What makes a good wine bar?

Wine bars are springing up like fungi after a rain. It’s as if everyone read the same glowing press release declaring an onslaught of wine consumers and feverishly birthed a business plan. Each bar owner seems to have an original idea of what these masses need to become more comfortable in their grape skins: Cutesy, amateurish names for wine types and tastes of grossly overpriced juice spit from a card-fed machine? Do people really require gimmicks? Frankly, I don’t think so. They want to be comfortable, not be ripped off and to communicate with a human being.

I’m probably projecting my need (with a hint of rancor) for a place to hang, but my dream can’t be so extreme that I live alone on my perfect wine bar island. Wine falls into the social lubricant category, but not like spirits or beer. For whatever reason, it has evolved into the beverage of choice for people who want to peacefully bond with friends while nurturing a nice buzz. It’s not chugged or chased; it’s sipped and savored, even in a crowded bar setting. To achieve this level of friend Zen, cushy furniture becomes crucial and loud or live music just doesn’t belong.

The trend of inhuman equipment proffering $3 samples of $10 dollar retail wine not only nauseates me, it doesn’t spread wine knowledge. With no genuine human interaction, how does a willing participant choose what to drink? Referencing sticky notes bearing vacuous descriptions from the Internet (or written by a corporate wonk) or questionable wine magazine ratings? Sadly, a hapless customer getting assistance at a “machine” bar is about as likely as getting help in a big box wine store. In an age when e-communication reigns, nothing can replace live, face-to-face interaction with someone who loves and knows the beverage. It feeds a yearning to learn.

Now let’s talk selection and price. The best wine lists are a mix of familiar and eclectic labels and a balance of old world (European) and new world (everywhere else) choices. Crappy exchange rates and the cost of fuel create higher wholesale European bottle prices (with the striking exception of Spain), making them less affordable. But not all of them. It requires a zealous, thoughtful wine bar owner/manager to spend time finding deals, but in the end, it will pay off with loyalty and frequent purchases.

I’ve beleaguered the wanton pricing of wines by the glass. And I’ll continue to harp: Get a clue bar owners. Especially in a recessionary period, consumers plead for affordable wines by the glass and bottle. Yes, business owners obviously have to make rent, pay employees and marketing expenses, but the alternative is an empty establishment, right? As the recession sinks in, value propositions will gain momentum and those who don’t move quickly might end up like a squished mushroom after I mow my lawn.

Am I right here? I’m interested in hearing opinions about your favorite wine bar and why. And hey, if you’ve got some extra cash laying around and want to invest in a wine bar concept, shoot me an email, a tweet (@tayloreason) or befriend me on Facebook and we’ll talk.

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