By Jason O'Bryan / Photo by Jeff "Turbo" Corrigan
Walk into Seven Grand* and you might not notice her at first. It is, after all, usually crowded, and your eyes are busy tracing thirsty constellations across a galaxy of whiskey. But try one of her drinks, and then it's suddenly hard not to notice Meghan Balser, with her easy smile and unassuming demeanor, mixing up some of the best classics in the city.
Balser's transition to craft cocktails came suddenly, as she moved from slinging drinks at a trashy SoHo lounge in New York City - "raspberry champagne martinis kind of thing," she says with a laugh - straight to one of the most celebrated cocktail bars in the country, Pegu Club (also in SoHo), where she spent five years learning mixology and honing her talents.
Wanderlust drew Balser's gaze west. When her friend and fellow Pegu Club alum Erin Williams offered her a job at Saltbox (the restaurant at Hotel Palomar, in the Gaslamp), Balser mustered the courage and made the move.
"I'd never lived in another city before, or even been to San Diego," she says, "I literally stepped off the plane, got in a taxi and went to Saltbox. They were like, 'Great! Here's your vest.'"
That was less than a year ago, but Balser has already made quick work of our city's burgeoning cocktail scene. She's found a home at Seven Grand ("It's like a family," she says), where you can find her stirring up Manhattans five at a time, and more recently landed a second job at the U.S. Grant Hotel's Grant Grill, where she'll have more room to improvise, working with a cutting-edge bar program to balance the 19th Century one at Seven Grand.
Far from the towering metropolis of NYC, Balser is enjoying, and enjoying serving, the people she's met during her brief but productive stint in America's Finest.
SEVEN GRAND WHISKEY BAR
3054 University Ave., North Park
*Seven Grand opened in North Park, in July, at the site that used to be home to Bacchus House.
A Whiskey Legend
Spirited recommendations by Meghan Balser
Scotch: I really like the Compass Box line, particularly the Asyla and the Peat Monster, the two extremes. I think [the line] is overlooked because it's blended.
Bourbon: It has to be different. A lot of the bourbons are essentially the same. I really like Booker's. I know it's high proof, but it also has tons of flavor.
Rye: Rittenhouse, of course, and I really like the new Corsair Ryemaggedon.
Silver: The High West silver whiskeys are the best we have, both the oat and the rye. It would be interesting to try those in an Old Fashioned.