Uncorking LA’s Corkbar


Almost overnight – kind of like those neighborhoods one passes while driving on the I-15 to Vegas – wine bars have popped up all over LA. Although this is merry news for those of the drinking persuasion, it’s understandable that many folks would prefer not to traipse around, all over Los Angeles, as they try to choose a favorite.

To this end, I have made it my solemn duty to try every single one and report back to you, dear reader, on the atmosphere, personality and quality of the menu at each of these watering holes for winos.

The sacrifices I make for my people…

First up – Corkbar!

My first visit to this California-centric “gastrobar” was through an invitation from Corkbar’s PR firm. Caleb Wines and John McGonigle, two of the four partners in this endeavor (the other two are Garry Muir and Chris Schiffman), hosted a small group of bloggers to sample their food and wine, and to talk about their brain child: They had been traveling California’s Central Coast, and really wanted to recreate a space that had a similar kind of laid back, friendly vibe, in LA. They looked for an “emerging neighborhood” and a list of wines/beer that anyone – inexperienced to expert – would find approachable, and – viola! – Corkbar was born.

Corkbar is situated in the southeast corner of the Evo building in downtown LA (403 W. 12th St.). Designed by Ana Henton and Gregory Williams of Los Angeles-based MASS Architecture and Design, the high ceilings, sparse wood/cork interior and mood lighting give Corkbar a decidedly urban/metro feel. This is balanced by a local-loving outdoor firepit and two patios that add familiar, cozy warmth to the entire place. Corkbar feels like the perfect spot for a first date or a night out for people who want to eat and drink well without spending unholy wads of cash; a dish of scallops, spinach, bacon and brown butter ($24) is the most expensive item on the fall menu (Corkbar offers a seasonal Farmers Market menu, as well as a list of permanent fare). But most dishes are under $15 (ranging from soups, salads and sandwiches to mussels, macaroni and cheese, and the undeniably delicious Root Beer Braised Short Ribs with Cheesy Polenta ($16)). Their extensive by-the-glass drink list includes several wines and beers priced under $10 each. For an even better deal, their Test Kitchen Tuesdays (TKT) serves up trial dishes by Chef Albert Aviles, priced at $2 each.

Corkbar currently offers about 50 wines by the bottle and 75 by the glass, mostly from California – although they do stock several champagnes and will sometimes offer international tasting flights. They describe their beer menu as “a flavorful list of drafts and bottles by breweries from San Diego to Sonoma,” with an emphasis on local and craft brews.

Is Corkbar the “Cheers” of downtown LA? Well…in a word…no – but only because it feels so swanky. With great descriptions on the menu and prices that run the gamut (I had a $25 glass of 2007 Shaffer Merlot; bottle prices range from about $34 to $650 (for a 2006 Bryant Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon)), Corkbar is “everyman’s wine bar” – if everyman is looking for an upscale/downtown kind of vibe, at very affordable prices.

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes

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