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Wino Bars in LA
Rin-rin Yu

Suddenly, wine stems are the new cigars. And wine has also proven to be good for the heart and to extend life spans. And just because Los Angeles doesn’t boast its own winery doesn’t mean it’s not a part of California’s wine country. The driving doesn’t stop people from enjoying a good bottle, either (just find a designated driver). Thanks to its in-state location, the best of Napa and Sonoma bypass interstate laws and travel well to the southern part of the state. California’s Central Coast, too, is the up-and-coming shabby-chic of wine. Naturally, wines from around the world have made their way into the growing number of wine bars popping up around town. Their attraction is a low-key, sophisticated atmosphere accompanied with good food and good company—without the invasive pick-up meat market scene (we left those at Q’s). Also left behind are the Paris Hilton outfits and beachwear. Suddenly, girls are wearing knee-length dresses and the guys have ironed their shirts—and everyone is swirling, sniffing, and sipping, even if they have no idea why. The best part is listening in on people pretending to know what they’re talking about. But thanks to wine bars, people are learning there’s more to wine than Sideways and Pinot Noir. Nonetheless, whether you’re looking to mingle with friends, make new ones, or impress a date, LA’s wine bars have become the new living rooms.

photo: Rin-rin Yu

Otheroom is another great addition to the chic yet not-scene-y, Venice-style, nod towards Hollywood on the Abbott Kinney strip. Complete with exposed brick, mood lighting, artwork, and high ceilings, Otheroom is sort of like socializing in someone’s downtown loft. The bar serves a number of wines, champagnes, sparkling wines, ports, sherries, and microbrews (over 60 domestic and imported). Specials are written out on chalkboards highlighted with track lighting. Even on a Tuesday evening, the bar is fairly full—groups of friends, second dates, and some after-work locals gather in need of a glass of wine to burn off the work day. You won’t find too many beach bums in this establishment (or along much of Abbott Kinney)—the gentrified Venice comes to Otheroom to enjoy its lounge-style seating and swivel bar stools. No food is offered here, but you can order delivery to the bar. If you’re hoping for deep conversation, sit close to your companion—the music, unfortunately, can take away from the otherwise cozy experience. On a weekend evening, the wine buzz can be deteriorated as you push your way towards the bar and fight for a place to gather with your friends over a bottle of wine.

photo: Rin-rin Yu
Air Conditioned
Bold is a good way to define Air Conditioned. Small but cozy, AC is a hidden jewel in the otherwise scuzzier, darker parts of Pico on the Santa Monica-West LA border. Decorated in retromahogany, orange and red hues, and a glowing bar, patrons enjoy their drinks at funky freeform tables wide enough for a couple wine glasses and a cheese board. This wine venue hosts tamer, regular tastings on Tuesday evenings for $10—
check the website for event listings. We happened upon a tasting run by Jenny, one of its distributors, featuring mostly red wines, with a worksheet and aroma/taste wheel to help distinguish the different flavors associated with the wine. In contrast to its sophisticated colleagues, Air Conditioned is an interesting juxtaposition of “hot” and “classy”—almost an underground club for those who appreciate both. DJs regularly play beats for patrons to groove along as they sip wines, beers, and specialty cocktails (a full bar is available). On weekends, the place will get packed with those hopping the Pico Boulevard scene (dark, pick-up bars like Arsenal and Liquid Kitty are usually on their agenda). As a result, this isn’t your ordinary wine bar—make sure to show a little more skin than you imagine is appropriate for such an uppity beverage.

Bodega Bar
Don’t expect to be twirling stems in this bar—in either its Pasadena or Santa Monica locations. Wines come in $8 tumblers, $20 carafes, or $30 bottles, meant to drink, not sniff or discuss. Same goes for its menu of appetizers—meant for eating and easing off the alcohol absorption, not tasting. But it’s hard not to have conversations about the wine and food—after all, both go so well together, like comfort cuisine. Some of our favorites include the cheese plate with four varieties, apples and grapes; the prosciutto-wrapped honeydew; and the hummus. While some are disappointed by Bodega’s lack of swirling and sipping, others enjoy its clean, modern deco furniture and candlelit atmosphere. Modern beats from the DJ keep the mood young and hip—like their patrons. Either to the dismay or joy of single guys, groups of girlfriends like to gather for birthdays around the table with balloons and gifts—but for the most part, everyone else is there to meet and greet their friends. Its Santa Monica location is hard to find, partly because of its unlikely location off Lincoln Avenue, mostly because there’s no sign—but once inside, it’s every bit of the place to be.

photo: Rin-rin Yu

A.O.C. stands for Appellation d’Origine Controlee, the same name as the wine governing body in France. But far from being a rigid lawmaker, this chic minimalist venue—rectangular tables swathed in white with black booth seating—lets the food presentation do the decorating. Located among some of the hip restaurants and shops east of West Hollywood, A.O.C. is almost more of a restaurant than a bar. It offers an incredible menu of cheeses from France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Washington, which alone can make for a great meal with different wines. But, once you cross over to the dark side with its small plates, there’s no going backwards.
Its tasty tapas of salamis, crudités, sweet-and-salty bites, and unique creations make the art of eating so wonderful. Pair with a wine from its extensive and customer-friendly list (there are at least 23 glasses that are under $7 and many bottles under $50—allowing room in the wallet to sample a few). It’s hard to stay away after one visit—you have to return, again and again, to eat your way through the rest of the food and wine menu.

Bin 8945
Tucked away in the heart of West Hollywood’s gay district, Bin 8945 pops out with amazing food and an equally amazing wine list. Think about staying for a meal, and the experience will be beyond any found in West Hollywood. The Jamaican chicken is an absolute must, as is anything with vegetables from the Farmers’ Market down the street. The other dishes, however, may be hit or miss, depending on your tastes. If you’re a little clueless about wine, owner and wine expert David will help you choose one within your tastes and budget. Best times to go are probably not during popular nights. Quieter nights will give you the attention and service that Bin 8945 is so all about.

photo: Rin-rin Yu
Boa Steakhouse
Though not really a wine bar, this is a favorite wine spot of many. Boa has many wines by the glass and a great list by the bottle. Customers don’t have to come for dinner—they can enjoy a glass at the bar and be inspired to eat as well (the steaks are as good as they should be, for a steakhouse). There’s also an outdoor patio area hidden with ocean views across the street, heated with gas lamps to keep you warm but your wine cool. On Sunday evenings, wine bottles are discounted 50 percent—giving a great opportunity to sample those fancier
bottles with a few friends. Bottles are stored in neat rows in a glass cellar, within teasing range of wine geeks who make the trip to either LA location on Sundays. Along with its West Hollywood and Las Vegas locations, Boa is hardly low-maintenance—many a Hollywood exec tries to slip off for a quiet evening there only to be surrounded by a roomful of the same. But don’t be discouraged if name-dropping isn’t your forte—at the
very least, you can learn to name-drop a few of Boa’s prize wines and buy them at 50 percent off.

Wine events

Lastly, for those who’d like to learn a little about what they’re tasting, there are a few shops and classes that focus on teaching wine. LearnAboutWine is a one-of-a-kind wine education program featuring monthly TASTE events with more than 40 wines for $50. Founder Ian Blackburn is a wine icon in Los Angeles with many, many connections to wineries around the state, country, and the world, frankly. He brings in many wineries who will discuss their winemaking at TASTE events, and also experts on cheese, chocolate, oysters, and even spirits and beer. Check the website for events and get on the mailing list for frequent updates and reminders at www.learnaboutwine.com. For those who live way further east, Colorado Wine Company is the only reason I ever drive east of La Brea. This shop features a tasting bar with daily events featuring six varietals at prices ranging from $4 to $12 a glass, and a knowledgeable staff who can help pick out the right bottle for any occasion. There’s no food at the Colorado Wine Company, but food can be delivered. Recently, Bottle Rock in Culver City opened its doors, also with a tasting room, bar, and shop. They do offer bite-size snacks and show how it pairs nicely with different selections. You can also walk into the shop, pick out a bottle, and the salesperson will uncork and pour it for you, for a per-glass price, to enjoy in the shop surrounded by its 700+ different types of wine. So, bottoms up! A la sante!

Listings associated with this Feature:

Air Conditioned Colorado Wine Company
Bodega Wine Bar

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