’s Little Italy. What’s happening there (drink-wise)? How would you compare that neighborhood to the buzzy Gaslamp Quarter?
Same thing as all the neighborhoods in San Diego, the restaurants, and bars there are making creative, fun, delicious cocktails—really taking risks in menu offering and design. There are a lot of newer restaurants there, so it gets a lot of buzz. I’m continually surprised, in a positive way. We do a lot of exploring in San Diego.
What’s next in San Diego’s booze scene? How is Alma contributing to it?
San Diego does a very excellent job of staying true to itself. I don’t feel like it’s as influenced by Los Angeles and New York as other cities are and Alma does the same. We aim to show you everything we love about San Diego: its people and culture one bite (sip) at a time. And when I ask my Magic 8 Ball that, it says it is decidedly so… So…
Where do you see hospitality going in San Diego?
To the moon Alice!
- 1 oz. Ketel One Vodka
- ½ oz. Lo-Fi Gentian Amaro
- 1 oz. Yuzu
- ½ oz. simple syrup
- California sparkling wine
- Dehydrated citrus wheel
Preparation: Add ingredients (excluding wine) to a shaker tin and shake for 20 seconds. Double strain into a Nick & Nora glass and finish with sparkling wine. Garnish with a dehydrated citrus wheel.