With most of us finally settled into spring quarter, it’s only a matter of time until many graduating seniors and underclassmen leave UCR for good or for summer. With that in mind, I decided to head downtown this past week for another installment of Bar Talk. For this edition, I have chosen two of my favorite cocktail bars: The Salted Pig and W. Wolfskill, both located off Main Street in downtown Riverside. Both bars offer low lights, cold drinks, warm food and a relaxed atmosphere perfect for foodies or beer and cocktail aficionados. I had a chance to talk to Necia from The Salted Pig and Paul from W. Wolfskill about their perceptions from the other side of the counter.
Monday night saw my friend and I at The Salted Pig, a building that has quite a reputation with many of the students and faculty around our school. I’m no stranger to The Salted Pig, and I tend to go there near the end of each quarter as a good-luck ritual pre-finals. (I’ve had mixed results, grade-wise.) We found a spot at the bar, admiring the custom glass bulbs that cast long shadows around the restaurant, our noses enticed from the aroma coming from the kitchen. After about half an hour of drinking, dining and talking with different members of the staff, I was able to talk to Kecia long enough for an interview.
Kecia, no stranger to bartending with over 10 years of experience, started off the conversation by explaining that she tries to create a relaxed atmosphere where people “are willing to try new things,” as many people can get thrown off by the extensive beer and cocktail list at The Salted Pig. For the best drinks to order on a budget, she advised shots and beer, but clarified that when it comes to ordering alcohol out, there really is no way to go wrong. As for hangover cures, she suggested “bitters and soda,” either the morning after or the night of drinking. Cheekily, she added that “hair of the dog” works when you’re off work.
Kecia explained that she has been working in food service and bartending her entire life, starting at the age of 14. Everyone she has met has had a story, and that oftentimes bartenders can act as psychologists, guidance counselors and family counselors to the customers they meet. She advises that anybody interested in bartending avoid bartending school, as it tends to focus more on speed rather than the specialized needs of a bar or restaurant. The only pet peeve she has when it comes to customers is people who “are so set in their ways” that they aren’t willing to try anything new. Her tip for quick service during busy hours is simple: Know what you want to order and have your money ready.
We decided to head back downtown Tuesday, hoping that the strong cocktails and warm food at W. Wolfskill would serve as a suitable counter to the rainy weather. Inside, Paul, whose cheery demeanor and wild hair served as a counter to the bar’s warm, minimalist interior, greeted us. The interior was lit by a smattering of tea candles set up along the bar, along with small lights that hung over our heads and perched in sconces along the walls. Paul showed off his bartending chops immediately, mixing a house Whiskey Old-Fashioned dubbed the “False Idol” and a Tom Collins with a cognac twist as I began the interview.
Paul began by giving me his take on W. Wolfskill’s atmosphere, explaining that the staff try to make it intimate and create an experience where a person can forget where they are. He also described his favorite thing he sees at the bar: “Tinder dates,” implying that he has a knack for telling when people met on the app.
Paul had a self-described live-and let-live attitude during our discussion on the best and worst value drinks, stating that people should order what they like, and that no one “should turn their nose up” at anyone’s taste. Despite his work serving craft beer and cocktails, Paul showed that he heeded his own advice, admitting that he prefers Pabst Blue Ribbon as his go-to beer when he goes out drinking. His hangover avoidance tip was simple: “hydrate or die,” laughing as he continued to tend the bar. Likewise, his advice for getting quick, effective service at a bar was simple, noting that bartenders remember a substantial tip more than a name or a face.
Even with the tape recorder off and the interview over, Paul and I continued our conversation, talking about our favorite beer and cocktails as he continued his work. Before he left he motioned with his head toward a couple sitting in a dimly lit booth. “Tinder date,” he whispered, smiling.
If you’ve spent your time here eating and drinking inside the bubble that consists of campus and the University Village, I encourage you to try some of the unique bars and eateries downtown. Many of the bars, including The Salted Pig and W. Wolfskill, offer a classy, New York-esque experience right in our own backyard. You just have to know where to look.