Westfield UTC, the posh, open-air San Diego mall near La Jolla, may seem like an unlikely backdrop for Raised by Wolves, the elegant spirits shop and speakeasy-style bar that recently opened in one of its retail spaces. But for Consortium Holdings (CH) Projects, the homegrown hospitality collective behind such venues as Ironside Fish & Oyster, the steakhouse Born and Raised, and the tiki bar False Idol, it was an opportunity, spearheaded by CH Projects’ cofounder Arsalun Tafazoli along with partners Erick Castro and Chris Patino, to introduce a dynamic beverage program to a suburban setting.
The venue’s name is a nod to mythology and the brothers Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome after being raised by wolves. The idea for the hybrid concept first started percolating in 2013, when Castro was developing the Normal Heights bar Polite Provisions with CH Projects. “We wanted to create a one-stop shop,” he says, “a boutique of hard-to-find spirits and then see them in action, applied in the real-world sense, at a bar.”
Castro, who also joined forces with barware emporium Cocktail Kingdom to open the New York City hangout Boilermaker a year later, first made a name for himself in San Francisco, as a bartender at Bourbon & Branch and the beverage director at Rickhouse. In addition, he was an ambassador for Plymouth and Beefeater gins at the liquor behemoth Pernod Ricard. Another Pernod Ricard veteran, Patino, was also instrumental in creating the vision for Raised by Wolves—and bringing it to fruition.
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Before joining Raised by Wolves, Patino had worked as a Pernod brand ambassador, oversaw the company’s BarSmarts program, and served as the director of brand education. Last year Castro and Patino also collaborated on the launch of Simple Serve, a trade-focused marketing agency. Patino’s intimate knowledge of distilleries around the world made him a perfect fit to helm the Raised by Wolves retail shop. “He’s like my other spouse,” says Castro. “We complement each other, and together we’re a formidable force.”
Paul Basile, the principal and lead designer of BASILE Studio—the local firm that designed the Raised by Wolves space—has “created a transformative experience,” says Castro, explaining that when you’re inside the bar, it’s easy to forget you’re surrounded by chain outlets like Nordstrom and Shake Shack.
That such an imaginative atmosphere thrives in a cookie-cutter mall setting is perhaps Raised by Wolves’ biggest surprise. Tafazoli was inspired by 19th-century European design aesthetics and wanted the space to reflect that—and Basile, who specializes in bespoke, built-in-house designs, delivered. “We wanted to completely disconnect from the mall experience,” says Basile. One feature that helped them achieve this is a massive pergola with a natural-light LED system designed to mimic the day’s shifting light in the span of an hour. In one sitting, guests can see the light morph from dawn to dusk.
The bottle shop, awash in wood and bucolic murals, channels Provence, a softer contrast to the bar, which takes its cues from clubby English libraries. As in all of Basile’s projects, natural materials were emphasized, including stone, brass, and steel. “All of the furnishings are eclectic—some custom, some found,” says Basile. “The bar top is an African gold marble, and on the floor we used porcelain metallic tiles alongside custom walnut and oak parquet flooring.” Bar stools sourced from London were originally aluminum but are now cast in brass and upholstered in Pierre Frey fabric.
To get to the bar, patrons must pass through the shop—a strategic setup that was designed to boost revenue—when patrons leave the bar, they have an opportunity to buy the spirits they were just enjoying in their cocktails.
Patino describes the retail shop as “an adult candy store where everyone touches the bottles.” With the help of beverage director Anthony Schmidt, Patino has thoughtfully curated a library of more than 700 spirits. Some are rare and expensive, like the Navarre Cognac Vieille Réserve, which Raised by Wolves sells for $238—and the even more exclusive 18-year-old Japanese whisky Yamazaki Mizunara, which retails at the shop for $3,495 a bottle. Patino points out that the Japanese whisky category is seeing particular interest from customers. A more gently priced spirit, like the Rancho Tepúa Bacanora ($54), for example, encourages intrigued customers to expand their repertoire of agave spirits.
Putting unique, vintage finds in the limelight was always part of the vision for Raised by Wolves. And while Patino won’t reveal how the shop sources its products, he says “we have a crack team on our side that’s constantly on the lookout.” He’s also quick to note, though, that there’s not enough room to stock everything. “We’re not one of the big-box stores, so we have to be conscious of what we choose,” he says. “First and foremost is quality—things we would serve to our friends and family at home.”
Education is a priority for the small staff of eight, and that’s why a hands-on approach is encouraged. “Everyone does everything,” says Patino. “The bar is not a barrier.” Talented team players are sought out—ones who might be serving cocktails on the floor one night and working their mandatory weekly retail shift another. That role in particular is invaluable. “You have five minutes to make an impact on a customer,” Patino says, “so getting staff excited about the origins of products makes a big difference.” Patino is also on hand all the time to help educate and engage customers.
Today’s drink menus tend to be uniformly similar, says Castro. They feature a familiar roster of libations—usually a spicy tequila cocktail, a tiki-style rum one, a Negroni, and something stirred and potent with whiskey. “People use those tropes because they work,” he says, “but I don’t know if this Mr. Potato Head approach to cocktails is hurting or hindering. We decided to do things differently, something that isn’t color-by-the-numbers.”
Castro worked for a year and a half on fine-tuning the drinks menu for Raised by Wolves. The final incarnation features the categories Cool & Refreshing, Stirred & Direct, and Rich & Creamy and offers such cocktails as the Pelvic Sorcery (High West Silver Whiskey Western Oat, Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin, lime, hibiscus, absinthe, orange bitters), the Island Old-Fashioned (coconut fat–washed Irish whiskey, banana liqueur, Peruvian bitters, Angostura bitters), and the Boogie Board (Plymouth navy strength gin, honeydew, lime, coconut, pineapple, whipped cream). In line with the shop’s penchant for stellar spirits, there is also a Reserve Cocktail List, which includes a $175 French 75 made with circa-1950s Tanqueray London Dry Gin. Draft cocktails, punches, and unfussy boilermakers also make an appearance.
A location tucked away in a mall hasn’t deterred Raised by Wolves from quickly finding a devoted clientele. Customers are curious, eager to elevate their knowledge of spirits, and grateful to be able to enliven a possibly ho-hum shopping excursion with a thrilling, offbeat booze purchase.
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Alia Akkam is a writer who covers food, drink, travel, and design. She is the author of Behind the Bar: 50 Cocktails from the World’s Most Iconic Hotels (Hardie Grant) and her work has appeared in Architecturaldigest.com, Dwell.com, Penta, Vogue.com, BBC, Playboy, and Taste, among others, and she is a former editor at Edible Queens, Hospitality Design, and Beverage Media. A native New Yorker, Alia now calls Budapest home. Follow Alia @behdria.