San Diego’s First Absinthe Bar And Restaurant To Open In University Heights In November
San Diego will receive its first absinthe-focused cocktail bar and restaurant with Wormwood, a new concept opening in mid-November 2021 under the leadership of Amar Harrag, founder of acclaimed Tahona Bar in Old Town. Located at 4677 30th Street in the space formerly occupied by Jayne’s Gastropub, Wormwood brings a novel drinking and dining experience to a corner of University Heights beloved for its popular bars and restaurants.
A rare find
Across the nation, absinthe-focused establishments like Wormwood are a rare find. The anise-flavored spirit that originated in Europe was the preferred drink of Bohemian artists and writers in Paris during the 19th and early 20th centuries, with famous fans including Vincent van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway. Absinthe was banned in the United States in 1912; nearly 100 years passed before this often-misunderstood green spirit was removed from the ban list. To this day, the “green fairy” carries with it an air of mystery and mysticism.
Wormwood will showcase more than 30 absinthes sourced from Europe, New York, Louisiana and other states. Following in Tahona’s footsteps, Wormwood will be a place of education and pay reverence to the history of the spirit – particularly through events to include a series on the history of absinthe, tarot card and absinthe nights, and a Wormwood book club that will invite guests to explore the culture behind the spirit.
Just like Paris
At Wormwood’s bar, guests will be able to enjoy absinthe served in slow-drip fountains with a cube of sugar, in the tradition of how it was served in the early 20th century streets of Paris. The cocktail menu will feature revisited absinthe classics including the Sazerac and the A La Louisiane, as well as a selection of non-absinthe choices highlighting other beautiful liquors.
French-influenced fare will take the form of small plates and shareable entrees that revisit classic dishes ranging from roasted bone marrow wagyu tartare to steak de boucher served with cherry-mezcal bordelaise, creamed pearl onions and pommes paillason. Wormwood’s sophisticated menu will also show off culinary highlights such as caviar served with a sea urchin flan and an eggplant sour cream.
Wormwood’s tasteful 1,700 square-foot space will feature indoor bar and dining areas reminiscent of Old Paris. Tucked away at the back of the building, a secret garden-style outdoor courtyard surrounded by high brick walls will be found amidst an inviting garden. At the back of this patio and hidden through a rustic barn door is Le Jardin Secret, a semi-private outdoor area designed for special events.
Meet the team
Wormwood’s founder Amar Harrag is well-known for introducing San Diego’s first mezcaleria, Tahona Bar, as well as craft beer concept, Hidden Craft, opened last year on India Street in Downtown San Diego. Harrag also runs real estate brokerage, Allied Green Realty, and is the founder of the San Diego chapter of Corazon de Vida, a non-profit organization aiding orphaned and abandoned children in Mexico.
“Wormwood is truly a passion project. The history of absinthe is intertwined with the history of France and even Algeria, both my countries of origin,” said founder Amar Harrag. “In developing our concept, we decided to honor the cultural aspect of the spirit and built a team of passionate individuals to create a restaurant experience that will continue to enhance San Diego’s culinary status. We have big shoes to fill as we all loved Jayne’s Gastropub, and we feel honored to become an active part of one of San Diego’s most vibrant neighborhoods.”
Additional partners include chef Janina Garay, who specializes in blending Mexican flavors with European techniques and has crafted savory and sweet delights at Addison, Bracero and the Michelin-starred, Topolobanpo, in Chicago. Garay joins a culinary team including chef Danny Romero and his brother and sous chef Dante Romero, both known within the underground scene for their dinner pop-up series, Tortoise. Notably, Danny Romero worked alongside Garay at Bracero and Addison before leaving to work at Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. The trio are reuniting at Wormwood to bring the essence of Tortoise to patrons on a daily basis.
Cocktail connoisseur, Ben Marquart, is Beverage Director of Wormwood following roles within the opening teams for local favorites, Ironside and Counterpoint, and brings years of experience developing dozens of beverage programs, most recently for Saiko Sushi in North Park. Tawny Myers will serve as Wormwood’s General Manager and arrives from Kettner Exchange, where she worked from its opening in 2014 until joining the Wormwood team last year. Myers also spent three years bartending at Consortium Holdings’ El Dorado.
See you there, San Diego!