We’ve all been there. Packed elbow to elbow in a booth, beer in hand, craning our necks to hear a friend’s story over the din of Journey on the jukebox. Yes, the corner pub deserves its place in the pantheon of weekend diversions. Occasionally, however, it’d be nice to sit back, relax, and enjoy a beverage with friends, minus the boisterous crowd and deafening music.
Fortunately, the increasingly popular wine bar provides just that opportunity. Wine bars — low-key, conversation-friendly hangouts whose drink menus consist almost exclusively of wine — started popping up decades ago, but have flourished only in recent years. Why? One reason is the drink itself. Americans today love wine: By 2012, we’re poised to surpass the Italians, bottle for bottle, as the beverage’s biggest consumers. Another reason is an apparently growing demand for an easygoing night out. Think of the wine bar as the cozy coffeehouse on the corner that serves up alcohol instead of lattes.
The five Valley bars listed here — all of which opened in the past two years and also serve bistro dishes — operate in that spirit of bonhomie. Says Kevin Moran, the co-owner of Hudson’s (p.m.) Wine Bar: “I wanted to offer a place that was more comfortable. Like someone’s home, except with an 18-foot marble bar in the middle.”
Continue to The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark
The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark
The scene: Everyone from laid-back college students to politicians unwinding from a long day of legislating at the State House.
The list: A whopping 220-plus bottles (about 70-80 varieties are available by the glass), split evenly during the springtime between whites and reds. $7-$11 a glass; $28-$400 a bottle.
The favorite: Tobiano Pinot Noir, if you’re seeing red, or Dragonstone Riesling for white-lovers.
Don’t miss: Local artists showcase their latest work here on the first Friday of every month, transforming the hot spot into part-bar, part-exhibit.
â–º The Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark
Open Sun.-Thurs. 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5 p.m.-12 a.m.
Continue to (p.m.) Wine Bar
(p.m.) Wine Bar
The scene: A mix of visitors from NYC and locals. Departing weekenders stop by on their way to the train station, lending a lively buzz to Sunday afternoons at the bar.
The list: About 40 red, white, sparkling, and sherry wines, with an emphasis on Spanish varieties. $7-$13 a glass; $26-$75 a bottle.
The favorite: The 2005 Marquis de Concordia Rioja Crianza. A smooth, dry, medium-bodied red aged in oak for over 18 months. “It goes with a great variety of things on our tapas menu,” Moran says.
Don’t miss: The “Flights to Iberia!” option allots you three glasses of select wines for $20.
â–º (p.m.) Wine Bar
Open Wed.-Thurs. 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5 p.m.-12 a.m., Sun. 3-9 p.m.
Continue to Elephant Wine Bar
Elephant Wine Bar
The scene: Frequented by professional, foodie types in their mid-30s. “Kind of the East Village stuck into Kingston,” chef Rich Reeve explains. Tuesdays are the most popular weeknight.
The list: An ever-changing menu of about 20 wines. Mostly Spanish, with a handful of French and Italian selections. $5-$10 a glass; $22-$36 a bottle.
The favorite: The Loios from Portugal, a medium-bodied red with a touch of oak.
Don’t miss: Elephant’s “underground” wines — the bar features selections from underappreciated, lesser known winemaking regions such as the Yecla subregion of Spain.
â–º Elephant Wine Bar
Open Tues.-Sat. 4-10 p.m.
Continue to Chill Wine Bar
Chill Wine Bar
The scene: Very casual, as its name suggests. “I call it deconstructing the dining experience,” co-owner Jim Svetz says. “There is no structured process. You can eat, drink, or get up and move around whenever you want.”
The list: A verifiable United Nations of vino, Chill offers 20 wines (by glass or bottle) from South America, Europe, Africa, and California. $5-$9 a glass; $19-$29 a bottle.
The favorite: The rich, spicy Malbec from Argentina and the berry-heavy Monastrell from Spain.
Don’t miss: The entertainment: Now that the weather is warming up, Svetz plans on booking live musicians to enhance the laid-back atmosphere.
â–º Chill Wine Bar
Open Mon.-Thurs. 5-11:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5 p.m.-2 a.m., Sun. 3-10 p.m.
Continue to Velo Bistro Wine Bar
Velo Bistro Wine Bar
The scene: Attracts all ages of the hip and sophisticated. The cycling-related memorabilia on the walls (velo is French for “bike”) adds a somewhat eccentric touch.
The list: Twenty wines by the glass; 40 by the bottle. Chef and co-owner Anthony DeVanzo loves unconventional varietals such as the Gamay Noir from France. $9-$15 a glass; $27-$91 a bottle.
The favorite: Chile’s emerging Carmenere, a fruity red with a bit of a spicy finish.
Don’t miss: Once a month, Velo offers up a prix fixe, four-course (and four-glass) dinner. For each dish served, DeVanzo finds the wine that complements the plate’s flavor and mood.
â–º Velo Bistro Wine Bar
Open Sun., Tues.-Thurs. 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5 p.m.-1 a.m.