It’s safe to say that author and pro booze hound Dan Dunn has a love-hate relationship with Venice. Back in February the former Playboy writer penned an essay for Thrillist titled “The Rise and Fall of Abbot Kinney, or How Venice Is Dying,” where he bemoaned the gentrification of the beach city from adorably sketchy hippie haven to the polished and hipster-fied Silicon Beach it is today.
“I actually look forward to the day I can walk down Abbot Kinney again secure in the knowledge that at any moment, a crackhead might come along and whack me upside the head with a tire iron. It’d be a lot less painful than, say, the average brunch tab at Gjelina,” he wrote.
And yet Dunn has lived in Venice for 16 years and endures even after suffering several personal tragedies. In 2010 his younger brother Brian Dunn drowned after jumping off the Venice Pier; in 2012 his beloved American Bulldog Piglet passed away; and last year his girlfriend moved out.
But where most of us would have pulled up stakes long ago and moved to a different part of L.A. that’s free of painful memories, he continues to call the beachside community his home. In his new book, American Wino: A Tale of Reds, Whites, and One Man’s Blues, Dunn takes a 15,000-mile roadtrip to redemption via America’s wineries, which begins and essentially ends in Venice.
So even though he still thinks it too pricey, there’s no other place in L.A. he likes to drink Pinot Noir more—”if only because I break out in hives anytime I have to venture west of Centinela.”
Here are his picks for the best places to drink vino in Venice.
Hatchet Hall: “Google Maps alleges this place is located at the western edge of Culver City, but I’m not buying it. Feels like Venice to me. At Hatchet Hall you’ll encounter people of all shapes and sizes and beard lengths. Much ado has been made about wine steward Maxwell Leer’s unorthodox wine list, which isn’t so much a useful index as it is an indecipherable medley of words and hashtags. Besha Rodell of LA Weekly posited that Leer ‘is going for some kind of Dadaist wine performance art with this list’ before proclaiming it ‘unreadable.’ Amy Scattergood, writing for the LA Times, opined ‘the wine list resembles a bizarre crossword puzzle more than, well, a wine list.’ I don’t disagree. Hell, I’ve had an easier time making sense of Terrence Malick movies. But here’s the thing, Maxwell Leer has a knack for finding interesting wines from far-flung places. Stuff you won’t find on other lists around town. Plus, Maxwell Leer is a spot-on name for a noncomformist wine expert. You think a sommelier named Bob Smith knows a thing or two about the good stuff from Estonia? Hell no. But Maxwell Leer does. You bet your ass he does. Embrace the chaos!” (Editor’s note: Just found out at press time that Maxwell Leer is no longer at Hatchet Hall.)
Dudley Market: “Recently had a conversation with the sommelier here at Venice’s newest hot spot, and he taught me that ‘maceration’ means leaving the skins in the juice during winemaking and not, as I’d previously thought, the act of pleasuring yourself to thoughts of Cabernet Sauvignon. Dudley wine list is a good mix of Old and New World. They’re creative, but not trying to reinvent the wheel (a la Maxwell Leer). Food geeks are flocking there, especially after Jonathan Gold gave it a great review. The atmosphere is light and airy, like the thoughts in Taylor Swift’s head.”
Scopa Italian Roots: “One of the finest restaurants on the Westside boasts an expansive list dominated by prestigious Old World producers. I thoroughly enjoy drinking wine at Scopa, especially when someone else is paying — cuz, seriously, that 2001 Valdicava Brunello ain’t cheap. Oh, the Valdicava is just so opulent (which is another way of saying ‘full-bodied’ without fat shaming a wine). When it comes to vino, the staff knows what they’re talking about, which is more than I can say about some swanky beachside eateries. (I’m talking to you, Tony P’s!) The people at Scopa tend to look like the first 20 or so people who show up in your Bumble feed — gorgeous, but you get the feeling that if you were to approach them, they’d swipe left.”
The Tasting Kitchen: “For the same reasons I like Scopa, plus the pours tend to be quite generous. Oh, and I recently got to drink wine with the lead singer from The National here, and The National is one of my favorite bands. And Kurt Russell, too. He and I had dinner at Tasting Kitchen and he brought along some of his wine, Gogi. Damn straight — Snake Plissken makes a mean Pinot Noir.”
Zinque: “Most of the staff have French accents, which is très chic. (See what I just did there?) Some of them smoke, too. Zinque has a large selection of wines by the glass. And it’s a haven for Venice’s pretty people. My favorite joint for sipping Sauvignon Blanc and people watching. Zinque during the daytime, you’ll think you’re at a Lululemon showroom.”
Bonus — Rose Cafe: “See that glass of wine in that picture above? They gave me that for free. LOVE that place!”
American Wino hits bookstores next week on April 5. And you can talk wine and heartbreak with Dunn at his booksigning at Book Soup in West Hollywood on April 14.