Nostalgia for bygone decades is nothing new, and operators are finding creative ways to capitalize on that yearning for an earlier time. Where Gen-Xers pined for the 1980s, millennials are now reminiscing over the ’90s while dining out, from bars with Super Nintendo to a “Saved by the Bell” pop-up in Chicago.
The decade that birthed Air Jordans, Beanie Babies, and Y2K hysteria has no shortage of pop culture to be mined. But rather than becoming too steeped in the past, restaurants are adding a splash of ’90s to their operation—just enough to satiate sentimental guests without alienating the rest.
So was the case at Retreat Gastropub. The St. Louis restaurant serves elevated bar bites with a strong emphasis on vegetarian fare, and boasts a strong beverage program. Retreat is also ideally situated in the “Cortex” district, which is filled with tech and bioscience start-ups and young professionals hungry for elevated casual fare.
The gastropub’s fall/winter cocktail menu not only fills that need, but it also does so in a playful way; each is named for a ’90s or early 2000s TV show.
“I was looking for a topic that was relatable and that would create a sense of nostalgia for the guests and staff,” says bar manager Tim Wiggins. “I grew up watching lots of ’90s television, and thought it would be fun to create cocktails that offer more of a conversation than just what they taste like.”
The collection of eight cocktails might hearken to childhood in name, but the ingredients are decidedly grown up. Riffing off Will Smith’s sitcom, Fresh Prints combines white rum, pisco, white miso, passion fruit, grapefruit, lime, and nutmeg. Family-friendly “Full House” is embodied in a dark turn in the eponymous cocktail, which has bourbon, mezcal, sherry, Ancho Reyes Verde, Bigallet China-China liqueur, and house-made bitters. Football Head (an insult to the titular character in “Hey Arnold!”) mixes pumpernickel-infused rum and brandy with Honeycrisp apple, ginger, lime, and bitters.
Retreat introduced the line in mid-November to much fanfare. Ironically, the appeal to things old and familiar has enticed customers to sample new flavors and spirits.
“The response to the menu has been fantastic,” Wiggins says. “Most guests have fun seeing if they can identify all the references or end up ordering a cocktail because it was their favorite show, not just because the ingredients sound good. This is a fun way to make guests step outside of their comfort zone and try something new.”