The hits just keep coming from the Rustic Canyon group, and its latest venture, Esters Wine Shop & Bar, is no exception. Snuggled directly beside Cassia on Santa Monica’s 7th Street, this wine-centric retailer/watering hole already has a stronger buzz going than a Westside housewife. Esters’ sleek modern interior is the antithesis to a wine cellar: light, bright and airy, with its impressive inventory visibly stocked to the ceiling on the surrounding shelves. Some 250 wines are for sale by the bottle, and about 20 by the glass in the bar, with France, Italy, Spain and the U.S. all represented through the thoughtful selection of wine director Kathryn Weil Coker.
While this place ticks a lot of boxes, though, a $16 pour is hard for the average wine drinker to swallow. Sure, quality has a price, but a few more modest options would be welcome. Are we the only ones that feel that way? Judging by most of the crowd here, affordable wines may not be necessary from an operational standpoint. In LA, cool is a commodity, and Esters’ it-factor is sure to bring in as many well-heeled trend-seekers as serious wine collectors. Even if we weren’t completely sold, we have a feeling it will do just fine.
Good for: Wine aficionados looking to splurge, schmooze and be seen while they sip. If you’re on a budget, you’ll likely flinch at the sight of by-the-glass wine priced at twice as much as your usual bottom shelf bottle. Don’t let them see the panic in your eyes. While Esters can get a bit chaotic inside, the outdoor patio offers a breezy alternative for glamorous al fresco imbibing, but be prepared to wait—this is sought-after real estate. Otherwise, you can buy a bottle and take your cheese and charcuterie to go for a posh picnic on the beach (as long as you don’t mind decanting your fancy wine in solo cups).
The scene: Loud, lively and very Santa Monica, Esters at times feels more like a coffee bar than a wine bar, more business than pleasure. The clientele is a mix of the young and beautiful, the old and rich and the somewhere in-betweens. Around the bar counter inside, iPhones are symmetrically arranged in front of their owners, everyone concerned with finding the best Instagram filter for their burrata. Outside, the atmosphere is decidedly more relaxed, with lounge seating, conversation-friendly noise levels and blissful ignorance to the dozen or so people waiting for your table.
Drink this: Start with a sparkling wine, like the 2014 Bisson Glera Frizzante ($11), essentially a prosecco in all but name that’s dry, soft and slightly fruity. Moving on to rosé, the 2014 Donkey & Goat “Isabel’s Cuvee” Grenache Rosé ($15) is a refreshing antidote to the sickly sweet swill your college roommate drank. It’s bold, bright and balanced, with lively notes of raspberry, cherry and blood orange. Equally refreshing is the Cambiata Albarino ($13), a crisp, floral white that’s perfect for a warm evening on the patio. If you’re into reds, try the 2012 Antidoto Ribera del Duero ($16), a well-rounded Spanish red that’s smooth and sophisticated with lingering notes of blackberry, sassafras and tobacco.
Our tip: It's not all about the wine here. The food menu boasts bar-friendly bites and plates by Rustic Canyon’s chef, Jeremy Fox, plus a worldly selection of fine cheeses and charcuterie. The lightly spiced curry cashews ($7); melted raclette with potatoes, ham and cornishon ($16); and the chicken liver in jar ($13) all make excellent accompaniments to the wine.