Step back into the era of Prohibition where you would walk down an alley to an unmarked door. Replace the unmarked door with a wall of kegs and there lies the entrance to Noble Experiment, a limited-capacity bar in San Diego. An air of nostalgia greets you along with a wall of golden skulls contrasted by Baroque-style art on the ceiling and leather seats a shade of green even Steve McQueen would envy. Upon walking in to the intimate space, you know you are about to be part of something special.
Behind the bar waits its general manager, Trevor Easter, a San Diego native who is influencing the local culture in a way that comes naturally to him—although he wasn’t always a bartender. His course began as a musician and progressed into an award-winning bartender (he won 2011’s Tales of the Cocktail’s Best High Volume Cocktail Bar for San Francisco’s Rickhouse—the first cocktail menu he helped develop). He has since managed Heaven’s Dog for famed chef Charles Pham (where Easter also helped earn a nomination at Tales of the Cocktail for Best Restaurant Bar in 2012), and then went on to become the West Coast brand ambassador for Beefeater and Plymouth gins.
The Fly Catcher
1.5 oz. – El Silencio Mezcal
1.5 oz. – Watermelon juice
¾ oz. – Lime juice
¾ oz. – Campari
.5 oz. – Orgeat
Pinch of salt
Directions: Combine all ingredients into a shaker, briefly shake and strain into a tall glass. Fill glass with crushed ice.
However, Easter has been running the bar program at Noble Experiment since summer of 2014 and recently developed the signature cocktail program for Park & Rec in the University Heights district of San Diego along with his partner, Anthony Schmidt, through their consulting company, Revelry Cocktail Co. His laid-back upbringing—he is from San Diego after all—his competitive background as a drummer and wakeboarder, and his experience—and accolades—have helped shape San Diego’s burgeoning cocktail culture. (The city has seen such a huge spike in its craft cocktail scene, so much so that Polite Provisions won Best High Volume Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail in 2014.) Combine all these qualities and you essentially have a walking representation of San Diego’s craft cocktail community.
Easter explains that bartending was initially a hobby for him, (he’s since trained under the likes of Sam Ross and the Bon Vivants, and has made quite the name for himself). He moved up to Sacramento where he could wakeboard during the day and bartend at night—he worked at Shady Lady. “I started venturing into San Francisco and saw things that never crossed my mind,” he says. “Having San Francisco as your neighbor, you’re so close to incredible food and drinks. It’s almost contagious.” While living in the Bay Area, he worked at such establishments at Rickhouse, Bourbon & Branch, Heaven’s Dog and 15 Romolo. And since returning to San Diego to preside over Noble Experiment, Easter has witnessed—and been involved in—the craft cocktail and beer explosion in this city.
Consortium Holdings, the parent company to which Noble Experiment belongs, is composed of bars, restaurants, a coffee shop and a juice shop (and even a barber shop) that are helping shape San Diego’s culinary and cocktail scenes. “I would go as far to say they were the pioneers,” Easter explains of them.
The company—whose establishments include Craft & Commerce, Neighborhood, El Dorado, Noble Experiment, Underbelly, Polite Provisions, Ironside, Juice Saves, Rare Form, Soda & Swine and The Dover—has a philosophy that a space should facilitate meaningful interaction between not only its customers, but between their customers and knowledgeable staff. They build and provide beautifully and thoughtfully designed and curated spaces while also bucking trends and providing the utmost hospitality. “It’s almost impossible to step into a cocktail bar that is not a Consortium bar [in San Diego],” Easter says. “You know when you walk into a C.H. bar. You can’t really identify what it is that makes them feel that way, but you can sense that it’s special and that someone gives a shit.”
Easter acknowledges the apprehension some might experience when walking into Noble Experiment, for example. “It can be a little scary walking into a bar like this. ‘I don’t want to commit to this expensive drink and I don’t know what all these ingredients are,’” he says, as though he was new to the bar. At first glance, you might feel intimidated by the wall of spirits and perception that you need to be able to differentiate between liquors. “The smugness you assume you are going to get, we try to stay so far away from that,” Easter explains, embodying Consortium’s hospitality philosophy. “They don’t take themselves too seriously. I mean look at this thing,” he says in reference to a newly obtained cocktail glass called the Pearl Diver, which houses a brilliantly colored drink. The atmosphere at Noble Experiment successfully encourages both curiosity and comfort. “We don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable,” says Easter. “When customers feel scared, hesitant or unsure, they are missing out on the experience.”
Staying true to this ideology, Easter—a man equally known for his humor and puns—and his staff devised a way to make the dreaded last call a positive and memorable experience. “If you ever sit here at last call on Friday or Saturday you will find out very quickly that we are not stuffy,” he explains. “We decided to end [the night] on as high of a note as we possibly could. It’s built into our genes to want to drink and sing together, so we put together a list of songs that are not only timeless, but something that everyone knows the words to.” So, of course songs like Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” are popular on the playlist. By the end of the night, “people are hugging people they don’t even know. And they’ve walked out on this high instead of feeling like they can’t drink here anymore.”
Like Portland and Denver, San Diego is known for its craft beer culture. But San Diego has something these other cities will never have, which has contributed to the steep incline in craft cocktail consumption: the weather. “When it’s nice out people like to sit outside and drink beer. And when they drink beer, they start to get curious about drinking better beer,” Easter explains. “It makes this big scary cocktail monster seem so much more palatable.”
Aside from the perfect 72-degree weather San Diego is blessed with, what is it that defines the beer and cocktail scene? “We tend to have a really laid-back culture. And I think with that laid-back culture stems a laid-back mentality,” Easter explains. “For [Noble Experiment], we have a little bit of that rooted in us. It’s not so much about flash. Our cocktails are still rooted in some very simple, but proven methodology,” which is something Easter carries over into the menus he creates.
This simple and proven methodology is manifesting in front of me as I sit at the bar. Jesse, another bartender, is hand-carving ice cubes in the corner while Easter assembles an old fashioned as he discusses the direction San Diego cocktail scene is heading. “I think we’re starting to get more creative,” he says. This city has a casual approach to drinking and dining, which is transforming the landscape of options. “The San Diego cocktail scene is like a tuxedo shirt. San Diego is the home of casual and good. And there are beautiful things about cities like L.A. and San Francisco and their level of execution and their ingredients,” Easter says. “But after a day at the beach, you want an IPA and an old fashioned and you don’t want to have to have a conversation about it.”
At the time of this interview, Comic Con is fast approaching, and there is a good chance Darth Vader will walk through Noble Experiment’s doors. I ask Easter which cocktail he would fashion for him, and I quickly realized why this group is known for their puns. Immediately, Easter and the other bartenders have a cocktail list to appease nerd-worthy guests. “We would definitely make him a Jager drink and would call it Darth Jager. Or a tiki drink and call it Hans Strolo. What about if you drink a can of beer, would you call it R2-D Brew? Obi Rum Kenobi?” jokes Easter. With ease and execution, I have witnessed this creative consciousness that is prevalent within walls of Noble Experiment and the landscape of San Diego’s drinking culture.
If sipping an old fashioned with San Diego as your backdrop isn’t reason enough to love this city, take pride in knowing that people like Trevor Easter will be cultivating cocktails you can feel comfortable drinking while enhancing our collective neighborhood drinking experience.
777 G St, San Diego, CA 92101