Wolfie’s Carousel Bar Brings French-Inspired Immersive Dining Experience to San Diego

Wolfie’s Carousel Bar, Little Italy, San Diego, Davis Ink, Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans, Charles + Dinorah, Pearl Hotel, El Camino, Voyeur, Bang Bang, Airport Lounge

By Catherine Sweeney 

After several weeks since opening its doors for the first time, Wolfie’s Carousel Bar is in full swing, offering San Diego residents a unique and immersive dining experience. Located in Little Italy, the restaurant is the newest creation of design duo Gillian and Mauricio Couturier and co-owner Abe Aguilar. 

“It’s really great to finally be open and open the windows and doors for fresh air and to see people in there enjoying the space that we’ve worked so hard on for so many years.” Aguilar said. 

The Parisian bistro-inspired restaurant is located at 2401 Kettner Boulevard and totals 2,800 square feet with capacity for 256 guests. The main feature of the space, however, is a rotating carousel bar in the center of the room. Envisioned by Couturier and Aguilar with designs from San Diego-based Davis Ink, the team developed the spinning structure with layers of texture and patina to give the carousel an aged, vintage feel. Keeping with the vintage design, the carousel is accompanied by 24 pale blush bar seats that rotate along with the bar. 

“The mechanical aspect of creating a spinning bar was the first step…We ended up designing our own carousel from scratch, at least the canopy part of it, and all the other design elements in the space. It was a tedious process to get that look, but little by little, we just started layering more things and I think we made out with what we wanted to do without losing focus on what the carousel should be and how that interacts with the food service as well,” Couturier said. 

“We wanted to pay homage to that feeling that we’re taking you to a different experience, a different world. We tried to make it as authentic to what we think a carousel should look like but we have to be really careful to not overdo it.”

The rotating design was inspired by New Orleans’ popular Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone, with the name of the restaurant paying homage to Charles I.D. Looff. Nicknamed “Wolfie,” by friends, the German carousel maker developed more than 40 carousels during his lifetime in the late 1800s. 

In keeping with the vintage, New Orleans-inspired theme, the rest of the restaurant works to encapsulate the same immersive experience as the carousel through more than 70 18th century-style French paintings. Adding a modern twist to the paintings, guests can find hidden pop culture references hidden throughout, including a U.F.O. drawing and a hot air balloon that would not have been developed until years after the painting was created. 

“All areas are special. We didn’t want to have it where you just have to sit at the bar. On the west side of the restaurant, we have this beautiful trellis, which has floral distressed mirrors on top with this beautiful mural of a 18th century French painting…On the opposite side, we have these beautiful cages, and we have these three booths that sit inside the cage and above is a carousel horse that bobs up and down very slowly. It’s also a very special place to sit and to experience the room, so it’s just another very cool design feature and something we focused a lot on to make sure the whole room was a fun place to be in,” Aguilar said. 

While dining, guests will enjoy a variety of classic French dishes curated by the Couturiers and Executive Chef Peter Ziegler, formerly of Charles + Dinorah at San Diego’s Pearl Hotel. Accompanied by classic French cocktails, dishes include Oysters Rockefeller, a Wagyu Tartare with gremolata, quail yolk and brioche toast points; Bibb Salad with housemade champagne vinaigrette, a 16 oz. ribeye served with maison bearnaise and more. 

“We almost have to restrain ourselves. We could just keep on going and going and going, but we still have a level of sophistication in there with a lot of classic elements. I think everything works really well together and I think everything plays off each other from, of course, the content to the color palette. There are so many details…When you do a project this detailed you need to love the process and that’s what we’re all about,” Aguilar said. 

Wolfie’s Carousel Bar is not the Couturiers’ nor Aguilar’s first stab at immersive dining. The group is also responsible for El Camino, one of their most notable projects in the Little Italy neighborhood. In addition, the Couturiers collaborated on designs for several other San Diego bars and restaurants, including Bang Bang, Voyeur and Airport Lounge.