Get In The Spirit

By David Nelson / Photos by Sara Norris

Back before craft cocktails were a thing... they were actually already a thing at Starlite.

This unassuming Midtown restaurant and bar, launched as a place to for the 21-and-up set to find dignified late-night dining and drinks, is widely credited for having spawned the renaissance of the Moscow Mule, a decidedly crafty vodka cocktail made with ginger beer, lime and a mint sprig - and served in a copper mug. Today, these fancy metal vessels are everywhere. Not so long ago, when hipsters first began to show their faces, Starlite was the place to score one.

To celebrate their venue's seventh anniversary, Starlite owners Tim Mays and Matt Hoyt are opening their hexagon-framed front door on India Street, beckoning spirits lovers with the call of the wild, in this case an otherwise elusive sip of the legendary Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.

"It was extremely difficult to get," says Hoyt, a music video and film director, not to mention restaurateur. "We had to be vetted by the distributor to be found worthy to even be considered to pour it."

Pappy makes people happy, but it doesn't come cheap. At retail, bottles of this high- demand, ultra-select whiskey are nearly impossible to procure.

"We pay $250 per bottle because we have a relationship with the family," says Hoyt. "But mostly, you only can buy Pappy 'black market,' on eBay, for a thousand dollars."

Gulp! Actually, better make that sip...tiny sips.

Starlite's Pappy collection includes the full range of Family Reserve whiskeys, served in 1.5-ounce portions and priced at $16 to $73. Choices include Rye, 10 year-old Pappy Van Winkle, 12-year, 15-year, 20-year and, for those willing to put their money where their mouth is, the 23-year-old batch, for nearly $100 per pour (including tip).

Mays, who founded and still runs Little Italy's famed concert venue, Casbah, says the whiskey defines what he calls "The Starlite Story."

"We created a vehicle to steer people towards experiences with beverages and food that they normally wouldn't seek out," he says, intimating that one of those experiences will be pairing a glass of Pappy Van Winkle with one of Starlite's housemade, toffee-cookie ice cream sandwiches rolled in pistachio nuts.

"The finish is almost angelic," says Mays, speaking of the bourbon, not the ice cream. "It just goes off to heaven."

Make that "Seventh" heaven for Starlite devotees, who will be treated to seven days' worth of local-charity-driven anniversary events (Monday 9/29 to Sunday 10/5) featuring $7 Starlite Mules, $7 Kentucky Colonels and $7 specials from the food menu.

As for the Pappy Van Winkle, one wet whistle will cost a lot more than seven bucks, but that's a small price to pay to see what rises from the core of Hoyt's and Mays' spirit world. Cheers!

Starlite
3175 India St., Mission Hills
619.358.9766, starlitesandiego.com

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