Wine Bars -- The Second Generation Is Poured All Over Town
IT ISN'T AS THOUGH Seattle hasn't had wine bars in the past. We just lost them.
Champers, perhaps one of the classiest wine bars ever on the West Coast, lasted only a brief time during the 1980s in the Westin Hotel downtown. Enoteca, in the Times Square Building, hung on mostly as a restaurant for several years but then corked up its bottles and left. Meanwhile, the growing trend of wine bars fermented wildly in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Everywhere but Seattle.
Perhaps Seattle just wasn't ready - till now. They're all around - downtown in trendy Belltown, in neighborhoods where the locals hang out and tucked in restaurants.
So, what constitutes a wine bar? Many a restaurant with a good wine list and a separate cocktail lounge will insist they are wine bars. But it's a good deal more than an extra supply of glasses and a wine list that stuns you into silence with its double-digit bin numbers and names of wine you can't pronounce.
First and foremost, of course, is the wine.
"We begin with an emphasis on wine first," says Richard Kinssies, co-owner of Belltown's new Vina wine bar, "and incidentally serve good food.
"A wine bar solves all those things that we get hacked off about in other places," he adds, "the proper glasses, good service, knowledge and ambiance."
But it always gets back to the wine.
"You have to have quality wines by the glass," says Markus Donier, manager of Kasper's, which opened a wine bar in the restaurant last year. "And it has to be something diffferent."
A visit to a wine bar should be an adventure in the undiscovered. Most wine bars not only offer unusual and harder-to-find wines, but organize them into weekly themes such as Tuscan, Rhone Valley or unusual varieties including shiraz and viognier. Food is then served to complement the various wines, generally in smaller portions.
Ready to go wine-bar hopping? The glasses are washed, the wine's chilled and the corks are popped. Here are four:
The Bungalow really is in an early bungalow and perhaps comes closest to the classic neighborhood wine bar. A sign by the stairway leading up to the entrance points to wine up and poetry down (there's a poetry bookstore on the street level) and perhaps alludes to the ancient saying, "Wine is poetry in a glass."
On a recent visit, owners Jeff Treistman and Polly Young (who also own City Cellars further west on North 45th Street) were featuring a tasting of syrahs from around the world. One could choose from tastes of the McDowell Syrah of California ($2.10 for a two-ounce glass) to a classic such as E. Guigal Cote-Rotie from the Northern Rhone ($4.95). One could also opt for 5-ounce glasses or bottles of the same.
A small menu of braised lamb shanks, sweet-potato and black-bean croquettes or eggplant caponata was suggested as suited to the wines.
Vina, currently Seattle's only downtown wine bar, probably has the largest wine list in the Northwest. It numbers nearly 2,000 wines, many of them hard-to-find, older vintages.
An all-star cast opened Vina in February with co-owners Kinssies, a Seattle wine writer, and Bob Branom, local TV newsman. Added to that have been well-known chef Emily Moore (who consulted for two months) and other wine notables adding their presence including Hank Stockman, formerly of the Tower Club, and Rich Horton, former wine manager for the Metropolitan Grill.
The wine list covers the globe and includes many rare, dusty items from the private cellar of Kinssies. The first week Vina offered flights of any three merlots (2-ounce tastes) for $8 or the same for pinot gris at $6.50. Tastes are also available on any wine off the main list as well as a 5-ounce glass or the bottle. There's even a glass of "mystery wine" for $6, allowing you to match wits with the experts.
Two recent lunch visits have supported Kinssies' theory that Vina is a wine bar that, "incidentally, serves good food." A basil-flavored risotto was outstanding, as was a terrine of mascarpone and chevre torta layered with sun-dried tomato pesto.
Kaspar's Wine Bar
With its glistening glassware, wine bottles everywhere and a bed of ice displaying some tempting dishes, Kaspar's puts you in the mood immediately.
The wine bar is probably Seattle's most upscale and somewhat New Yorkish. But the poshness isn't stiff. Markus Donier (younger brother of Kaspar who opened the wine bar) insists it is definitely a "jeans-next-to-tuxedeos" kind of place with its patrons consisting of both opera and Sonics fans.
Kaspar's began as a downtown restaurant, later moving to the former Le Tastevin location in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood and seems constantly to be at the top of everyone's list of the best Northwest restaurants.
With his love and knowledge of wine, Markus soon transformed the cocktail lounge at Kaspar's into a true wine bar with a lengthy list of wines and a separate menu from the restaurant.
Once you've settled on a wine or a package of four different wines of 2 ounces each (he recently offered four sauvignon blancs for $6.50), the next decision is to select from a tempting spread of dishes from which one can have a sampler plate of four for $7.50. On a visit a few weeks ago the selection ranged from kumamoto oysters on the half shell to roast beef tenderloin with peach and jalapeno chutney.
Being a favorite late-night retreat after a show or game at Seattle Center, Kaspar's also offers a dessert wine flight each evening - three different dessert wines for $6.50.
A huge painting over the bar depicts a 1940s boxing match. That's Kid Mohair on the right landing a punch. It's authentic enough to convince some that there really was a Kid Mohair. Truth be known, the idea came off a man's jacket with a label indicating it was made from kid mohair. But that's only the beginning of the vivid and imaginative ideas that went into this wine bar/night club.
Gleaming wooden paneling lines the walls, providing a backdrop for enough art deco to set up a shrine to the decorative art form. Tiny pinpoint lights glisten from a black ceiling. Up a staircase a fireplace flickers and comfortable vintage arm chairs (of mohair, of course) make it an intimate setting for wine and a fine cigar.
Kid Mohair was the carefully conceived idea of Jeff Wines (yes, that's really his name) and Bill Klebeck, both veterans of the Seattle restaurant scene. Wines was at the Hunt Club for 11 years and Klebeck managed Cafe Flora and helped open Lamprea.
Kid Mohair has no food, just wine, microbrews on tap and cigars (upstairs only). After 9 p.m. there's music and dancing in the space next door, and each Monday live jazz and merlot is featured.
Tom Stockley is a freelance writer and Seattle Times wine columnist. Tom Reese is a Times photographer. ----------------------------------------------------------------- The Bungalow 2412 N. 45th St. (Wallingford) Phone: 632-0254 Hours: 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Vina 2207 First Ave. Phone: 443-1465 Hours: 11:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.
Kaspar's Wine Bar 19 W. Harrison St. Phone: 298-0123 Hours: 4:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday (closed Sunday and Monday).
Kid Mohair 1207 Pine St. Phone: 625-4444 Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday.
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