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George’s Level2’s New Menu Highlights Local Flora

The bar's second hardbound cocktail book takes inspiration from San Diego's backyard
Wisdom Cobbler | Photo by Brogen Jessup

By Kelly Davis

Over the last couple years, a few San Diego craft cocktail bars have taken menu presentation to a new level. In 2017, Polite Provisions introduced a coloring-book menu that called “a whimsical masterpiece.” Last August, The Lion’s Share bar manager Jason O’Bryan came up with a menu inspired by the restaurant’s quirky paintings and Aesop’s Fables. Another standout was George’s Level2’s homage to San Diego. Created by bartenders Stephen Kurpinsky, Sam Peters, and Christian Ortiz and introduced in late 2017, the hardcover book featured cocktails inspired by San Diego neighborhoods. Each entry included a gorgeous photo, a cocktail recipe, and a few paragraphs about how the cocktail reflected a neighborhood’s character and history.

Kurpinsky left Level2 last fall to helm Hundred Proof, but Peters told me at the time that he planned to keep going with the hardcover-book menu format. For volume two, he said, he wanted to highlight local flora—edible plants, herbs, and flowers.

The menu’s done and on Monday, May 13, from 5 to 11 p.m., Level2—George’s at the Cove’s cocktail bar—will introduce the book with a special launch party. Like its predecessor, the menu is visually stunning, featuring photographs by Brogen Jessup and Arlene Ibarra. It opens with illustrated maps of the San Diego region, showing where you might find the 11 different plants that inspired the menu’s 24 cocktails.

“People will get to see areas where George’s [culinary] staff goes foraging for items used in the kitchen,” Peters says. “It’s in our backyard; it might be literally right outside your door.”

The menu includes twists on classics—like the Citric 75, inspired by a French 75, and the Pine-Groni, a Negroni variation that includes a Torrey pine tincture. For a few cocktails, the flora was used as inspiration, like in the Fennel Colada, a combination of three rums, Coco López, pineapple, lime, absinthe, and a Champagne float. (Fennel is a key ingredient in absinthe.)

George’s Level2’s New Menu Highlights Local Flora

George’s Level2’s New Menu Highlights Local Flora

Last Kumquat | Photo: Arlene Ibarra

Peters is a fan of the menu’s nopales cocktails, the Cactus Fresca and the Prickly Daiquiri. The Cactus Fresca features a soda made from a nopales and red bell pepper syrup, plus Del Bac mesquite whiskey and Ancho Reyes Verde liqueur. The daiquiri includes a nopales and roasted-corn syrup, Old Harbor rum, and Strega, an Italian liqueur made with saffron.

Other cocktails highlight lavender, nasturtium (bright orange and yellow flowers that have a strong peppery flavor), wild celery, kumquats, sage, elderberry, and hops. Peters came up with roughly half of the 24 cocktails while his staff (Cole Shepard, Christian Ortiz, Tony Gurdian, Joree Weatherly, and Joe Fisketti) handled the rest.

“I think it creates a more unified, consistent menu when you’ve got a bit of each team member’s creativeness and flair in the book,” Peters says, adding that he already has a concept for volume three—something to do with architecture and design. “Our plan is to keep the volumes going. We just want do things that showcase San Diego.”

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George’s Level2’s New Menu Highlights Local Flora

Wisdom Cobbler | Photo by Brogen Jessup

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