Brain Freeze

Red Wagon After Dark dares to mix ice cream with alcohol

Stuart Phillips leads a round of Cards Against Humanity
Stuart Phillips leads a round of Cards Against Humanity

From food cart to store front, Red Wagon Creamery has come a long way. The ice cream shop is well known for wonderfully eclectic, handmade ice cream flavors like carrot jalapeño, peach rosemary and Saturday Morning, meant to taste like the milk left over after a bowl of Fruit Loops. But stick around after 10 pm on Friday and Saturday, and the creamery transforms into Red Wagon After Dark, where bartender Amanda Hoffman throws booze into the mix of creamy deliciousness.

“People come in thinking about dessert but still wanting another drink, so this is the perfect solution,” says Hoffman, who has worked as a bartender for about 10 years and joined up with Red Wagon Creamery last fall. “It’s really a great opportunity to be creative.”

Amid the tumultuous hub of activity pervading downtown Eugene on a Friday night, the creamery is a pleasant place to chill out and enjoy drinks, ice cream or both at the same time. Blue sky-colored walls, cheerful lights strung along the ceiling, pews from a recently demolished church and handmade wooden tables lend a cheery atmosphere. A focus on sustainability adds a nice touch — instead of throwing away mountains of plastic tasting spoons every day, Red Wagon has a permanent stock that gets washed and reused.

“I like this location, and with us being a more family-oriented business, it’s helping draw people back to downtown,” says co-owner Stuart Phillips, who started the business with his wife Emily Phillips, a chef and the mastermind behind Red Wagon’s unique flavors. “We have people coming in who say they haven’t been in the downtown area for over 20 years.”

Emily Phillips came up with the idea of combining liquor and ice cream, and she and Stuart Phillips advertised for a bartender on Craigslist. “The ad said we were looking for ‘a creative bartender with flair, but not TGI Friday’s kind of flair,’” Stuart Phillips says. Hoffman answered their ad and was soon brainstorming ice cream cocktail ideas.

Red Wagon has been making Ninkasi and Falling Sky beer floats for years, but Hoffman expanded the menu with spiked milkshakes and specialty items like the Frozen Goat Latte, which combines Wandering Goat coffee, Kahlua, vodka and two flavors of ice cream. “It’s the ultimate trifecta,” she says.

Another favorite is what Hoffman calls a “chocolate lover’s delight,” the Chocolate Wagon. Hoffman drizzles chocolate fudge down the sides of a glass and then adds a blended concoction of Red Wagon’s signature Heart of Chocolate ice cream, hazelnut-flavored Frangelico and Baileys for an additional touch of creaminess. Chocolate whipped cream tops it off, and one sip leaves you drowning in chocolate-y bliss.

“I had never been part of starting a bar before,” Hoffman says, “and it was really cool coming into it with a blank slate.”

Hoffman’s menu also includes non-ice-cream cocktails of her own design. The Downtown Eugene — a Manhattan for Oregonians — mixes sweet vermouth with bourbon and replaces cherry juice with grenadine. “We also serve Jell-O shots, which I’m relatively famous for,” she says. As spring arrives and the seasonal menu changes, Hoffman says she’s looking forward to adding new berries and herbs to her repertoire. A marionberry lemon drop is in the works.

As if ice cream cocktails aren’t entertainment enough, Red Wagon After Dark features Cards Against Humanity Fridays and Bingo Saturdays, with prizes ranging from Sizzle Pie gift cards to Angry Birds fruit snacks. As Hoffman says, “We’re different from every other place you’ll find downtown.”

Red Wagon After Dark in Red Wagon Creamery, 55 W. Broadway, is open Friday and Saturday nights from 10 pm to midnight. Regular store hours are 2 to 10 pm Sunday through Thursday and 2 pm to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

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