Wine bars are like snowflakes: each one is distinct in look and feel, wine selection and vibe. Customers play a role, too, influencing what gets placed on the wine list and the food menu. We looked at Bay Area wine bars and found a few where we want to hang out, chill, drink a glass or two of wine, learn something new. It’s the IRL part we like best.
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Savvy Cellar
One Ferry Building, Store #23, San Francisco
Wines: International and California wines of distinction.
Why Visit: Owner/Partner and Master Sommelier Peter Granoff’s wine bar was the fourth business to open at the city’s iconic Ferry Building after it was renovated in 2003 and has been pouring a heavily curated list ever since. “People expect it to be California-centric, but there is a large international component that appeals to locals,” Granoff says. Granoff offers what he calls “high-quality wine that represents a good value proposition” in 2 oz., 5 oz. and carafe-size pours or you can self-construct a flight. “Grab any wine off our shelf and drink onsite for $12 corkage,” Granoff insists, an amount unheard of in San Francisco. Granoff invites you to play with your wine, pairing it with caviar, plates of charcuterie and cheese, or a Mediterranean mezze plate. “Explore your own taste parameters,” he says while enjoying the terrific people watching on the patio. Almost 20 years on, it’s still a scene.
2800 California Street, San Francisco
Wines: Winner of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2021 for the fourth consecutive year, a score for a six-year-old business.
Wine is women,” says Owner/Wine Therapist Tim Skyler Hayman, who confirmed that 85% of his clientele are of the so-called fairer sex. Around a cool zinc bar, two big couches and four comfy chairs encourage lounging with a 6-ounce pour (the standard here) of eclectic wines from anywhere in the world. Hand-painted murals show the world’s wine regions and a significant investment in sound proofing means guests can hear themselves talk, even when there is live music (six days a week). A bottomless brunch is insanely popular on the weekends, but most come in for Hayman’s guidance on what to pair with their extensive menus. At dinner that might be a medium-bodied red grape — Monica from Sardinia — with the pork ragu while at brunch, Chef Jeff’s NOLA roots come to the forefront in a fried catfish Benedict or house made beignets — his burger also won Best Burger from the SF Bay Guardian two years running. “We also do flights, but our most popular program is the bartender’s choice, which we say is a wine therapy session,” Hayman adds.
, San Francisco
Why Visit: Forty-nine years on Chestnut Street (it first opened in 1974) with a specialty in small California wine producers is the winning ticket for a wine bar that pours half and full glasses or a bottle. There are also new discoveries from Oregon and Washington as well as a well-curated selection of international labels. A small menu of cheese, salami, or hummus plates staves off hunger until dinner can be had nearby.
Amelie — Le Bar a Vin
Music sourced from French radio floats over the red-tinted room, aglow with warmly lighted lamps. At the bar or at a table, the Flight Club Happy Hour includes three pours for $12 and the weekend oyster special runs $13. “We always talk about F AMELIE,” says Michel, who has clients who come back every time they visit San Francisco. He currently is recommending the beef carpaccio with any of the 15 cru Beaujolais on the Amelie list or the warm pistachio goat cheese ball with Minervois from Didda’s Domaine du Somail in the Languedoc.
Azarkman, who was drawn in via sherry’s beguiling whispers, notes that there are eight styles of sherry, “and seven of them have less sugar than most table wines. Sherry is very food friendly.” Think of his neighborhood watering hole as an alternate reality where California is still a Spanish territory. “We are not authentically Spanish,” he says. His suggested pairing? Azarkman swears by the old Spanish saying: “If it swims, manzanilla or fino, if it flies, amontillado or palo cortado, and if it runs, oloroso.”
More Local Favorites in the Bay Area
The Double Standard
A full bar and happy hour specials draw crowds to this low-key neighborhood lounge with a large patio. There are many reasons to come here: the great outdoor space, really good drinks, killer music and friendly service. You really can’t go wrong. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday 5pm to 12am. Closed Monday and Tuesday. doublestandardbar.com