I was savoring my white Negroni—sweet, strong, zest, just a tad bit savory—at W. Wolfskill Bar in downtown Riverside, when I looked around. The food was great, a mishmash of drunk food that ranged from garlic bread to big salads to takoyaki. The bar was long and inviting; the drinks, delicious.
All of Southern California should be here, I told our hosts. Yet the only people on this Thursday evening were a couple of Riverside locals. Why haven't outsiders come by?
"Because it's Riverside," my pal said.
And we both laughed bitterly.
W. Wolfskill Bar (named after William Wolfskill, the man credited with creating Southern California's citrus industry and with participating in an Indian massacre in Black Star Canyon that probably didn't happen) is great on its own, but it also has an advantage no other bar in Southern California has. They have a special relationship with UC Riverside's Citrus Variety Collection, one of the largest, well, collections of citrus trees in the world. Any citrus you can think of—no, really: quiz 'em—the Variety Collection possesses. And W. Wolfskill Bar (and its sister restaurant, The Salted Pig) is the only eating establishment in Southern California allowed to use citrus from UC Riverside.
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Every month, W. Wolfskill's people picks four varietals from the so-called Mother Citrus—that is, the four original fruits (citron, pomelo, mandarin, and papeda) from which all citrus is descended. I've seen the bar's bartender and chefs walk through acres of orchards, among dozens of types of blood oranges, finger limes, gigantic lemons that look like a mini brain and too many other fruits to even try to describe, all in the search for the perfect flavors and fragrances for their drinks (sorry, you can't join: access to the Citrus Variety Collection is invite-only and strictly limited because it's technically one giant lab). My white negroni, for instance, was made from an addanimma lime from Australia—sour, but deep, with just the right amount of zest. I can't remember the other citruses that our table had that night, but trust they were all magnificent—and stuff I had never heard of before.
You can see the Citrus Variety Collection from this old Huell Howser video available via Chapman University's collection (no embedding, though...). Better yet, hit up W. Wolfskill Bar—this ain't your older brother's Riverside anymore, fam...
W. Wolfskill Bar, 4281 Main St., Riverside, (951) 374-1176; www.wwolfskillbar.com