A cocktail artist inspired by her
guests as well as her ingredients
Photography by Michelle Magdalena
To have Meg Nielson mix you a drink at The Bench at Pebble Beach Resorts is to indulge in luxury.
Every seat in the bright and airy restaurant, from the white marble bar to the patio out front, offers astounding and expansive views of Stillwater Cove and a legendary 18th hole.
Pair the view with a Thai One On, one of the many fresh and balanced cocktails that Nielson helped create, and it’s obvious why Nielson and The Bench have earned this year’s Edible Monterey Bay Local Hero award for Best Beverage Artisan.
The Bench, a little over three years old, is the newest addition to Pebble Beach Resorts—a place strongly founded on tradition.
For the opening team, this was an opportunity to exchange legacy cocktails for a seasonally inspired drinks menu. With top-notch liqueurs and organic, locally sourced produce for housemade syrups and juices, Nielson notes that her approach is to “look for fresh twists with what’s on trend.”
This is exemplified in the brand new Porthole Program—house-infused liquor served from an actual porthole. An infusion flavoring The Bench’s cocktails as this issue of Edible Monterey Bay went to press, Fire in the Hole, is The Bench’s take on the popular Fireball Whisky. Buffalo Trace Bourbon mixes with chile de arbol, toasted cinnamon sticks, star anise, ginger, cloves, orange peel and spiced winter syrup. The result is warming and smooth, a perfect balance of spicy and sweet.
The cocktail menu is carefully crafted through collective idea sharing and a seasonal tasting panel.
“How can you take a classic cocktail and add a nuance?” Nielson asks. “How can you remodel the core structure of it with something new?”
As a former buyer for the Lalla Group, Nielson knows how to find the best products on the market. The signature PB Manhattan, made with cask-strength Knob Creek, is given depth by using both Dolin, a lighter French vermouth, and Averna, an Italian liqueur that carries notes of citrus and chocolate.
Living on a third generation dairy farm, Nielson truly leads a farmto- table existence.
“I get to go out into my garden and pick blackberries and make gin mojitos,” she says, beaming. “Inspiration is everywhere for me!” Nielson finds much of her inspiration through the people she serves.
“I feel like hospitality picked me,” she says with a smile. The Bench brings in everyone from bucket-list Pebble Beach guests to a loyal, local following.
“Our guests are excited to be here!” Nielson exclaims. “That’s a great starting place for an experience-oriented bartender.”
Nielson’s bountiful energy is infectious, and even with the breathtaking views you can’t help but watch as she muddles and mixes.
“As the cocktail craze grows,” she notes, “people are more interested and they want to see how things work.” This interest makes it easier to take a customer from a traditional whiskey sour to The Bench Sour, which uses ginger beer and a blood orange and passion fruit purée.
“We strive for brightness in our cocktails,” Nielson says, the Pacific shimmering behind her. “We feel it mirrors our excited and eclectic crowd.”
Runners up: 2nd place, Katie Blandin Shea, Bar Cart and 3rd place, Anthony Vitacca, Montrio Bistro
The Lodge at Pebble Beach, 1700 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach
Rosie Parker, a native New Englander, likes to complain of missing home
while living the Santa Cruz high life—surfing, hiking, writing and working
for a delicious craft brewery.