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From a cocktail drinker’s perspective, there’s a lot to love at The Red Rabbit, starting with a dozen craft drinks on a menu smartly organized by flavor profile—bright and tart; bitter; juicy; rich. The approach takes the guesswork out of what to order. “Sometimes people just want to order a drink; they don’t want to have a lecture” on bartending, explains coowner Matt Nurge. “I wanted to make it easy.”
From the “juicy” category, I sampled the Chappelle Cocktail (gin, sweet vermouth, falernum, fresh pineapple, lime juice) and from “bitter,” the Boulevardier (bourbon, sweet vermouth, Campari). Both were deliciously balanced, with clean, pleasing flavors that lived up to their descriptions.
Some customers have quibbled over the size of the cocktail glasses, complaining they are too small, but it’s largely a matter of perception. Red Rabbit’s glass of choice, a broad-bowled Champagne coupe, holds the same volume as a typical martini or cocktail glass. “Anything that’s going into that glass is going to be a strong cocktail,” says Nurge. “When we’re pouring 2 1/2 ounces of liquor into that cocktail, we’re balancing it intentionally to be strong. So while it looks small, it still packs the same punch.”
Speaking of punch, Red Rabbit serves up a different potion every day—“always something fun,” as Nurge puts it. The variety keeps the cocktail menu interesting, he says: “It’s a simple way to give someone something that they’re not used to having.”
Red Rabbit’s wine and beer selection has a distinctively California bent. The half-dozen draughts include local favorite Rubicon IPA as well as selections from North Coast Brewing Co. of Fort Bragg, Trumer Pils Brauerei of Berkeley and Port Brewing Company (of Lost Abbey fame) out of San Marcos.
Red Rabbit’s owners made alterations to the restaurant’s interior that are subtle but significant. The sizable horseshoe-shape bar somehow takes on more prominence than it did under its predecessor, Red Lotus, thanks in part to a gorgeous custom-made chandelier overhead and a different workspace configuration behind the bar. It’s a design nod meant to put the imbibing experience front and center—right where it should be.
“What I ideally wanted was to have a cocktail bar that’s also a neighborhood bar,” says Nurge. Judging by the crowds—scoring a high-top near the bar can require a monk’s patience on a Saturday night—and the quality libations, he seems to have succeeded on both counts.