Wunderbar opens at Wursthall in San Mateo

The Wunderbar may have a private entrance and require reservations, but it’s not a speakeasy, says general manager Xian Choy. It’s a cozier, more relaxed space. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Amberg)

At Wunderbar, descend underground to feel like you’re entering a different world. Take a seat in a black-lit nook or cozy banquette, and sip on a storied cocktail. The intimate cocktail bar, located in the basement of San Mateo’s Wursthall beer garden, is celebrating a soft opening now, with plans to fully open Dec. 1. 

Despite the required reservations and private entrance, separate from Wursthall’s, Wunderbar is not a speakeasy, general manager Xian Choy says. “We didn’t want that stuffy, uptight, suspenders connotation.”

Wunderbar’s menu design is inspired by tarot cards, and can be flipped over: One one side, find a classic cocktail; on the other, find a cocktail with an original twist. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Amberg)

Instead, the space is meant to evoke a whimsical fairytale or underground lair. Shawn Scott Studio, behind designs at Fieldwork Brewing Co. and Magnolia Brewing, took inspiration from Grimms’ Fairy Tales, a nod to the German-style beer garden upstairs. Ceramic bunnies, mushrooms, elves and owls, sandy hourglasses and pewter dragons and fairies pepper the decor. 

The menu design is inspired by tarot cards, and can be flipped over to reveal something different. On one side, find foundational cocktails like an old fashioned made with bourbon, gum and orange bitters or a martini with dry gin, dry vermouth and house orange bitters. On the opposite, find a variation with an original Wunderbar twist, like the Mirror Mirror cocktail, made with rye whiskey, amari and cocoa bitters, or the Siren’s Song, made with sake, gin, dashi, lime, aperitivo and white peach bitters.

Also noteworthy is the wine list, which features natural wines and zero-zero wines that are made with minimal intervention. “There aren’t any places to drink that in a bar around here,” Choy says. “So I decided to bring it into my bar.”

Wunderbar’s space seats up to 40 people. There’s a bar, banquettes and deep bucket chairs and a nook that seats four. The atmosphere is cozy. “It’s almost like a different world,” Choy says. “We wanted to delve into a fantasy world a little bit.”

Shawn Scott Studio designed the Wunderbar at Wursthall, taking inspiration from German fairy tales. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Amberg)

Wunderbar’s opening is a long time coming. The team was two months from opening when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. During the pandemic’s initial stages, the team shifted gears, completed designs and tested recipes. Now, Wunderbar’s opening follows the 2018 opening of Wursthall, which serves housemade sausage and craft beer upstairs.

“We’re back out of the woods, sort of. We’re just trying to be as safe as possible,” Choy says. Reservations and proof of vaccination are required, for greater peace of mind for both staff and guests. “It doesn’t fix everything, but I think if we can create as safe an environment as possible, that’s our goal for everyone.”

With the current vaccination rate, the team is betting that Wunderbar will be a welcome destination.

“We think people are ready to come out again, even if it is in an underground bar.” 
Wunderbar // Located below Wursthall at 310 Baldwin Avenue, San Mateo

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