The Peninsula has a whimsical, new, tarot card-inspired speakeasy. Here are four drinks to try

Elena Kadvany Nov. 19, 2021 (SFChronicle.com)

A martini and Valiant Quest cocktail served at Wunderbar in San Mateo.
1of3A martini and Valiant Quest cocktail served at Wunderbar in San Mateo.Courtesy Stephanie Amberg
Inside Wunderbar, a reservations-only cocktail bar in San Mateo.
Wunderbar uses tarot cards as its menu, with classic cocktails on one side and the bar's riffs on the other.

The Peninsula is now home to a moody new speakeasy bar serving creative cocktails on a menu inspired by tarot cards.

Wunderbar is a reservations-only spot located in the basement of downtown San Mateo restaurant Wursthall, at 310 Baldwin Ave. Customers order from tarot cards; on one side is a classic cocktail, like an old fashioned or martini, and on the back side are bar manager Kiernan Moran’s riffs. Take, for example, his dirty martini, made with dashi.

Visitors enter the underground bar through a separate entrance from Wursthall. The space has 40 seats, including a semi-private nook with purple velvet chairs, and is decorated like an “whimsical underground lair,” general manager Xian Choy said. Think backlit dark wood bookshelves, deep red leather chairs and animal statues inspired by Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Framed tarot cards hang on the walls.

Moran, a San Mateo native, brings his bar experience from San Francisco’s Gibson and San Mateo’s Sixtos Cantina to Wunderbar. He likes to play with savory ingredients, like guajillo chiles or sage, that are more likely to show up in a restaurant dish than a cocktail. He and Choy spent as much time creating their ideal version of the traditional cocktails as their own interpretations, including blind-tasting whiskeys for the Manhattan for an entire week.

For wine, Wunderbar is focused on bottles made with minimal intervention, from organically produced to the more extreme zero zero, meaning nothing is added. There are also local canned beers — plus Miller High Life, “because sometimes you just need an obscenely carbonic palate refresher,” Choy said. There’s no food, but a custom machine will churn out buttered popcorn as a snack.

Wunderbar has been years in the making; the owners’ goal was to bring a thoughtful cocktail bar to the Peninsula. The planned 2020 opening was delayed by more than a year due to the pandemic. The bar is soft opening now and will fully open on Dec. 1.

Read on for a deep dive on four cocktails served at Wunderbar.

Sidewinder’s Fang: This tiki drink was born at the long-closed San Mateo bar the Lanai, which was reportedly frequented by members of the Rat Pack and visiting football teams playing against the San Francisco 49ers. Moran makes a classic version with two kinds of rum, passionfruit and fresh lime and orange juice. His spin on it comes with nutty Amontillado sherry, umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum) and orgeat, a sweet almond syrup.

Mirror Mirror: Moran’s rendition on the Old Fashioned gets more complexity from two different kinds of amaro — one bitter and one sweet, with notes of molasses — and cocoa bitters. He’s obsessed with amaro, and the Italian liqeuer shows up throughout the menu.

Siren’s Song: For an up-leveled dirty martini, try this drink. Instead of olive brine, they’re using dashi made from scratch using cookbook author and Wursthall opening partner Kenji Lopez-Alt’s recipe. The rich kombu broth gets mixed with sake, gin and makrut lime. The aromatic citrus adds “lemony, Fruit Loop-y” notes, Moran said.

Wise Woman: With his riff on a French 75, Moran wanted to create a drink that challenges vodka’s reputation as a flat, boring alcohol. He adds amaro from Lo-Fi Aperitifs, infused with ginger, anise and grapefruit, as well as blackberry and sage.

Wunderbar. Reservation only. 4:30-11 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday. 4:30-11:30 pm. Friday-Saturday. 310 Baldwin Ave. exploretock.com/wunderbarsanmateoElena Kadvany is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: elena.kadvany@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @ekadvanyFood GuideTop 25 RestaurantsWhere to eat in the Bay Area. Find spots near you, create a dining wishlist, and more.Written ByElena KadvanyReach Elena on

Elena Kadvany joined The San Francisco Chronicle as a food reporter in 2021. Previously, she was a staff writer at the Palo Alto Weekly and its sister publications, where she covered restaurants and education and also founded the Peninsula Foodist restaurant column and newsletter.VIEW COMMENTSTop of the News

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