On this episode of our Scene in San Diego podcast, we follow the story of a downtown San Diego bar and restaurant that found surprise sweet success in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic – with booze-infused ice cream.
About six months ago, Métl Bar & Restaurant on Fifth Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter began infusing alcohol into housemade ice cream. By summertime, the little idea had sparked into something big: a full-fledged creamery offering 32 flavors, now known as Metl Cocktail Creamery.
The unexpected shift to ice cream-making has boosted business for the bar and restaurant during a time of slowdowns and restrictions due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Metl Bar & Restaurant co-owner Jenna Elskamp – who’s also the chief ice cream-maker – joins our podcast to talk all about the creamery, the creativity, the pandemic, and what’s in store for the future.
Listen to Episode 10 Here:
Sweet Success: Metl Cocktail Creamery
Metl Bar & Restaurant has been owned by local hospitality veterans Jenna and Randy Elskamp since December 2019.
In mid-March, just three months into their new bar and restaurant project, the coronavirus pandemic reached San Diego County and the restaurant portion of the restaurant was forced to close due to pandemic restrictions. The bar side stayed open, and they shifted to takeout mode.
While trying to survive the pandemic rollbacks with their business, the Elskamps also shifted their energies toward a couple of positive outlets: making ice cream (one of Jenna’s hobbies) and launching a free meal program for unemployed San Diegans, relying on some of the liquor brands the bar works with to donate meals to the community.
One day, everything came together in a very sweet way.
As a liquor rep was dropping off a batch of 8-ounce cups, an idea sparked: The cups were the perfect size to fill with ice cream.
And, with plenty of spirits on hand, the idea kept forming. If they were going to make ice cream, the Elskamps were going to infuse that ice cream with booze.
The menu at Metl already had mezcal-infused ice cream on it, but the couple decided to go bigger. By summertime, they had a whole line of interesting, boozy ice cream flavors.
And a way to take their minds off the stressful times because, you know, ice cream.
And a lifeline for their business during tough times. The ice cream line has boosted sales at Metl Bar & Restaurant, accounting for at least 25% of the bar’s business during the ongoing pandemic.
What to Know
- The ice cream at Metl is made in small batches, with an eggy custard that helps mellow out the flavor of the alcohol.
- Metl Cocktail Creamery offers 32 flavors, including riffs on popular drinks like the White Russian and Mudslide.
- The creamery also sells ice cream sundaes, ice cream sandwiches, ice cream cakes, and even push-pops infused with spirits.
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Guest Interview: Jenna Elskamp, Co-Owner of Metl Bar & Restaurant and Metl Cocktail Creamery
“COVID changed everything,” Jenna Elskamp told us, talking about how she and Randy had originally envisioned Metl as neighborhood bar that would host live music.
Only months into their business, they had to figure out a way to stay afloat – a way to get people to still come to their spot on the very tourist-dependent Fifth Avenue.
Elskamp began making ice cream about six years ago. Her first creation involved Fernet, an Italian type of amaro. When she and her husband opened Metl, she created a peanut butter, mezcal-infused flavor that wound up on the restaurant’s menu.
And when COVID hit and she saw those 8-ounce cups, the rest of the flavors followed.
Elskamp said she makes the ice cream flavors using a custard base and the same specs as she would if she were creating a cocktail. So, for example, a serving of Negroni-infused ice cream contains about an ounce-and-a-half of alcohol.
She experiments a lot – adding and removing ingredients as needed – to make sure the batches aren’t too boozy. Her best-sellers are the White Russian Oreo ice cream and her Mudslide-inspired flavor.
But, one of her favorite concoction is an elote whiskey ice cream, inspired by the Mexican grilled corn treat.
“It’s a savory ice cream, of sorts,” she explained. “It’s still sweet but it has cilantro and Tajin, and a little cotija cheese on it. It’s not for everyone, but to me that’s the really creative aspect and it works. It’s like a sweet corn ice cream and on top you’re getting all the spice, flavors.”
She also created a black sesame flavor with Japanese whiskey.
Elskamp said the creamery has been a great way to work with local liquor brands in a new, innovative way. They also work with local distilleries.
The Elskamps are in the process of finding a way to distribute their pints and, eventually, make the creamery an even bigger part of their business. Time will tell how that shakes out, but Elskamp said it’s all part of Metl’s master plan.
“We’re working through that right now,” she said.
Elskamp said she’s grateful for what the shift to ice cream has done for her business, but they’re still taking the success day by day. The pandemic has caused things to change quickly for them – and for their friends in San Diego’s bar and restaurant industry.
“When people ask how we’re doing, I say, ‘We’re OK right now, but we don’t know what the future holds,’” she said. “And we don’t know how much worse this could get before it gets better.”
At the end of the day, Elskamp said so much of surviving the pandemic has been about keeping a positive mindset, continuing to be creative, and finding ways to help others.
San Diego Bars That Have Closed During the Pandemic: Martinis Above Fourth, Bar Pink, Winstons
While Metl Bar & Restaurant has found a way to adapt and survive the challenges of the pandemic, other local bars and music venues haven’t been so lucky.
Last month, Martinis Above Fourth in Hillcrest announced it was permanently closing due to the economic impact of the pandemic. The owners of the bar and live music venue on Fourth Avenue said that after 10 years in business, there was “simply no viable path forward” for Martinis.
Over on 30th Street in North Park, Bar Pink announced it was permanently closing back in mid-October. The bar had tried to sell to-go cocktails during the pandemic shutdown but it wasn’t enough to keep business going.
Meanwhile, in Ocean Beach, Winstons is closed for the foreseeable future. The longtime beach club was known for hosting live music seven days a week. For now, Winstons is livestreaming some of its shows but with live music still not allowed in San Diego County due to pandemic restrictions, there’s not much hope for the club – at least right now.
Here's more info on all three of those venues, and a closer look at San Diego's live music scene amid the pandemic.
San Diego's Shift to the Purple Tier: What It Means for Local Restaurants
California health officials announced on Nov. 10 that San Diego County would slide to the so-called purple tier – or Tier 1 – in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy.
The county’s move from the red to purple tier will officially go into effect at 12 a.m. on Nov. 14 and last for at least three weeks. This will impact restrictions on local businesses, including restaurants.
In the red tier, San Diego County restaurants could offer indoor dining at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever was fewer. In the purple tier, however, all indoor dining must stop. Eateries can still offer outdoor dining, takeout, delivery and pickup in the purple tier.
We’ll keep an eye on the shift toward purple in our food and drink scene, and share updates on our next episode.
Listen/subscribe to the Scene in San Diego podcast to get the latest local lifestyle stories and news from our local food and drink scene. As we continue to adjust to life (back and forth, back and forth) in these times of the coronavirus pandemic, the way we enjoy our city has changed. We’ll keep you up to speed on how those changes impact the things you love to do in our city. Tap here to find Scene in San Diego wherever you listen to podcasts.
The Scene in San Diego Feat. Eater Podcast is hosted by NBC 7’s Monica Garske and Eater San Diego’s Candice Woo, and is produced by NBC 7’s Matthew Lewis.