Sometimes, you just know about a place. You can tell the proprietor is serious about the product or service they’re providing. You get the feeling they really care about elevating your experience way above the ordinary.
The Real McCoy in downtown Bellingham is such a place. One visit proves that owner Brandon Wicklund is downright passionate about the classic cocktails he serves to his appreciative customers. And after two visits, you might start dreaming about tinctures, bitters, and little garnishes of orange peel and mint.
While The Real McCoy has been open for less than a year, Brandon is building a loyal following, because he knows what he’s doing. His well-stocked and cozy bar is the culmination of a long-held dream that began when he launched his traveling cocktail business, also called The Real McCoy. With his bartender’s suitcase full of booze and tools, he’d do weddings, parties and events, all the while honing his craft.
It doesn’t hurt that Brandon was introduced to the art of the cocktail by Jim German of the famous jimgermanbar. Jim, a high-school friend of Brandon’s parents, offered to mentor Brandon at his destination bar in the tiny town of Waitsburg, outside Walla Walla. Seeing Jim in action solidified Brandon’s dream of opening his own bar in Bellingham.
The influence and inspiration of jimgermanbar is apparent in both the atmosphere and the food and drink quality at The Real McCoy. It’s not easy to pull off, but with the help of his fiancée, Marin (a BTC culinary program grad), Brandon is managing nicely. The food on the seasonal menu is as wonderful as the drinks.
Behind the bar, you’ll see a sign: “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends.” On the wall across from the bar, that idea comes to life, with a “drink it forward” board. If your name is on it, your friend has bought you a drink! We tried to get Brandon to give us our friend Noelle’s drink because she moved to Seattle, but no dice.
Instead, we bought our own, which consisted of:
- The Woodsman: 1776 Rye, Charred Cedar Campari, Carpano Antica
- Hot Toddy: made special with a spiced sugar cane syrup
- Fallen Leaves: Clear Creek Apple Brandy, Dolin Dry, Dolin Rouge, Amaro Nonino, Angostura Bitters
- Pegu Club: gin, lime, dry orange curaçao, bitters, plus a touch of absinthe
And for nibbles, we ordered:
- Wild mushroom tacos with jicama cabbage slaw and guacamole
- Painted Hills beef slider with whiskey-soaked onions, Irish porter cheddar, and smoked paprika aioli
- Blistered poblano pepper with bacon, sour cream and chive dipping sauce, and toasted almonds
- Lavender marcona almonds
We casually sipped our drinks, but the food was gone in no time. Everything was delicious. The Real McCoy offers an extensive menu of nibbles and larger plates, featuring rockfish, Manila clams, lamb and more.
As for beverages, along with any cocktail you could possibly want, you can choose from a number of nice wines by the glass or bottle (he has a pretty good wine connection, since his parents own Fairhaven’s Purple Smile wine shop). Rotating beers are on tap, and more beers and cider are available by the bottle.
If you’re interested in expanding your palate, try a compare-and-contrast spirit flight of gin, bourbon or scotch. The gin flight features gins from Seattle, Everett, and of course, Bellingham’s own BelleWood Acres.
Happy hour is every day from 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m., with $2 off wine and cocktails on tap, and $1 off house cocktails, house wine and beer on tap. Plus, a number of small bites are available at special prices.
Brandon and Marin take the business of cocktails and food seriously. Upon opening The Real McCoy, their goal was to create a place that feels like a cocktail party in your own home, every night. I would say they have achieved that, and more. Have a drink and a snack, and I’m certain you’ll agree! And hey, if you really love me, put my name on the drink it forward board! I promise to do the same.
The Real McCoy Home Bar & Kitchen, 114 Prospect St., Bellingham 360-392-8051
Tuesday – Saturday 4:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.