The Navarro Hospitality Group’s Beverage Director Erik Rios-Wentzky—he oversees both Lola’s locations as well as The Social List—has always been a magician of sorts if not an outright witch when it comes to creating consistent, balanced, accommodating cocktail menus. His creations have spanned the pan-Pacific inspired, the spirited-by-NOLA, even when just inspired by the new menu and interior they put in last year—and it makes sense that their bar program is one of the city’s more underrated.
And his 2023 Halloween cocktail list is no exception.
Witty with a complete lack of pretense—there’s literal glitter floating around in his drinkable gin-meets-blood orange ode to “Twilight,” which he admits he had never seen until his husband forced him to (as any good spouse painfully forces those uninitiated in the emotions of Bella Swan to, well, learn them)—the list is precisely what a Halloween cocktail list should be: Fun, approachable, warm.
“I initially wanted the vibe to be outright more scary—from our decorations to the representations of the drinks—and maybe we’ll do that another year, but for this year, it really is about inviting the community in to have some seasonal fun,” Rios-Wentzky said.
The vibe is certainly one that stands out on 4th Street: jack-o-lanterns hang across the parklet, the skeletons of former Yelpers and Karens drape the walls, the hats of witches sway from the ceiling with the disco ball…
It. Is. A. Vibe. And like the over-the-top, outright wondrous Christmas kitsch that The Ordinarie tackles each year, it beckons the question as to why restaurants don’t choose a holiday to go more all-out for—especially with holidays like Christmas and Halloween, where spaces can even adapt to their cuisine’s cultural leanings (e.g. Shady Grove doing a “Children of the Corn”-style Halloween or NOLA-inspired Christmas given their Southern roots).
“We’re calling it ‘Ghouls Night Out,'” co-owner Luis Navarro said. “That can be taken as light-hearted or serious as you want it: Come in with your witch hat or wizard’s coat or with your vampire teeth—just don’t skip out on the cocktail menu because Erik really went thoughtful on this one.”
Thoughtful indeed: “The Walking Dead” turns a tiki mug into a tiki god zombie complete with a brain gummy and two rums—a cask-strength rum and an aged rum—paired with blood orange and passion fruit and hints of cinnamon and falernum.
There’s his ode to the underrated Sandra Bullock-Nicole Kidman header of the 1990s that is “Practical Magic,” where guests get their “witch’s blood” concoction in a vial to pour over a drink attached with a tarot card—and the result is one of the best drinks on the menu: gin and mezcal fuse with grapefruit for a not-too-sweet, not-too-dry concoction that is, well, practically magical.
“Halloween Town”—a nod to Tim Burton’s Halloween-Christmas claymation classic “A Nightmare Before Christmas”—is a bit of a show, where a plume of smoke arises from your glass to reveal a candy pumpkin atop your cube of ice. It is something co-owner Brenda Riviera describes as “Halloween in a cup,” where the typical flavors of fall like pumpkin spice meld with chocolate walnut bitters.
There’s a candy corn old fashioned—for those searching for the sweeter nectar but with a punch—along with the array of normal, great offerings the bar has always had. And, perhaps mostly, this play on quality-meets-playfulness is something The Social List has always exuded, even as it has heavily evolved from its early days.
The neighborhood space has almost always avoided pretense, even as it became the first 4th Street bar to regularly carry quality beers (like Houblon Chouffe when it first opened, a rarity) and whiskeys (like Blanton’s, unheard of in the early 2010s in Long Beach), now the regular among any full bar establishment.
But, at the same time, The Social List has always had an air of coolness about it—something that it has historically shown with continual art events featuring local photographers, graphic designers, and artists to let’s-turn-the-corner-into-a-party events like Havana Nights pre-pandemic. This Halloween takeover—part of the space’s continual dedication to changing things up—is one but many iterations of that ideal.
Navarro has even installed a custom DJ booth to host both free and ticketed events with locally respected as well as much more renown DJs for a night that is meant to not only reinvigorate 4th Street’s previous dedication to music events but also keep things, well, fresh. (More on those nights in the coming days.)
“Maybe next year we’ll go even more all out for Halloween—who knows?” Riviera said, who spent days creating a Halloween-specific playlist that manages to mis everything from classics like “Monster Mash” and “Thriller” with new school charm like Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy.”
“What we want people to know and celebrate is that there is something you can shift up for your date night; it doesn’t have to be this repetitive thing, even if you happen to go to the same places all the time. We want our customers to experience something different while also knowing they can count on us for making them comfortable.”
We happily welcome the creatures of The Social List, in search of blood, to terrorize our neighborhood.
The Social List is located at 2105 E. 4th St.