Two years ago, if you had asked us whether sipping carmenere and nibbling flatbread qualified as nightlife, we would have said, firmly, no—after we'd pointed, laughed, and said you were old. But the wine bars that have opened recently are a new breed: educational, downright rowdy (depending on the night), and warm—serving more as social hubs than havens for oenophile snobbery. That's not to say the Pinot from Germany wasn't fabulous.
At 5:30 this place looks like 2,000 square feet of working stiffs in neckties, but come dinnertime it’s loft dwellers and regulars. Casey Irvine, the bartender, has the lowdown on the by-the-glass list, which numbers 50. Several single-grape varietals have made the cut, such as the tobacco-y Argentine tannat and a 100 percent viognier from France. The ’50s menu (Coca-Cola pork chops, soft pretzels with mustard) also considers the veggie-vegan crowd—ask Irvine what to pair with that Soy Hamburger Helper. Appellation: “How ’bout that Biscuit Company pool?” Top pour: Fresh-fruit-infused wine coolers. No joke. Palate cleanser: Tater tots. » 118 West 5th Street, Downtown, 213-627-1162.
Venice Beach Wines
Were it not for those beachy folks ambling in and out, it would be easy to mistake this joint for a wooden utility shed. Oscar Hermasillo added a wine-and-beer bar to his Venice wineshop earlier this year. The look is jerry-built, but the sipping selections have cred. The tightly edited wine list ranges from a crips Pere Ventura cava to a rich Argentine malbec. Hungry from all that sun? Chef Jill Davies (ex of Josie) comes to the rescue with panini and charcuterie. Appellation: Bikes and boards and dogs outside. Top pour: Sangria on Saturday and Sunday Palate cleanser: Lamb panini with almond raita. » 529 Rose Avenue, Venice, 310-606-2529.
We like a wine bar with focus. Corkbar pours almost exclusively California wines. The taps dispense only California beers, and the spirit is altogether Californian—as in, it’s mellow. Modern, airy, and with plenty of space at the bar, the place is enveloped in blond wood. Slide up for suggestions from the knowledgeable folks turning the corkscrews. As for the wines, there’s something from Amador, Temecula, and every region in between. Appellation: Downtown chic with more wood than a Spearmint Rhino. Top pour: Morgan 12 Clones pinot; it’s like drinking a baseball glove, but good. Palate cleanser: On Test Kitchen Tuesdays you are the guinea pig: Try experimental appetizers for $2. » 403 West 12th Street, Downtown, 213-746-0050.
City Sip LA
Perhaps Nicole Daddio's job as an associate producer for the CSI franchise helped spur her interest in red liquids. Two years ago Daddio began taking wine classes on the side. Friends wanted to know what she knew, which led to get-togethers at her home. When the group outgrew her digs, City Sip LA was born. The friends-of-friends vibe remains here, where locals gather around a cherry red bar made of reclaimed bottles to sample California cuvee syrah, a late-harvest gewurztraminer, and more than 40 wines by the glass or bottle. Reggie Southerland (The Next Food Network Star) works miracles on the panini grill.
Appellation: Wine-soaked housewarming party. Top pour: Half-price Sundays at 9 p.m. Palate cleanser: Daddio panino with truffle cheese, salami , and pesto. » 2150 West Sunset Boulevard, Echo Park, 213-483-WINE.
At last, a wine bar for liquor drinkers. Don’t get us wrong; we love wine, but Saluté’s fully stocked bar allows our companion to quaff a Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta carmenère blend while we nurse a martini (because sometimes it’s that kind of night). A line of Enomatic wine dispensers is banked on one side of the dimly lit space, which bears no vestiges of its Röckenwagner days. Choose a shot or a full pour from any of the 40 bottles on tap. Those feeling too comfortable to leave their low-slung leather banquettes or their exquisite little pizzas can order by the glass or by the bottle from the don’t-move-we’ll-bring-it-to-you wine list. Half-price happy hours are 5:30 to 7:30, Monday through Thursday. Appellation: Sex appeal and mechanized pours? Does not compute. Top pour: Creamy, spicy Layer Cake Zinfandel. Palate cleanser: Wood-roasted beef fillet. » 2435 Main Street, Santa Monica, 310-450-3434.
Photograph by Lisa Romerein