One of the most exciting new bars in Texas is Wonderland, from the creative mind of Austin barman Jason Stevens. Stevens’s impressive résumé includes a long stint heading up the bar program at chef David Bull’s acclaimed Congress restaurant, and the same team is behind this latest venture.
To call it a dive bar would discredit this well-thought-out venue, but it does offer a relaxed quality missing in most establishments serving drinks of this caliber. A triumph of hip minimalism, Wonderland offers a nicely curated spirits selection and complex but playful drinks, set to a Motown sound track playing through antique speakers. It is a cocktail bar with the tourniquet removed, allowing for unrestricted groove.
Topping Wonderland’s menu is a short offering of “house cocktails on tap.” The draft cocktail has become fashionable at progressive bars in the past couple of years, and like any new culinary technology, it can be misapplied or abused. But Stevens nails it, with sophisticated drinks that are approachable and, at $8 a pop, an incredible bargain.
The star of the draft cocktail list is the Uptown/Top Ranking, named after a song of the same title from the late-seventies reggae duo Althea & Donna. The drink’s main ingredient is, appropriately, Jamaican rum, which is mixed with passion fruit shrub, hibiscus, and bitters, yielding, essentially, an artisanal Hurricane—if one can imagine an elevated version of the neon-red potion from Pat O’Brien’s, in New Orleans. Whereas it’s been decades since an actual passion fruit got top billing in a Bourbon Street cocktail, this drink is the real deal.
Wonderland and its Uptown are just in time for Texas Tiki Week, the annual tropical bacchanal that sails into participating Texas bars on June 24. Produced by the United States Bartenders’ Guild, most events are open to the public. (Details at texastikiweek.com.)
1 ounce white rum, such as Flor de Cana
1/2 ounce dark Jamaican rum, such as Coruba
1/4 ounce blackstrap rum, such as Cruzan
1 ounce passionfruit syrup*
2 ounces strong-brew hibiscus tea
1/2 ounce lime juice
1 dash Elemakule Tiki Bitters
few grains of salt
*Take two parts Goya or similar unsweetened passionfruit puree and add one part white sugar. Mix together until fully integrated.
Combine all and shake. Strain into a glass filled with crushed ice and garnish with a fresh pimento leaf or bay leaf.
Recipe courtesy of Wonderland, in Austin.