In its continuing quest to bring fresh ideas to your bar coaster and dining room table, Wally’s Desert Turtle on Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage recently hired bar manager Erin Earhart. The 36-year-old, who was born and raised in Michigan, graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in interdisciplinary humanities with a focus on history and sociology. “After school, I couldn’t find a ‘real job,’” says Erin, “so I moved back home to a small town near Lake Michigan and worked as a substitute teacher for a year.” But when she saw that a new restaurant was opening in town she found her vocation: the bar. “I had been a supervisor in my college dorm cafeteria and had had my fill of dealing with just food. Booze was where the money was!”
After working as a barback for a week, Erin was promoted to bartender. “Fast forward a few months and I’m starting to stress about winter coming and freezing to death, or maybe just spinning off the highway another three times. All the while, I’m hearing stories from [my best friend since fifth grade] Sara Jayne in Palm Springs about how nice and sunny and warm it is in the desert. She had tried to get me to move to Palm Springs on several occasions, and one day she called and said, ‘I have a room for you to stay in, I have a job for you starting immediately, get out here!’ So I did. I planned on just coming out for the season, and heading off somewhere else once season was over.”
Famous last words. This January will mark Erin’s twelfth year in the desert. She’s worked at Buckett’s Sports Bar, Kaiser Grille, The Beer Hunter, Roscoe Grill, The Ace Hotel, and Trio Restaurant, among others. “It was working at the Ace Hotel, with some pretty outstanding bartenders, that changed the way I started to look at cocktails,” she says. “These guys had come down from Portland and introduced a whole new world to me. From then on, it’s been about handcrafted cocktails, infusions, specialty syrups, and creating seasonally inspired creations.”
Naturally, she’s brought all that excitement and experience to Wally’s. “I’m not seeking to change too much at Wally’s, it is an institution. I’m simply trying to introduce others to this world as well. The clientele at Wally’s has been enjoying their traditional cocktail hour beverage the same way for quite a while. Be it a Manhattan or a Cosmopolitan, they would like that cocktail the way they are accustomed to drinking it, and I completely understand that. We will always make sure that the customer is satisfied. I’m striving to offer alternatives or interpretations, rather, to these old standards.”
With a chef so celebrated as young master Richard Pelz in the kitchen, it’s logical that Erin is attempting to craft and prepare drinks that will enhance the favors of his food and not destroy the diner’s palate with one sip. “I’m looking forward to working with Richard this season and pairing seasonal cocktails that will complement his incredible dishes,” says Erin. “I have a drink called ‘Her Jazz’ that I think your readers should definitely come in and try. It’s my version of the Cosmopolitan, made with a homemade organic cranberry syrup, citrus vodka, and candied citrus peel. I also have a drink called ‘The Easy Way’ that is pretty sexy. It’s a gin-based drink and I muddle pomegranate and red pepper with sage simple syrup. Tasty! There is a drink called ‘18 With a Bulleit,’ made with honey tangerines, Earl Grey Tea, and Bulleit Rye Whiskey. I’m also featuring a champagne cocktail called ‘The Long Hello,’ which has green apple, apple brandy, and St. Germain. As far as Valentine’s Day goes, you will just have to make your reservation to find out!”
One thing of which I’m reminded talking to Erin is that one can pour over the blogs and read all the reviews, but no one will ever truly understand and have “the experience” unless they go in and actually sit down to have the outstanding food and drink at Wally’s…and elsewhere throughout Rancho Mirage! I’m in, Erin. See you at the bar. Sooner than later. Much sooner!