There is a certain charm to old bars. Whether they be the Bukowski-esque dive bar with years of alcohol-infused grime, or the classic hotel bar (i.e., Boston’s Fairmont Hotel Oak Room or the Waldorf’s Bull and Bear in NYC) hailing back to a simpler time. Concept bars with a vintage vibe, attempt to reimage those classic bars with a meld of the modern and the classic. Nattily dressed bartenders, dark woods, marble bars, craft cocktails…you get the gist. Whether these bars slip into some Disney-like recreation or hit the mark is a matter of detail and execution.
I recently had the chance to check out two such establishments in SoCal, that both for no apparent reason, adopted lupine-based monikers.
I visited Raised By Wolves on a Friday night. The speakeasy concept bar is located in La Jolla’s University Town Center (UTC). The surprise of the “speakeasy” hidden inside a liquor store is ruined by the fact you need a reservation to get into this place two weeks in advance. The façade of the building straight out of a Sherlock Holmes movie set with faux stone walls and menacing wolves head statues glaring who, during the day, stare down on the rich girls running between the Keto eatery, Nordstroms, and the waxing spa.
The Not So Secret Passage in Raised by Wolves, La Jolla, CA.
Once inside, the front room is a modern, bright and airy high-end spirits store. Bottles of small batch rum, whiskey, gin, bourbon, and vodka are tastefully displayed in locked glass cases and modern looking shelves. The $2000 bottle of Pappy seems right at home in UTC. The liquor store features a large stone fireplace with two chairs—that looks widely out of place in the modern environment of the liquor store. Two 20 something hosts with iPads check reservations and, when it’s their turn, sit guests on the chairs next to the Haunted Mansion looking fireplace and spin them through the not so secret passage into the main bar.
The main bar is a reasonable approximation of 1920s era New York City speakeasy. High ceilings, Tiffany style lights, a lovely main bar and soft lighting. The bartenders look the part in crisp white shirts and vests. The only out of place décor are the Victorian looking portraits of wolves on the walls.
Raised by Wolves: Main Bar
The cocktail menu is your standard craft cocktail affair—variations of old-fashions, Manhattan’s and less traditional concoctions. The prices are worthy of UTC and the drinks were good. Granted I’m older than the average Raised by Wolves patron by a long shot, but I found the overall vibe inside a bit trendy and soulless.
In contrast is DTLA’s The Wolves looks and feels like a 1920s establishment you might find in any big city. The space features a large marble bar, a wall of fine spirits, aged dark woods with ornate carvings, a twisted iron stair case, cozy booths, vintage tiles and glass. All of the décor was period correct, and according to the bartender, was carefully selected from a variety of sources. It looked so original that my companion asked about the history of the building. This place felt and looked like an old bar.
The Wolves, Los Angeles
The bartenders were dressed in the classic “barman” style—vest, white shirts, ties and the like. Yes, both bartenders on the Thursday night I visited looked a bit hipster with beards and Peaky Blinders hair styles, but with the exception of an odd affectation of the one black glove they each sported on their left hands, they looked the part.
The drinks where prepared with flare and exceeded standard craft cocktail standards. Drinks were presented in classic glassware on pewter trays and tasted excellent. The prices were typical for DTLA (read: stupidly high). The small plates were excellent as well, although more a mash-up of new and old recipes. The deviled pesto quail eggs for instance, where excellent but not something one would expect in a classic bar. The vibe was relaxed, urban and not at all trendy. Overall, this wolf, is one I would visit again and can recommend.
To be fair to both places, the number of truly classic bars in finite, and in SoCal it’s hard to find a drinking hole that has been around more than a couple decades. The desire to recreate the classic, classy drinking place is understandable, and in some ways a nice nod to our drinking past.