Thunderbird Bar opens today on Wilshire Boulevard, a block west of Bundy Drive, with puffy tacos, premium bourbon, tequila, mezcal and Skee-Ball.
The bar, accented with Native American tapestries, hand-painted desert murals, whiskey-toned booths and eclectic bits of road-sourced Southwestern Americana, arrives from co-owners Joe Curran, Pete Figliulo, John Bower and Brandon Bradford, with co-owner/chef Justin Farmer.
Bower and Bradford are co-owners of the Blind Donkey bars in Pasadena and Long Beach.
Thunderbird intends to deliver an elevated neighborhood bar to a stretch of Wilshire notorious for its packed collegiate sports bars and early-bird restaurants — albeit one that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
“It’s kind of an everyman’s bar,” Figliulo says. “You can get a well drink for $8 or a $5 Miller High Life, with $3 tacos on Taco Tuesday. Or you can get a $55 pour of mezcal or a top-shelf bourbon. It allows a customer to decide what they want.”
The beverage program is primarily bourbon- and agave-driven, with a few American single-malt whiskies, locally driven tequilas and one raicilla, among the 120 bottles hovering over a tile bar. Cocktails include passion fruit paloma slushies, Moscow Mules on draft and Old-Fashioneds made with Mexican piloncillo sugar instead of the standard demerara.
“The mark of our cocktail program is making potentially aggressive spirits — or spirits people are unaccustomed to — more approachable,” says Curran. “We’re trying to create [drinks] in a way so that somebody who swears they’d never drink, say, mezcal would actually love them.”
On the food front, Farmer is mining memories of his Tucson childhood and family dinners at local chimichanga legend El Charro Café for a menu of Southwestern specialties. Puffy tacos will have a prominent place on the menu, as will tacos made with burnt cheese, calabacitas and Michoacán-style carnitas, along with housemade queso and weekend pozole.
The chef, who shadowed New York’s pop-up ramen chef Ito Shigeru of Benkei Ramen for a year, teases that a smoked brisket ramen with beef tonkotsu broth may also be in the pipeline, as he looks at introducing limited specials in the months to come.
But lest anyone forget what’s really important here, there is Skee-Ball. There are two machines not far from a photo booth on the bar’s eastern flank. So you’ll probably want to bring at least one friend to hold on to your puffy tacos as you shoot for the 50.
Thunderbird Bar is open Monday to Friday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday from noon to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.