Just in time for Santa’s arrival, Oceanside’s Urge Gastropub & Whiskey Bank has unwrapped its latest addition: a 35-seat, Prohibition-inspired speakeasy dubbed 101 Proof. Occupying a cozy 600-square-foot room, this jazzy joint has a menu of more than 300 whiskeys - and a set of house rules including a strict dress code, a ban on selfies and a maximum limit of three hours in the bar. Dale Hersey, the man behind the new bar breaks it down.
PACIFIC: Where are you from, and where’s home now?
DALE HERSEY: I grew up in Temecula and moved to North County when I was 20. I absolutely fell in love with the area and I’ll probably never leave. Everything is so close. You’ve got the beach, you can go hiking, and the people are cool. It’s laidback and, since I’m not necessarily a hustle-and-bustle person myself, it’s nice to be around that.
What led you to become a barman?
I like people. Everybody’s got an interesting story and something going on. One thing they always say about the bar industry is people drink when they’re happy, and people drink when they are sad. That’s why you’ll never see this industry go away.
Where else have you worked around town?
I currently work at Hello Betty in Oceanside as well, and that’s fun. I worked down at Stag and Lion, a fun little English pub in Carlsbad, and before that I was at the Flying Elephant, a cool rock-and-roll pub that was right up my alley.
How have visitors to 101 Proof reacted to the venue so far?
I thought it was going to be quiet and would take a while for the name to get out, but right off the bat we had people saying, “Ooh, we heard about this,” or “I saw a picture online.” There’s been a big influx. We like to think we shock and awe. We have some amazing cocktails that, as soon as you taste them, you can tell that they’re well thought-out. Someone didn’t just throw stuff in the glass and hope for the best. Not only are our drinks cool to look at, but they taste amazing.
Hersey’s presence and presents
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
I absolutely love snowboarding and, to this day, my personal favorite gift was when my parents got me an old, used snowboard when I was 16. It was a Jeff Brushie original pro model. Growing up, that guy was my hero. I still have the board but don’t ride it anymore.
What’s the worst gift you’ve received?
She’ll probably hate this, but, when I was young, one of my aunts was in the Navy and would travel a lot. When she was in the Philippines, she actively sought out these bulk gifts for my brother and sister and me. Like the worst shirts, the ugliest sweaters. It was horrible.
What gift are you hoping to receive this year?
Just staying on a straight line and not having too many ups and downs would be nice for a change.
What distinguishes Urge and 101 from other venues in Oceanside?
The food’s amazing, the drinks are off the charts, and our bartenders all share the same passion for beer and whiskey. There’s a lot of information going around, and it’s nice to have that educational twist. Some places have nice whiskeys, and lots of bars have nice beers, but being able to ask a question and getting an educated answer is one thing that sets Urge apart. You know you’re going to get a well-crafted drink and you’re going to know why it tastes as good as it does. And we serve food items like foie gras and seared scallops, which isn’t necessarily something you see on the bar menu at most places.
What’s the skinny on the dress code?
We want everyone to come in and we wouldn’t want to turn anyone away, but we’re working on creating an atmosphere and an experience that is your night out. We’d hate for someone who’s been looking forward to a reservation made two weeks prior to come in and sit next to some knucklehead who just happened to show up and walk in for a couple of drinks. It could ruin the experience. We don’t want to be discriminating, but we do want to be exclusive.
What are a couple of the bar’s signature drinks?
The Boom Tiki Tiki is definitely the house favorite. We have fun making it, we have fun drinking it and we have fun watching people drink it. It’s basically a tiki-style drink with fresh-squeezed fruit juices we call “boom sauce,” mixed with a ton of fresh garnishes. And we actually have a living orchid behind the bar that we pluck flowers off of and throw into the glass. I don’t want to give away all the details, but it’s lit on fire and looks pretty cool. And we have an amazing old-fashioned list, and not just ones made with whiskey.
Word is you have a membership program. How does that work?
We have two levels: the Curious and the Committed. The Curious is $500 per year, and there are quite a few perks. To sum it up, that price gets you your own locker and a bottle of one of our 10 single-barrel liquors. That bottle will sit in your locker, and you can share it with your friends or keep it for yourself. Other perks include vouchers and invites to private parties only available to members. The second tier is the Committed and includes more tastings and two bottles from our private reserve. And club members also go straight to the front of the line - if you happen to be in the area and didn’t make a reservation.
101 Proof is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 6 p.m. to midnight. Reservations are recommended and can be requested at any time.
101 Proof (inside Urge Gastropub), 2002 S Coast Hwy, Oceanside, 101proofoceanside.com