As a wine lover I'm always on the lookout for places that will help me expand my knowledge (i.e. palate) and am on a personal search to find the perfect wine bar. Since I have quite an extensive cellar at home, we usually only go to wine bars when we're out of town. I can't blame the Man, who is always the designated driver for wanting to drink at home; however, it drives me a bit crazy since Los Angeles, and it's various suburbs, has a plethora of new bars dedicated to the grape that I'm desperate to visit. Especially because I follow them all, including CorkBar, on Twitter. Despite the lure of CorkBar's tweets, especially the ones about their Test Kitchen Tuesday offerings, their location in Downtown L.A. proved to be more of an obstacle than I anticipated. They've been open for over a year and yet the reality of the ever-clogged 101 Freeway was enough of a buzz kill for even the most intrepid oenophile like me.
At least until one of our Paso Robles winemaker friends decided to do a tasting there. It took our love of Victor Ascabel and his Vines on the Marycrest wines to get us out of the house on a Thursday night and finally into CorkBar. Since we were hitching a ride with a friend, the Man would actually get to drink without worrying about driving, an occurrence so rare he couldn't pass it up. That we made it in time to take advantage of Happy Hour pricing was just icing on the cake.
CorkBar is sleek and modern, yet the floor-to-ceiling windows, warm lighting and reclaimed wood tables, make it comfortable and inviting. While it's only a few blocks away from the Staples Center, the crowd was definitely made up of young professionals stopping off for a glass on their way home or on their way to somewhere louder. The wine list is entirely focused on niche California producers that you don't see very often outside their wineries. It's small, with about 40 wines by the glass, but hits all the right notes with descriptions of each wine, allowing patrons to pick the perfect wine for their mood or food.
The menu is comprised mostly of the usual bar nibbles, but Chef Albert Aviles manages to put a unique spin on each dish. Since it was Happy Hour we tried more items than we usually would with the BBQ Pork Bruschetta with Coriander Coleslaw, Chorizo Bruschetta with Romesco Sauce, Mac & Cheese with Pasilla Chiles and the CorkBar Burger delivering the most bang for the buck.
Though the place was packed, the service was friendly and timely, the food came out quick and hot, and our waitress even managed to split our check numerous times without a hint of attitude. (They even use iPhones to take orders, which really impressed us geeks.) And, thank God, they use proper glassware. Not those tiny, fat-lipped tasting glasses most restaurants sadly employ. That being said, if you're paying $10-20 dollars for a single 6-ounce pour, it better come in a nice, big crystal glass. I understand that many of the wines they pour are unique (and their overhead is high), but I know what they cost, which makes it hard for me to fork that kind of cash over lightly. Since we were doing a special tasting of Vines on the Marycrest wines from the 2006 vintage – 5 pours for $16 – I felt I got my monies worth. Ten ounces to be exact. This was obviously not an issue for most of the other people in the bar, because there wasn't an empty seat in the house – or on either patio – and only about a third of the drinkers were trying the special flight. In the end, you get what you pay for and in the case of CorkBar, it's an unpretentious, yet classy, wine-centric place to spend time swirling your glass and savoring its' contents.
403 West 12th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015
by Nancy Ellison