Can the people behind Polite Provisions and Ironside bring hipster to ... the mall?


A team known for swanky-but-urban San Diego bars and eateries now has its eye on a decidedly suburban location: the mall.

San Diego’s homegrown Consortium Holdings will open a combination liquor tasting room and high-end retail store at Westfield UTC mall.

The scaffolding came down Thursday, but the store won’t open until January.

The name on the door is Raised By Wolves, a tip of the hat to the group’s gritty side.

Co-founder Arsalun Tafazoli launched burger place Neighborhood in 2007 in downtown’s East Village.

Since then, his company has opened a string of eye-catching “craft” establishments in the urban core, including the old-timey drinks bar Polite Provisions in North Park, the oyster bar Ironside in Little Italy and, most recently, the elegant steakhouse Born and Raised in a former Little Italy camera shop.

The group’s early efforts got a reputation for being contrarian, as such as refusing to serve vodka and ketchup because they are too boring. (Or, in their words, they would “rather support small-batch artisanal products.”

Why the mall now?

Tafazoli said he and his partners are interested in the concept of malls being overhauled into community gathering places.

Westfield’s UTC is finishing a $600 million renovation and expansion that is adding more lifestyle activities, in recognition that online shopping has changed the retail business.

“I went to UCSD. That area is pretty special. You’ve got three Nobel laureates working within a four-mile radius. You’ve got all the life sciences that are doing great research. You’ve got this melting pot of diverse people and, frankly there isn’t really a neighborhood,” said Tafazoli, now 36, who grew up in Clairemont.

The 1,500-square-foot store will sell custom barware and accessories, like strainers and mixing spoons. It will also offer rare and vintage liquor and mixers for carry-out sale.

The 2,000-square-foot tasting room will be accessed through a hidden door and will be reservation-only — techniques this company has used at other locations to create the air of exclusivity.

Tafazoli envisions classes on how to make the perfect cocktail and talks by experts.

He thinks the place will function like record stores did for past generations: People will be drawn to “geek out” with others who love the subject.

“You’re going to talk to someone who really knows this, and you’re going to make a connection,” Tafazoli said, adding that the retail venture is a big leap of faith for him and his partners.

“Honestly, this could be a horrible idea,” he said.

“But we like to think that if we care enough, and we put enough in, that care translates over, and people will see the benefit of coming in and having that experience, versus going online.”


Twitter: @jensteeley