The Thirst at Southgate

There’s lots of reasons to visit Southgate, Peter Hwang’s two-year-old Korean tavern at the corner of 18th and Lombard, including a new chef (Matt Delatour), a chill vibe and a very skilled bartender (Who’s Nexter Juan Bustamante).

But if you happen to be one of the many Americans who swear by Bloody Marys on Sunday mornings, the best reason is a Bloody-inspired cocktail called “The Thirst.”

As brunch drinks go, the Bloody Mary has a pretty expansive range. At its most classic, it’s vodka, tomato juice, horseradish and spices plus a stalk of celery, but bartenders have tweaked the recipe in every direction possible.

Not even counting the different garnishes that get added to the glass — sometimes including so much food that the drink itself could pass for a meal — variations on the original abound. Add clam juice and it’s a Bloody Caesar. Use clear tomato water for a Bloodless Mary (aka Ghost of Mary). Make it with beer and it’s a Michelada. Swap in tequila and you have a Bloody Maria, rum for a Bloody Pirate or scotch for a Bloody Scotsman.

But Southgate’s take on a Bloody Mary features something different: soju.

Jinro is the most prolific soju producer in the world, and also makes the bokbunja raspberry wine used in this cocktail Credit: Danya Henninger

Soju is a Korean distilled liquor. It’s a cousin to the Japanese spirit called shochu, and a distant relative of sake (which is brewed, not distilled). It’s also one of the most consumed alcoholic beverages worldwide. Per stats from International Wines & Spirits Research, Jinro soju was the number one spirit brand across the globe in 2015, with more than 65 million cases produced.

That popularity hasn’t translated to Philly. It’s especially tough to find soju in Center City, and a selection like the one Hwang and Bustamante have put together is even more unusual.

There’s six kinds of soju to choose from, including two that are house-infused: a roasted rice variation called nurungji, which is mellow and kind of tastes like drinking a cedar closet, and a spicy version infused with chile pepper. It’s the latter that comes into play with the Bloody Mary situation.

The Thirst — named after a Korean vampire movie — scores you a 1.5-oz. pour of the spicy soju plus a sidecar of house Bloody Mary mix. In this case the tomato juice has been sparked with liquid from the house-fermented kimchi, the traditional Korean pickled cabbage condiment, and a red pepper sauce. It’s hot, but also full of nuance. Hwang describes it “like a Bloody Mary and a pickleback had a love child.”

Bibimbap and japchae at Southgate Credit: Danya Henninger

The whole package is just $6 total, making it a no-brainer accompaniment to a plate of short rib loco moco (fried eggs over rice) or spam and egg sandwich.

Even better is the fact that The Thirst is available all day, every day. It’s the perfect appetizer pregame for one of Delatour’s soulfully satisfying dinner entrees, like the new japchae (a bowl of sesame-scallion silken sweet potato noodles; $14), sizzling bibimbap hot pot ($14) or fried chicken katsu platter with mint and cabbage slaw ($18).

If you have friends who aren’t as big into Bloody Marys as you are, the bar still has plenty to offer, including a fantastic Korean raspberry wine called bokbunja — basically the sweet and mellow counterpart to The Thirst’s spicy siren call.

Bustamante’s cocktails are top-notch Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Southgate is open at 5 p.m. daily, with brunch served 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the membership program. She is a former food...