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Easy Drinking at Herb & Wood

New Little Italy spot aims for simple, sophisticated cocktails


Herb & Wood | Photo by Robert Benson

Sitting in the dining room of Herb & Wood last Friday, Will VanLeuven couldn’t stop admiring the décor. The new project by Brian Malarkey (Searsucker, Herringbone, Farmer and the Seahorse), slated to open sometime next week in Little Italy, is, indeed, beautiful. It’s got a modest elegance to it (and if one of the chairs with the blue leather and blue-stained wood goes missing, you’ll likely find it in my living room). 

Herb & Wood's Gin & Lavender cocktail

VanLeuven is heading up Herb & Wood’s cocktail program. He’s been in San Diego for only a few years (via L.A.), but has worked at respected cocktail spots like Prohibition and Puesto (and is currently the president of the San Diego chapter of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild). He came highly recommended by the right guy: respected bartender Lucien Conner, who, along with Ian Ward, created cocktail menus for other Malarkey restaurants, suggested VanLeuven for the post.

Though the restaurant’s bar is a focal point, VanLeuven’s not out to reinvent the cocktail but, rather, complement the Mediterranean-inspired menu. His approach, he said, is to keep things simple. An aperitif called Gin & Lavender is made with lavender-infused gin, thyme-honey syrup, lemon, and soda. The Tequila & Grapefruit is a sophisticated take on a Paloma with Lillet Blanc and Giffard’s grapefruit liqueur. And for the Gin & Cucumber, VanLueven used an Eastside Rickey as inspiration (gin, lime, mint, and, cucumber) but swapped the mint for dill to make a slightly more savory version of the drink. The menu is full of classics with subtle, just-right twists—or, as VanLueven put it, “familiar, but not pedestrian.”

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