So you want to open a wine bar?

Recently, I joined a friend who was writing an article determining San Francisco’s best wine bar on a field trip and it started me thinking about what I like and don’t in a wine bar. Mind you, I don’t own a wine bar nor have I ever worked in one, but I have been to many. So perhaps it’s best to think of the following as a collection of thoughts from the peanut gallery—notes from Andy Rooney’s trip to a couple of wine bars.

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Um, good wine?

First and foremost a wine bar must sell good wine. While making the rounds for the “best of” review, a few friends and I sat down for some glasses at a well-designed, but remotely situated, newcomer to the wine bar scene. We started off with some whites and a couple were bad and I mean bad--not corked--but bad. We actually sent two of the offending wines around the table for a vote on the worst. After tasting mine, someone remarked that it might go well with a communion wafer. The rest of the wines that we tried that night never were able to overcome the taste of the first glasses of plonk. The wine bar’s first responsibility is to serve good wine. And for those that don’t: uh, duh.

Rotation rotation rotation

In keeping with the wine focus at a wine bar, variety really helps bring a little zip to the experience. There’s a wine bar just down the street from where I live and it’s a pretty great spot to call your local wine bar, but they never change the menu. And I mean never. A place that’s way in the hell downtown, next to a rundown area where zombies come out after dark, there’s a spot that offers flights (flights!) with two different themes every month, often themes that offer an introduction to a less commonly known varietal or wine producing part of the world. I had a flight from Portugal that was a real eye-opener.

Snacky snacks

I think that serving food at a wine bar can be a dicey proposition. I mean where do you stop? Maybe anything grander than a panini marks you as a restaurant masquerading as a wine bar. Olives, cheese, bread, salami, nuts offer a perfect level of food complement to the wine people are drinking. Not offering food is cruel. Anyone who has had a couple glasses of particularly acidic pinot noir on an empty stomach can attest to this. Also, as far as I can tell, wine tastes better with food, always.

What am I drinking?

Going to a wine bar with a knowledgeable staff that is excited about wine really adds to an experience. The staff at the wine bar with flights mentioned earlier is practically foaming at the mouth to tell you about any of the wines on their list, particularly the monthly changing flights. Their enthusiasm is infectious and when you get excited about wine while drinking it, you’ve found yourself a fine equation for a good time.

Wine Bar, Not a Bar Bar

A few atmospheric elements set a wine bar apart from a regular bar. There’s natural light. The music isn’t too loud. And there aren’t any trolls. Break any of these axioms and your headed straight for a date with a pool table that’s always breaking and a stopped-up toilet that someone didn’t bother to notice.

These days it seems like everyone is starting a wine bar. After seeing a number of the current incarnations, I think that it’s only a matter of time before we see an evolution in wine bars that will make a pleasant experience even better. For the time being, a little searching is likely to land you at a good spot.

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