Craft At The Cove: An Epic Monthly Event For Mixology Enthusiasts

We arrive at 5:30pm on the dot to our first Craft at the Cove event with only a slight idea of what to expect.

We know that it’s a monthly event held at George’s Level2 in La Jolla that pairs a different renowned local mixologist with a local spirit — offering a menu of one-of-a-kind, one-night-only drinks and bites.

What we don’t know, is that we’re about to walk into a creative scene with Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got to Do With It booming in the background, fake snow covering the entirety of the bar, the scent of the salty ocean air and the expansive Pacific Ocean below us and our first piece of dialogue heard being, “there’s leopard face painting in the corner.”

The featured mixologist, Michele Willard of URBN/Basic, is known affectionately by her friends as Snow Leopard. She’s said to be a passionate perfectionist when it comes to her craft — a statement that is echoed in the way she stands behind the bar, meticulously crafting her first cocktails for the evening.

“What’s that one?” we ask, as she hands a dark-gray colored concoction to the girl next to us.

“That’s the Leopard Caliente,” she says with a smile before going back to mixing. Every square inch of the bar is already packed and the event has just begun.

We relish in our first sip. It’s smokey, refreshing, clean — made with Fugu Habanero Vodka, lime, tamarind syrup, Ancho Reyes Verde, agave and charcoal topped with a charred pepper.

The featured spirit for the evening is San Diego’s Cutwater Spirits, created from the pioneers who brought forth Ballast Point.

They found their inspiration for their series of Fugu vodkas from the tastes being served at local San Diego taco shops: habanero peppers, horchata, and aguas frescas with Jamaica hibiscus or pineapple.

The vodkas are distilled and filtered 15 times — named Fugu after the venomous puffer fish, one of the most intense Japanese delicacies that can only be prepared by licensed professionals.

We try the next drink: How the Leopard Got Her Spots. 

It’s cream-filled with a slight tang of citrus and a chocolate wafer cookie on top — made with Old Grove gin, falernum, egg white, lime, lemon, cream, coconut cream and cane sugar.

The gin is earthy and bold, distilled with juniper, rose, and locally sourced coriander.

“We wanted to bring a different craft to La Jolla,” general manager Sam Peters tell us as we chat about how San Diego still flies under the food and beverage radar in comparison with other West Coast cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.

“Stephen’s already had this vision for years,” Sam continues, “It’s here to show what we can do in San Diego while still keeping it local.”

What Stephen Kurpinsky — the Spirits and Beer Director/Barman at Level2 — and his team have created, nurtured and encouraged with Craft at the Cove is an entirely collaborative cocktail environment that is completely unique to San Diego.

It’s one that celebrates ingredients, stories, products and people — and we’re eager to return next month and share more tales from Craft at the Cove.

Make sure to check out Stephen’s Instagram @sjberto where he combines storytelling with photography to share creative tidbits of inspiration from the beverage world, and georgeslevel2 or @georgesatthecove to see more mouthwatering views and dishes from the restaurant.