The Wong brothers’ restaurant/nightclub empire, heretofore confined to a few blocks near the Capitol, has expanded southward to that emerging bastion of downtown Sacramento nightlife, the R Street Corridor.
The Wongs’ Iron Horse Tavern, which recently opened in a former state office building at 15th and R streets, carries over some elements from other venues owned by Mason, Alan and Curtis Wong.
Its menu, developed by the Wongs’ corporate chef, Christian Palmos, ups the comfort-food ante of Cafeteria 15L by offering eight kinds of mac ’n’ cheese, including lobster and truffle.
Iron Horse’s Asian-fusion dishes, such as sweet and spicy shrimp and street tacos with kimchee, nod to Ma Jong’s and Gogi’s Korean BBQ (in the Park Ultra Lounge). Iron Horse’s brandy fried-chicken nuggets pay direct homage to the signature dish from the Wongs’ now-closed original restaurant, Luau Garden.
At 6,000 square feet, Iron Horse Tavern (the name evokes the trains that once traversed the R Street corridor) is nearly identical in size to Firestone Public House, though it holds far fewer TVs than that sports-centric bar/restaurant.
Like the Wongs’ Park Ultra Lounge and Mix Downtown, Iron Horse is clubby. But in a social club rather than up-in-the-club way. With its red walls, black banquettes and wide-plank wood floors, the new tavern echoes the Prohibition-era design themes so many local restaurants favor, but without those others’ Depression scruff. If this were 1931, Iron Horse’s clientele would skew less bootlegger and hobo than railroad executive with his leggy, flapper companion.
Mason Wong recently spoke to The Bee about the brothers’ latest venture:
Q: Your other places are in the same general area near the Capitol. Why expand to 15th and R?
A: The R Street Corridor – they’re touting it as being the next midtown. I think it is the last area of property (between 10th and 17th) where a lot of development can still happen. … I think everything else downtown is pretty much already developed. Being a little closer to a little bit more of a neighborhood-ish feel is exciting for us.
Q: Is R Street now the place to be as a downtown restaurateur?
A: I think the more it gets developed, it is going to be. … I think they have done a great job with a lot of the bars and restaurants across the street – Shady Lady and R15 and Magpie. … They were taking a bigger risk than I am taking because they were the initial forerunners of this area.
The more (restaurants and bars) that open up, the more they are going to draw people to this area, especially people from the ’burbs who don’t come down that often. Then, obviously, the arena is going to be a huge draw (to downtown).
Q: Iron Horse is open until 2 a.m. Thursday-Sunday. How late do you serve food on those nights?
A: We probably will do food on Friday and Saturday until about midnight. Thursday we might go to midnight. Sunday-Wednesday we might go to 11.
Q: Using percentages, how much more fun is happening in this building now than when it was a state office building?
A: Probably about 200 percent.
Wong and brothers Alan and Curtis Wong, who already own Cafeteria 15L, Firestone Public House and other restaurants, just opened Iron Horse Tavern at 15th and R Streets in Sacramento.