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Wine bars are a terrible idea. Wine's supposed to be drunk with food, not scholastically swirled, sniffed and sipped. And customers can't catch a break when it's sold by the glass, since restaurants always charge handsomely for opening a bottle that may go unfinished. Finally, as Grub Street last year pointed out in a post concluding that most wine bars are dreadful, "Bars are fun. Wine bars are not."
But there's a spate of contradicting evidence in Seattle. The following bars aren't kitschy or stuffy or boring: They're actually pretty good venues in which to enjoy wine. As always, the finalists are presented in no particular order; Erin Thompson compiled our contributors' comments and the images weren't shot at the listed bars (so far as we know.) That's it for the not-fun stuff: On to the wine bars.
At Smash Wine Bar, you can order edibles appropriate for any level of hunger, ranging a handful of Marcona almonds to a smoked half chicken on a bed of cheesy grits. There's also homemade cornbread, a luscious truffled mac and cheese, and build-your-own cheese boards; it's a delectable selection of eats that goes down perfectly with Smash's cutely named flights of wine. For whites, there's Agree To Gree--three selection of pinot grigio and gris--and for reds, there's Washington Redskins (all in-state reds) and He Who Is Without Zin (as in, of course, zinfandel).
9. Village Wines
Woodinville's Village Wines is a lively, kid-friendly, multipurpose space--husband-and-wife owners Lisa and Tim Bowen offer live music, Stumptown coffee, football on the big screen, breakfast, pizza, and simple but flavorful tapas (hot wings, hummus, truffle fries, crostini). The main focus, though, is the wine--Village keeps things interesting by rotating its tasting menu weekly, although the selection is always primarily Northwestern. If you like what you drink, stop by the retail store on your way out and pick up a bottle to take home.
8. The Cask
The Cask in West Seattle stylizes itself as a laid-back, old-world public house--there's dim lighting, dark wood interiors (but they still have TVs for football-viewing), and a simple food menu of baguettes, olives, cheese, and salads. Wine-wise, they offer an even mix of Northwestern, South American, French, and Italian reds and whites, and they live up to their name by offering wines on tap. The selection changes, but Washington's superior Proletariat and Piccola Cellars are usually well-represented.
Fonte Cafe has been enjoyed for years at high-end resorts, but it was only in 2009 that Seattle got to have a real retail taste, with the opening of the Fonte Cafe and Wine Bar on the first floor of the new Four Seasons downtown. It's an elegantly appointed space, offering local and European wines--including a few lovely selections of bubbly--by the glass, bottle, and half-bottle. You'd be a fool not to take advantage of the food, too, which is also miles beyond what you get at the usual coffee shop, in freshness, style, and taste.
A lovely wine bar in Madrona, Bottlehouse has a homey feel. Maybe that's because it's located on the main floor of an old house; wines from its downstairs neighbor--Wilridge Winery--are among the featured pours. Take a seat on the deck if the weather's fine and sip something from the ever-changing list. Let the staff line up a flight, either beer or wine, and if you find something you're crazy about, there's a small retail shop up front where you can buy bottles and boozy accessories.
There are few nicer places to spend a romantic winter night than Marche, preferably in a seat overlooking the Puget Sound. The French bistro fare here is sturdy and designed to complement the restaurant's smart list of affordable wines. A glass of red wine and Marche's terrific onion gratin--which is something like French onion soup without the liquid--is a better edible antidote to nippy nights than hot chocolate.
Wine lovers can go elsewhere to pontificate about sulfites and vintages: The infectiously noisy Purple Cafe is designed for classy good-timing. There are entrees on the menu, but the young money crowd which congregates here after work or before symphony concerts knows to stick to the small plate list, which offers smart accompaniments to the restaurant's thematic flights and ample by-the-glass selection. Living up to the cafe's name, the wine menu is extensive, offering mostly domestic selections but also a decent variety of imported wines from Europe and Australia.
Locöl Barley & Vine made a lot of residents happy when it opened, not in The Junction where the cool stuff usually resides, but rather just off 35th in a former tanning salon. It's got everything a neighborhood bar needs: a fireplace for when it's cold, a patio for when it's warm, cozy tables with pillows when you don't want to sit on a stool, and really cool salvaged-looking light fixtures that keep you from looking salvaged when you've tied on one too many. The wine and beer list is 95 percent Washington and Oregon and the food is 100 percent creative. In addition to its weekday happy hours, Locöl offers wine discounts from noon to 6 p.m. on weekends. Talk about a good neighbor.
A cozy, two-story wine bar with clean, sophisticated architecture and soft lighting, Poco Wine Room in Capitol Hill begs to be discovered. This spot is the perfect place to catch up with an old friend over a sampling of wines and good food, including the mac and cheese. The bar downstairs gets crowded with well-groomed men just off work, while couples tuck into more intimate seating in the loft space upstairs. Wherever you choose to settle, Poco prides itself on its selection of local wines: The majority of its offerings hail from Washington and Oregon, including several unusual varietals you might not find elsewhere. For those who'd rather taste their way around a wine list rather than committing to a whole bottle, half of Poco's 40-bottle wine list is available by the glass. You won't find a full meal here, though you could fill your belly with a series of small plates.
At Portalis Wine Bar, the main facade is composed of glass doors that open up for tangerine and indigo tinted sunsets, creating a spillover onto rustic-chic Ballard Avenue. Considering the interior of Portalis (abstract art hung from exposed brick walls, a library of wine shelved near worn-out signs for Ford and Yick Kee Laundry), the flow between the two is perfectly natural; Ballard Avenue is now far from rustic, but still stubborn enough to resist looking chic. Wine by the glass ranges from a California syrah to a Burgundy chardonnay, while the Small Bites menu boasts a Fresh Market Cheese plate that changes, presumably, with each visit. Every two weeks, a seasonal special hits the menu, crafted specifically to match a featured wine. These are first-rate, often name-brand samples of their various kinds, and priced accordingly.