Like the coffeehouses of Europe, the wine bar has become the social meeting place of choice for South Floridians. They offer customers affordable yet diversified wine lists paired with delicious food amid stylized interiors, sensuous lighting and engaging background music. And what brings in the crowds is the option to pick out a favorite (or try a new) bottle, nosh on tapas, small plates, or chef-prepared specials, and chat up friends in a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Wine bar staffers are there to please the customer, not scare them off with fancy prices and haughty behavior. The idea is to make drinking wine more fun for everyone. “We are not intimidating, and we want the customer to learn about a wide range of wines and not feel embarrassed to ask questions about the retail inventory or the food,” says Coco Bouabid, General Manager of Wine Depot & Bistro 555, an international wine store-bar, bistro and event space on South Beach. “Wine bars are all the rage today because customers’ needs are changing.” Here are some notable ones worth checking out.
Wine Depot & Bistro 555
Philippe Buchbinder and Jean Luc Oizan Chapon opened this relaxed yet sophisticated wine bar and al fresco café about a year ago to meet the demands of both casual and sophisticated food and wine denizens. With a 6,700-square-foot wine area divided into a private cold cellar, VIP Vintage Room for 16 with flat-screen TV, retail aisles and racks, barrel dining tables, and an eat-on bar, plus a charming 2,250-square-foot outdoor dining patio, Wine Depot & Bistro 555 offers an international backdrop with affordable prices. (And the outdoor portion is dog friendly!)
Choose from more than 400 wines (about $10-$200 a bottle, with the priciest at nearly $1,500) from France, South Africa, Spain, Chile, Argentina and America. Buy vino by the glass or bottle, and enjoy it with delicious cheese plates, creamy homemade foie gras, and daily specials from peppercorn-crusted venison loins to crispy duck breast, or bouillabaisse with sea bass, shrimp, scallops and fresh flounder. Try the Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert—just divine.
The sommelier and servers are well versed on wines and pairings and anyone working can answer questions with no hesitation or indifference. Scattered art from French cabarets add to the foreign feel with chatty crowds raving about their find.
“Our goal is to be a place where guests can discover new wines, great tastes and a fresh lifestyle,” says Buchbinder. “We are all about sharing and engaging, pursuing new things in a relaxed environment.” 555 Jefferson Ave., Miami Beach, 305.672.6161; winedepotmiami.com.
This tony wine bar and retail emporium is located amid Harrison Street’s trendy shops, galleries and clubs, and offers 600 different wines, both domestic and imported ($7.99-$200 a bottle). Select brands are regularly placed out on the bar, ready for free tasting. Artisan cheeses, pâtés, salami, sausages and other small plate specials are part of the mix when locals come to see and be seen, especially on Friday nights when it is jam packed, or on Tuesday nights for wine tastings.
“This wine bar was established to reflect current gastronomic trends,” says owner Steven Krakow, who attracts a mixed crowd. “People like smaller food offerings yet still desire gourmet experiences in casual, comfortable settings.” Both Krakow and his head bartender, Ian Falconi, are well versed on their wines, which mostly come from Australia, France, California and Central America. Both gentlemen will also special order requests and are happy to regale customers with any information they need on wines and pairings as both are experts and love their bubbles.
The decor is sexy and rich, with dark wood wine cases, hanging lights and a dominant wood bar with a shiny marble top. For those who want a larger meal to share with their favorite wine, Cafe Volare, located next door, will bring Italian pastas and seafood entrées to Hollywood Vine customers and set them a place at one of the tables, or even along the bar. “With our flatscreens, customers can enjoy recorded concerts, movies and sporting events while drinking their favorite wines and sampling food,” says Krakow. “And hopefully, they’ll meet new friends while they are here. It’s all about the experience.” 2035 Harrison St., Hollywood, 954.922.2910; hvine.com.