By Dr. Ink
The year was 2003, when waves of bar-hopping locals gradually began taking notice of a new hangout in Hillcrest that offered an alternative to beer and well drinks. Void of modern design elements, Wine Steals greeted with an unpretentious atmosphere filled with wood-barrel tables, mismatched chairs and sofas, and a lengthy bar clad in stone. With a retail wine section toward the back, it fueled a trend and remains a comfortable space for both novice and seasoned wine drinkers.
Over the years, and many visits later, Wine Steals has developed an extensive food menu that includes crafty pizzas named after grape varietals. Happy hour and other weekly specials have come into fruition as well. The former now includes nearly 35 wines by the glass, all at $2 off regular price.
The same discount applies to select craft beers on tap, which didn’t exist here in earlier days. (There’s a much larger selection of suds by the bottle, but at regular prices.)
Also, pizza by the slice drops down by 50 cents, and appetizers are $1 off during happy hour.
I recently took a couple of crapshoots on the cask wines that are offered in addition to the regular, dizzying glass program. Perched alongside an end of the bar, the cask harbors two reds and two whites on any given day.
First up was a malbec, a favorite of mine that my fellow wine lovers pooh-pooh when we gather here and purchase by the bottle. Hence, I usually succumb without protest to the common preference of cabernets, zinfandels and petite syrahs.
This release by Terra Rosa from Argentina didn’t thrill me. It lacked the dark-berry notes inherent to a fine malbec, and ended with an astringent bite.
I moved on to Bliss Cabernet, a far better choice that offered richer fruit and a fair dose of complexity for the happy-hour price of $5.50.
For the terminally undecided, the bartenders provide small tasters as a guide to the wines you like. Although as in any wine bar, by the time a customer exceeds four or five samples, etiquette has been broken.
Pizza slices in the offing that day included a vegetarian and meat version of something called the “Kayla,” named after a customer, I was told. Served without sauce and on Wine Steals’ classic thin crust, both featured a riot of colorful toppings that included bell peppers, feta cheese, arugula, cilantro and more. Mine became much busier and tastier with the additions of bacon and seasoned chicken.
Wine Steals attracts patrons of all legal drinking ages, resulting in a non-scene environment rare to urban establishments. Also, numerous drink deals exist outside of happy hour, per the printed menus scattered around the bar that deserve close study before those second and third glasses of wine take effect.