Walk past Restoration Hardware and J. Crew, and look for the blue storefront opposite the Apple store and Aesop. I’ve gone to plenty of weird places in search of great cocktails, and the Westfield UTC outdoor shopping center in San Diego ranks up there among the most unexpected. But at a time when amazing cocktails can be found in airports and amusement parks, it’s maybe no surprise that when it came time to visit Raised by Wolves, our Imbibe 75 Cocktail Bar of the Year, I found myself headed to the mall.
Raised by Wolves fits into the retail environment, sort of—visitors first enter an ornate bottle shop with a modest but excellent selection of spirits and cocktail accessories. A pair of chairs flank a working fireplace on one wall, which rotates Young Frankenstein– style to deposit guests in the bar area. And what a bar it is…an elaborate gazebo-style dome rises above the circular bar, which has a central back bar holding up to 400 bottles and topped by a burbling fountain. Designed in the manner of a Belle Époque club or private library, the room is filled with small tables (some topped with chessboards), plush banquettes, and walls covered with dog portraits and murals of wolves running through the forest.
It may feel formal, though the cocktails are anything but, with a menu of playful and accessible drinks like the tiki-ish Iron Ranger, the refreshing Bitter Bramble (gin, lemon, Campari and raspberry), and the Best Mexican Coffee You Will Ever Drink (reposado tequila, coffee liqueur, Ancho Reyes, espresso, cream and spices). “We’re in a mall, for crying out loud. We serve cocktails that are approachable and familiar but also surprising,” says Chris Patino, who partnered with veteran bar owner Erick Castro and CH Projects to open Raised by Wolves. With a comfortable seat near the fire and a rum-based Rattlesnake Venom in hand, who needs Orange Julius?