I never want to drink another Wondrous Punch but I have no regrets about trying one.
Until this weekend, I had never had a “Wondrous Punch,” but I’ve always known the name. Most Twin Cities residents do. It’s the signature drink at Red Dragon, a dive bar located on Lyndale in South Minneapolis. As far as I know, Red Dragon’s always been there. The exterior looks the same as it did when I used to drive past every day ten years ago.
People tell their Red Dragon stories wistfully. They typically occurred a while ago and end in “I don’t remember much,” a brawl, or puking. “The Wonderous Punch is really strong,” they add.
Many things in Uptown have changed. When everything becomes newer and shinier, I’m drawn to establishments that keep serving what they’ve always been serving in an unapologetic, irony-free manner. They don’t serve kale salad or change their menu font from Comic Sans because they don’t want to.
I needed to have this Red Dragon experience. Not the getting ill and finding myself caught in the middle of a brawl parts, but the going there and eating and drinking parts. I didn’t have many wild experiences during my young adulthood. As a more confident 30-year old, I revel more and more in my old soulness, but also get a kick out of chasing some of the experiences that I missed.
At Red Dragon one rule is clear: You can’t return things. Once you buy something, it’s yours forever. There’s a sign on the jukebox stating there are no refunds for song purchases. And the drink menu clearly cautions “It’s our policy that we do not return drinks!!”
“What does that mean?” I asked Jake. He replied that people may try to return their drinks because they’re too strong. I still didn’t get it. I’ve seen people in restaurants try to return drinks because they’re too weak. Never because they’re too strong.
We settled into our bouncy booths and ordered Wondrous Punches and appetizers. Our friends made sure we filled up on lots of food beforehand but advised we save room for wings.
Soon, our goblets of Wondrous Punch arrived. The first sip jarred me to the bones. Strong is an understatement.
It tasted like fruit-scented alcohol fumes. I didn’t know it was possible to create a drink like this. It became stronger towards the bottom of the glass.
We also shared a Purple Rain, studded with the same abundance of maraschino cherries. You don’t just one cherry in your drink, you get a handful. The Purple Rain tasted “purple.” It smelled as strong as purple nail polish remover. After each sip, my breath felt flammable.
If you order any of these cocktails, you need to order food, even if you just ate food. Even if you just ate a lot of food.
The wings are crispy and salty and everything you want to eat with very strong punch while the cream cheese wontons are pretty much their best selves. Dip everything into the sweet and sour sauce and hot mustard sauces served in the red and yellow squirt bottles. The sauces are above average; especially the nose-singeing mustard.
In the early evening, the atmosphere inside Red Dragon was relaxed. Nothing wild or crazy, just people sipping goblets of punch and digging into big, silver platters of Chinese food.
My coworkers in their 40’s and 50’s still out-party me and that’s ok. Sharing a goblet of Wondrous Punch is about as wild as I want to get for a while. I’m not sure I’ll ever want another, but at least I know where to find it. The wontons and the wings, though, I’ll more of those anytime.
Thanks C & S for taking us to the Red Dragon!
If you plan to drink or even share any of the punches here, plan to take public transit or a Lyft.