Where to Drink Wine Downtown

Posted by Glenn Gritzner on June 11, 2011

Hello Enthusiasts –

You all know that I appreciate the craft and creativity that goes into good cocktails, much like I appreciate the craft and creativity that go into good cooking.  And Downtown is certainly known for spearheading the cocktail renaissance in Los Angeles.  But sometimes, you just want a really good glass of wine in a nice environment.  There’s something about the civility and history of wine that no other spirit can match.

Which got me thinking:  where are the best places to get a glass of wine in Downtown?  You don’t always think of Downtown offering many places that are wine-centric, but I’m betting there are more than you think.  Some of them you know, and some I’ve written about before … but some of them you don’t, or you don’t always think of.  (every time I write something like that, somebody sends me an email afterwards bragging that they already knew all the places.  OK, you win.)

So without further adieu, and in no particular order, here we go (sorry for the lack of pictures – too much of a pain to post this many):

CorkBar
12th & Grand
CorkBar starts the list because it’s the biggest and, I think, best real “wine bar” in Downtown.  (RIP, The Must – which is supposed to reopen this fall)  CorkBar serves actively good food (get the gougeres), has a huge selection, is lively and fun at night, and “feels” like Downtown, with all the loft denizens and hip-but-friendly servers.  Go there instead of LA Live next time you’re going to Staples or Nokia.  Or, go for lunch, when it’s less crowded and you probably won’t run into anyone you know while you’re sneaking a glass of wine with your meal.

Bottle Rock
1050 S. Flower (but you enter on 11th – around the corner from Rivera)
This sister to the original Bottle Rock in Culver City is in a random ground floor space that’s easy to miss just driving by.  It’s deceptively large, with a lounge area on one side, and cocktail tables scattered throughout.  The wine bottles are displayed on shelves, and it feels a little like a wine shop – which is OK, but not as inviting as I’d like it to be.  But the deal at Bottle Rock is that as long as you’re willing to commit to two glasses, they’ll open any bottle.  The per glass prices are about 1/3 the bottle price, so you’re paying a little more than you otherwise would, but if you’ve always wanted to try that $1,000 bottle of wine, you can try it for $333.  Assuming your friend is having a glass, too.

Mignon
128 E. 6th St., a couple doors up from Cole’s
I’m going to be honest: I’ve never actually sat down inside Mignon and had a glass of wine.  Why?  It’s verrrry small, and somewhat sparse inside, so I never actually commit.  But it’s so close to Cole’s, the Association, Las Perlas, and all the other great places around 6th & Main, that you can always pop in as a way to start the night, and I hear reasonably good things about their food.  Plus, they carry obscure wines from around the world, and will walk you through them if you ask.

Swill Automatic
1820 Industrial Street, a couple doors down from Church & State
This place is a fun find.  It’s in the Arts District and pretty small, but it’s worth checking out.  You buy a card in $20, $30, $50 or $100 increments, and there are wine bottles all over the place connected to a dispensing system, with descriptions to guide you through – and the helpful staff will also point you in a couple of directions.  Once you find what you like, you put your glass under the dispenser, punch a button, and get a nice little pour.  It’s a great way to sample different wines.  Plus, the kitchen is much better than it has to be for a pretty small place – lots of housemade, interesting items.  And when I was there, one of the wines we wanted wasn’t dispensing, so the guy unhooked it and gave us each a relatively full glass of it, no questions asked, no charge.  Little things like that make all the difference.

The Gallery Bar at the Biltmore
5th & Grand
This is the antithesis of Swill.  It’s a stately old bar in a stately old hotel, but it feels perfect for that after work glass of wine, swathed in civilized comfort.  People don’t always think of heading into the Biltmore just to grab a glass of wine, but there may be no place in Downtown more suitable for doing just that.

Checkers
5th & Grand – across the street from the Biltmore
OK, so the lobby bar at Checkers feels a little corporate, and is probably full of business travelers.  But it’s got that boutique hotel feel, they pour a good glass of wine, and if people don’t always think of the Biltmore, they even more rarely think of popping into Checkers.  It’s just something different, is certainly comfortable, and you won’t see anyone you know, in case that matters.

Gourmet Wines and Spirits
626 Wilshire Blvd., near Grand
This place is admittedly pretty random.  It’s more of a wine and liquor store then a place to go grab a glass of wine, but they do have a place to sit down, and they’ll pour you a glass of wine.  Just try to ignore the guys playing poker or watching soccer.  And if you need a place to BUY wine on your way to somebody’s going away party that you forgot to bring a present for, then this is just the place.  And even better?  They’ll actually deliver wine to your office.  For when it’s been one of those days.

So there you have it.  Certainly you can get a glass of wine at any restaurant in Downtown, but for those nights when you and your friend say “let’s go have a glass of wine”, now you know where to go.

Happy travels.