Finding the right cure for your ailments may be a lot easier now that Realm of the 52 Remedies speakeasy cocktail bar has arrived on the scene in Kearny Mesa. Housed within Common Theory Public House, the upscale, Asian-themed bar brings an edgy new nightlife option to the Convoy District’s Asian food and karaoke mecca.
The innovative cocktail list at Realm of the 52 Remedies, which officially opened in early December, is categorized into three parts: Recipes for your Ailments, signature cocktails that put an Asian spin on classics; Prescriptions from the Old Days, straightforward cocktail classics; and Modern Remedies Around the World, more contemporary concoctions curated by mixologists from across the globe.
Some of the innovative flavor profiles seen on the cocktail menu are based on drinks that lead bartender Chris Lee (formerly of the now closed SOHO Gastropub) shared as a child with his grandmother in Seoul, South Korea.
Lee honed his skills while living in Seoul, where he worked at the pre-Prohibition themed Bar Old-Fashioned. The Sunday Morning cocktail on Realm of the 52 Remedies’ menu — containing black lava salt, egg white, bacon-infused maple, Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters, chocolate ice cream, Knob Creek Bourbon, Laphroaig Scotch Whisky and nutmeg — was created by Lee’s mentor in Korea.
When developing the new cocktail list, Lee spent a month perfecting The Opium Den (a twist on a Sazerac). The alternative concoction is made with shiitake mushroom cordial, salt, Aurora Oloroso Sherry, Chateau de Laubade VS Bas Armagnac and Monkey Shoulder Whiskey, smoked with brandy oak chips and served with pretzels. A whirl of smoke from the wood chips produces an incense-like aroma, while the drink has an earthy mushroom flavor that’s enhanced by pretzels.
“In Seoul, I told my mentor we should use all the fresh ingredients you can find in Korean markets, where you’ll see so many dried mushrooms,” Lee said. “I always wanted to make a mushroom cocktail.”
The drink menu, which is still being finalized and will continue to expand, also contains a few wines. Soon, sparkling wines will be added, and bottle cocktails for larger groups will be available.
Co-owners Cristian Liang and Joon Lee both grew up frequenting the Kearny Mesa area to dine and shop with their families. They opened craft beer bar Common Theory Public House more than four years ago, and when the adjacent space became available, they were ready to take on a new project with a different focus.
“We had just gotten a liquor license and had always been big fans of craft cocktails,” Liang said. “We wanted to splash Kearny Mesa with something out-of-the-box that would draw a younger generation.”
Their two concepts have different staffs and are adjoined by an apothecary shop that marks the discreet yet intriguing entrance to Realm of the 52 Remedies. The shop plans to sell related novelty items like bottles of shrubs, bitters, teacups and cocktail sets.
Eventually, Realm of the 52 Remedies plans to offer an omakase-style cocktail program where guests can book special seats at their emperor bar, decide on a price point, and work with Lee to develop custom cocktails. Similar to a sushi bar, the goal would be for guests to interact with the person serving them and ask questions about the ingredients as drinks are being made.
Behind the emperor bar, which seats four people at a bar top covered with leather, a secret shelf marked by the Jade Emperor (a supreme Chinese deity) swivels to reveal the speakeasy’s collection of top-shelf liquors, including a bottle of Yamazaki 18-year-old Japanese whisky that sells for about $80 per shot, or $1,200 for a bottle.
Creative cocktails may initially draw guests into Realm of the 52 Remedies, but the extravagant, Far East-inspired decor by designer Michael Soriano of Onairos Design (Vin de Syrah, The Pearl Hotel, Queenstown Public House) is another key element of the project.
“I try to incorporate elements, palettes and sensibilities that discover exploration,” Soriano said. “Sensory overload for the sense of shock value I don’t like — but if it teases you to want to know more or see more, that’s different.”
Soriano was particularly mindful that the cultures represented in his design elements were historically accurate, and he worked with several independent artists to bring this project to life.
“We wanted to pay tribute to our backgrounds and to Convoy Street,” Liang said. “I’m Chinese and my business partner Joon Lee is Korean — so we wanted to tie in our Asian culture to the concept.”
“We gave Michael Soriano a lot of flexibility in researching our ethnic backgrounds for the design,” he said. “He stayed the course and made something classic but chic, with Asian accents that aren’t overpowering. He’s a true artist.
"(For the food and drink offerings) we knew we wanted to use spices and ingredients that would differentiate ourselves, and while doing research, we stumbled across the ancient Chinese medicinal document 52 Recipes for 52 Ailments that paved the way for Eastern Medicine.”
Now, Liang and Lee think of the conjoined spaces as having Common Theory representing the present, the apothecary as the future, and Realm of the 52 Remedies as the past. To be transported to the past, guests must place their hand over a special Chinese character that’s part of the 52 Recipes for 52 Ailments document printed on a door inside the apothecary.
Once inside the speakeasy, some of the standout design elements include an oversized booth shaped like a lotus flower, with light fixtures hanging down to resemble lotus tendrils; private, elevated tables custom-made with layered wood and resin, with Chinese lanterns and silks hanging above to give a nod to The Silk Road; a textured plaster motif of a mountainscape that hangs behind the bar, with iron fixtures shaped like smoke clouds floating from above; a section of the bar top made of jade onyx that’s backlit to give off a green glow; and strands of decorative dragon eggs hanging from the ceiling that were hand constructed using flotation buoys and cheesecloth.
“The use of mirrors and materials in the rafters creates a borderless environment for a full immersion experience,” Soriano said. “You can get suspended in time there — four hours can go by and you don’t even realize it. I like to create spaces where you can just exist in the space and be present.”
And, while getting lost in time, Realm of the 52 Remedies offers a menu of shareable small appetizers that will evolve based on available seasonal ingredients. Lighter dishes offered in the speakeasy space are in contrast with heavier dishes seen at Common Theory, which is known for its popular duck fat fries.
Instead, Realm of the 52 Remedies works with an outside consulting chef to serve dishes like roasted carrots with crunchy sesame seed “granola,” fish sauce caramel, anise yogurt, mint and Thai basil. Or, there’s the crispy sunchokes (a root vegetable that looks like ginger), served with Chinese long beans, salsa matcha, sweet soy, puffed quinoa and cilantro, for a savory bite with a touch of heat.
For more filling bites, opt for the creamy crab and corn croquettes served with housemade tonkatsu sauce and Chinese mustard — which are comparable to fried crab cakes — or the crispy fried eggplant dish with scallions, jalapenos, chili and five-spice, served with a hoisin-rhubarb-barbecue sauce that packs a flavorful punch. On the lighter side, the furikake chips or vegetable crudités are good for snacking.
Reservations are strongly recommended at Realm of the 52 Remedies, which seats up to 42 people or can accommodate up to 60 for a full buyout of the space, by calling 858.256.0441 or emailing email@example.com.
Realm of the 52 Remedies, 4805 Convoy St., Kearny Mesa, 858.256.0441, 52remedies.com