Monday, April 22, 2024

The Wicked Wolf’s classic cocktail menu lifts (and educates) the scene of Long Beach bars

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In the world of Long Beach’s growing and absurdly solid cocktail scene where new gems seem to be coming in monthly—Marlena, the newly minted Naples restaurant, and mixologist Dave Castillo’s program immediately comes to mind—there is no question that among Long Beach bars, The Wicked Wolf in Wrigley remains one of our best despite being one of our newest.

And its newly minted Origins menu, where manager Nick Dale and bar lead Isaak Lusic take guests on trip through cocktails that have come to define bar culture, is a prime example of why they are one of the brightest among Long Beach bars.

Introducing the classics is both educational and always-on-trend

Classic cocktails are classic for a reason—and whether their origins, original recipes, or evolution are consistently argued among historians and bartenders alike, the reality is that the plethora of hidden and rediscovered cocktail manuals have opened up what has been a cocktail renaissance across the U.S. over the past decade or so.

And that renaissance has also returned American drinkers toward the classics that helped catapult the country into one of the spirit world’s most desirable markets considering our imbibing (before, during, and after Prohibition). The shift away from the 1990s/2000s trend of excessively sweet, super-boozey-but-you-shouldn’t-taste-it concoctions has reminded us of our great catalogue—and that is something The Wicked Wolf wants to focus on

“We like to think of this as classic cocktails done right,” said owner Thea Mercouffer. “And we want these to be mini-courses for people on where these drinks came from, hence the ‘Origins’ name of the menu.”

Take, for example, their stellar and traditional take on the Sazerac, a cocktail that is likely only second to the Manhattan as a cocktail that is synonymous with the place of its birth, New Orleans. Brandy—an import that New Orleans heavily enjoyed at the peak of its French-Creole wave—is combined with Peychaud’s bitters, Turbinado simple syrup (making it a bit more molasses-y than regular simple syrup), an absinthe rinse, and lemon twist.

“The extra sugar content from the syrup allows us to balance out that extra bite from the absinthe,” Dale said, noting they use a full absinthe rinse, rather than using an atomizer sprayer to spritz the absinthe in the glass. This makes the anise of the absinthe far more profound and certainly more earthy.

There’s a stellar take on the New York Sour. There’s the rye-meets-Fernet 1920s classic, the Toronto. The Prohibitio-birthed Bee’s Knees, where gin melds with honey and lemon.

But then there’s others…

The idea of ‘classic cocktail’ is evolving—and the Wolf gets that

…cocktails that many don’t consider “classic” but they are, indeed, classics—and Dale and Lusic’s love of things that are now either kitschy or basic makes him all the more determined to prove why they were so damn popular in the first place.

Like the Cosmopolitan. Yes, the “Sex and the City” Cosmopolitan.

“There’s the definitive argument that the country’s true cocktail renaissance came around the late 2000s, right?” Lusic said. “But there are arguments that there was a kind of silent renaissance in the 1980s, specifically New York and people like Dale Degroff—and that includes the invention of the Cosmo.”

While the origin of the cocktail has multiple theories attached, the Cosmopolitan as we know it is largely considered an invention of Toby Cecchini in 1987, who added lime to the creation of Cheryl Cook, who took a Kamikaze and added cranberry juice instead of lime juice for a prettier cocktail that would appeal more to women. Oh the times…

The Wicked Wolf’s take is a dangerously poundable concoction that does exactly what it’s supposed to do: Remind us that there are inventions beyond the traditional classic cocktail era of America that are worthy of exploration—and the cougar-stereotypical-90s-cliche Cosmopolitan? It’s damn good.

“The late 80s Cosmopolitan wasn’t a sugar bomb—it was more like a Sidecar: very dry, very tart,” Dale said. “We wanted to return to that and show people that the original cocktail is actually really great.”

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This “latter-period cocktail” isn’t alone on the menu. It is also joined by the contemporary masterpiece, the Division Bell, invented at Mayahuel in New York and named after the Pink Floyd album the owner listened to while building out the space.

There are plenty of events beyond the drinks as well

And there are no shortages on event at The Wicked Wolf, cementing its place as not just a place to drink but a place to gather, socialize, and interact among Long Beach bars:

  • Nov. 11 (all night): Bad Moms Night, with food pop-up and live music
  • Nov. 14, (6PM to 8PM): LB Mah Jongg Club meets upstairs every second Tuesday
  • Nov. 16, (7PM): All About Agave with Nosotros founder Carlos Soto – learn to make his favorite tequila cocktail
  • Nov. 28, (7PM to 9PM): Muse on Fire, Long Beach’s premiere open mic (“Truly, this is always spectacular, with talent coming from as far away as Sherman Oaks,” Mercouffer said.)
  • Dec. 2 (all night): Oops, I Did it Again! – A Britney Fantasia, celebrating the music star’s birthday with costume prizes and all-night dancing
  • Dec. 5 (all night): Repeal Day – downstairs turns into a Speakeasy, upstairs becomes a post-prohibition dance hall
  • Dec 31: New Year’s Eve ticketed event with dinner and champagne, dancing, maybe even some magic acts
Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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