Bar review by Amy Cavanaugh
Of my dining pet peeves, few are stronger than waiting for a table while crammed in at a crowded bar. So whenever I go to Au Cheval or Little Goat or any other Randolph Street spot, I try to avoid waiting inside for my table. Since restaurants that don’t take reservations will call you when your table is ready, there’s no need to—but the pre-dinner drinking options are slim. There’s the divey Holiday Bar (where the terrific bloody mary made our 2013 list of the 100 best things we ate and drank) and the generic Haymarket Pub & Brewery, which is fine for a quick beer. And now there’s Lone Wolf, which opened in November with the goal of being the place for both your pre- and post-dinner drink.
Lone Wolf is dark, with glass brick windows, rounded leather booths on the perimeter and a bar in the center. There’s a lot of seating, and on one recent visit around 5pm, I grabbed the last available barstool. On a subsequent visit, around 6pm, it was nearly empty and we had our pick of tables.
The latest spot from Heisler Hospitality (Trenchermen, Bangers & Lace), Lone Wolf is helmed by Stephen Cole of Barrelhouse Flat. His drink list is straight to the point—three sgrippinos, bubbly drinks designed to fill the gap before dinner, and four amaro-based drinks, which are ideal for after dinner. Then there are snacks from Bridgeport’s Pleasant House Bakery. In all, it’s a very simple concept.
The sgrippinos, like the No. 2, a light strawberry and tequila cocktail (also on our 100 best list), are light and delicious, but would be better over summer brunch than in a dark tavern on a winter’s night. I can see their purpose, though—you don’t need a couple of heavy drinks before you have beer and burgers at Au Cheval—but I’d love to see a more wintry version of a light, pre-dinner drink. If you’re able to try one of the heavier cocktails, you’ll be rewarded—the clear standout is the Girolamo Sour, made with two types of bitter amari, simple syrup, lemon juice and foamy egg white. It has a lovely citrus aroma that lightens up the bitterness a bit. (It seems Cole has been making this drink for awhile, since his Violet Hour days). The Seven Sisters, made with three amari and yellow chartreuse, is incredibly bitter, but in a balanced way. It’s the most bitter cocktail I’ve had lately—and that’s definitely a compliment. There’s also a solid selection of beer, including a few options from Three Floyds.
While I absolutely adore Pleasant House Bakery, the British-inspired snacks at Lone Wolf are hit or miss. The Welsh rarebit, toast smothered with a rich beer-cheese sauce, is absolutely glorious, but while the chili ingredients prominently listed butternut squash and white beans, it was thin and primarily comprised of tomatoes. The pickled egg is served in a bag of chips, which is a perplexing British pub snack, since the egg makes the chips soggy. Conceptually that dish wasn’t for me, but the Scotch egg, a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage and deep fried, definitely was. It’s hearty and can stand up to a strong cocktail. The royal pies are also available, with additions like the mac and cheese pie, which was heavier and drier than my favorite mushroom and kale offering at Pleasant House. Plus everything is served in paper boats, which makes it hard to cut anything up.
A server takes care of the tables, while if you sit at the bar you’ll order from the bartender. Service proved to be the least successful aspect of both visits—it took ages to pay at the bar, while there were long waits at the table and when the server stopped by to remove empty glasses, she didn’t offer ask us if we wanted another drink.
Lone Wolf is not a destination bar. But if you’re already going to Restaurant Row for dinner, you're not going to get a better pre-dinner drink anywhere else.