The past few years have been rough for the Beaumont-Wilshire bar scene.
The sleepy, upper-middle class enclave lost Johanna Ware's beloved "inauthentic Asian" spot Smallwares in 2016, then Stanich's and Alameda Brewing two years later. There's still plenty to drink and eat on the stretch of Northeast Fremont Street between 37th and 50th avenues, but opening a hip cocktail bar in the area is a gamble.
Luckily for Wonderly (4727 NE Fremont St., 503-288 4520), the pedigree of its ownership suggests it'll be a success.
Kate and Alex Wood are known best as the duo behind Aalto Lounge, the Southeast Belmont Street bar that's famous for $3 happy-hour cocktails and a sleek, cavernous atmosphere that makes everyone inside look 20 percent sexier. Their love of unfussy European design takes Wonderly in a slightly different direction, with a focus on neutral off-white colors punctuated by leafy plants, warm impressionist paintings and a wreath of glowing orbs hovering above the U-shaped white marble bar. Accompanied by a soundtrack oscillating between vintage pan-Asian funk and fashionable dad rock like Phosphorescent, the design appears inspired by the mellow West Coast aesthetic of surf shops like Up North Surf Club and Leeward.
The drink list flirts with the ongoing trend of "classic cocktails plus something extra." The Wonderly Old Fashioned ($11) blends a trio of well-known whiskeys with rum bitters and orange oil for a smoky, citrusy concoction that's stiff enough to give your sinuses a real wake-up call. Meanwhile, the Smith and Cross Negroni ($11) ditches the gin for a rich Jamaican rum, lending it a similarly pungent aftertaste.
The Woods' ability to balance a high-proof wallop with dynamic flavors is best exemplified by the Oil Washed Alaska, an iconic drink in which Oxley gin is blended with olive oil, steeped for a week, then frozen to extract the gin. It's impossibly smooth for how strong it is and earns its $13 price tag.
The food menu is a fairly standard lineup of savory drinking snacks such as fries ($4) a scotch egg ($7) and a plate of gooey cheese curds that come with an addicting hot honey sauce ($8). You can make a meal out of it with steak frites ($14) or a relatively inexpensive mockup of a cordon bleu ($11), but unless you've gone overboard with the cocktails, you'll probably do just fine without it. The owners would rather have you noshing at Bang Bang, their mostly gluten-free Thai spot next door, anyway.
The market for upscale cocktail spots with a casual twist is still saturated, but Wonderly manages to pull off something fairly special. Even if people don't travel from far and wide to try an Alaska or a rum Negroni, with such a simple approach to quality drinks, there's a good chance it will really take off.