Wine bars have well and truly shaken off their outmoded image as hushed preserves of swirling, sniffing (and snobbish) oenophiles. Lists once stacked with blue chips now accurately reflect the diversity of the global wine world. Connoisseurs and casual sippers alike gather at vino-centric establishments for a glass or several, often accompanied by creative fare that aspires beyond the traditional meat and cheese board. Some of these multifunctional drinking destinations even serve—gasp—craft beer. Read on for our picks across the country, from the best wine bars in NYC to San Francisco’s top tippling spots.
Best wine bars in America
A visit to Augustine is like stopping by your oenophile buddy’s home to sample some rare vintage wine. Matthew Kaner and Dustin Lancaster (who also own the equally stellar Bar Covell) have carved out a little slice of heaven in Sherman Oaks, complete with black truffle cheese plates, $6 tater tots and some of the rarest vino you’ll find in the valley, let alone the entire city. Soak up the jazz humming through the sound system and sink into a worn-in sofa as you get your money’s worth out of the 1964 Chateau Latour Pauillac that caught your eye on the chalkboard behind the bar. Don’t know what you want? Find your nearest bartender. The staff know the menu like the back of their hands and will find exactly what you are looking for—or what you weren’t, which makes it all too easy to burn a hole in your wallet.
The novella-length menu at this cozy, low-key Humboldt Park alcove contains loving and helpful descriptions of an impressive selection of wines and beers. But if you still have no idea where to start, ask—everyone behind the bar is willing to let you taste through options until you find a wine you’ll love. The list includes lots of gems, most for less than $10 a glass, and the majority of bottles are under $100. To fuel all the wine-drinking, Rootstock’s food menu includes an array of small plates served until 1am. The grub leans gastropub, and the menu changes daily, but you’ll always be able to order an excellent cheese and charcuterie plate, with a silky, house-made chicken liver pate and a rotating selection of interesting cheeses. This is the kind of warm, simple neighborhood place you’ll never want—or need—to leave.
Bergamot Alley; Healdsburg, CA
Bergamot Alley owner Kevin Wardell injects good humor, craft beer and live music into Sonoma’s wine bar scene—without pouring a single glass of California juice. “Why bring sand to the beach?” he explains. Instead, Wardell focuses on Old World wines in his narrow space off Healdsburg’s quaint town square. Industry locals mix with in-the-know tourists for weekly concerts, trivia and game nights (e.g., cribbage and Cards against Humanity), while noshing on creative bar fare like a blue cheese, bacon and rosemary-potato version of grilled cheese, or skipping straight to the point and ordering the “cup o’ bacon.”
In cocktail-crazed NOLA, drinkers suffering a dearth of wine bar options have turned Bywater’s Bacchanal in into their vinous refuge. Billing itself as a “wine laboratory where food, music and culture collude with Holy Vino,” Bacchanal’s neighborhood-block-party vibe fosters easy friendships across the spread of courtyard tables. Inside the wine shop-cum-bar, shelves are stocked with subtle and earthy Old World labels sourced from boutique producers. It’s still NOLA, however, so live musicians perform seven days a week and the minimalist Mediterranean food skews heavily toward swine.
When this unassuming wine bar opened in Dogpatch in 2006, featuring a list of almost entirely sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines, there were skeptics aplenty. But Yield is still going strong, an anchor in a neighborhood that’s grown into a mecca for locavore restaurants, artisan food purveyors and craftspeople. Its popularity inspired the owners to open a bigger, splashier spinoff in up-and-coming mid-Market/Hayes Valley. Yield draws a more low-key crowd than its sister, Pause, many of whom come to sample unusual varieties such as Italian Malvasia and Croatian Plavac Mali, while sampling inventive vegetarian and pescetarian fare (grilled flatbreads, chèvre-stuffed dates, cod sliders).
Husband-and-wife team Mark and Liz Mendez celebrate all things Spanish at relaxed West Loop wine bar, Vera. Sommelier Liz has assembled an excellent sherry program, and all the servers can direct you toward a glass, but if sherry doesn’t suit you, there’s a huge, mostly Spanish wine list, including flights and wines on tap. Mark handles food, and we’re fans of the hearty paella, perfectly seasoned lamb meatballs and the generous cheese and charcuterie plate. The place is also a haven for daytime wine drinkers—a breakfast and lunch menu features coffee and tea paired with sherry, plus snacks like doughnuts, English muffins and a tortilla espanola.
Crush Wine Bistro & Cellar, Anchorage, Alaska
The existence of Crush in Anchorage demonstrates how deeply wine culture has penetrated into the farthest corners of America. In fact, according to co-owner Chad Culley, the biggest challenge has been introducing new ideas in an already strong market hooked on “blue chip Cali fare.” Crush regularly imports directly to secure bottles unavailable through local channels, resulting in a generous 40 by-the-glass list pulled from more than 400 Euro-centric labels. Patrons seated around a central bar can dine on local fare (think salmon and halibut), while sampling themed tastings like a trio of “green” Vinho Verdes, or a comparison of volcanic vino in the “up from the ashes” flight.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Shane Taylor
Boston’s beloved sommelier Cat Sirilie (repeatedly awarded Beantown’s best by local press) has been the cornerstone of restaurateur Barbara Lynch’s wine programs for over two decades. Thus, it’s no surprise that the Butcher Shop, a tribute to old-world boucheries inspired by Lynch’s travels through Europe, would have an excellent wine list. Sirilie matches meat-heavy dishes to mostly Italian, French and Spanish selections hailing from important and offbeat regions like Bordeaux and the Canary Islands, respectively. Daily offerings scribbled in chalk on the blackboard wall aim to evoke a casual neighborhood wine bar vibe, but consistent crowds have turned the Butcher Shop (also an actual butcher shop) into an advance-reservation dining destination.