Thursday, June 18, 2009

#4 The Wine Bar

Merging two awesome but different things is sometimes a fantastic idea, as demonstrated by the iPhone, the Labradoodle, the flamethrower, and Brangelina. The trouble is when you merge two things that are individually awesome precisely because they are not the other thing: Diet Coke Plus, compassionate conservatism, open marriages, and, affecting literally thousands of SF guys, the wine bar.

The wine bar is a hybrid species of bar that, like Barbed Goatgrass and Starbucks, has invaded, proliferated and, at least in San Francisco, crowded out the competition. 

Admittedly, the appeal of the wine bar, like that of Starbucks, or Barbed Goatgrass if you're a goat, is hard to miss. The soft lighting, nooky layout, and civilized atmosphere - it's nice. It captures the romantic spirit of a bygone era, when everyone was French, unfailingly chivalrous, and dueled by heated word; before Reaganomics, youtube, and girls gone wild, before Ludgwig Wittgenstein destroyed the foundation of all philosophical thought and Paris Hilton destroyed the value of thinking.

As it turns out, however, the wine bar is terrible as a BAR. It's a bar like Rupaul is a woman, true in every way except the really important one. There's the stools, the alcohol, the people and the same sloppy, repetitive cross-eyed mush that passes for conversation when you're drunk. But there's no cross-group conversational flow or psychological casualness, at least partly because the wine sensibility seems to distance you from your base nature rather than embrace it, and this makes the random socialization with strangers feel awkward, which, if you think about it, undermines the entire point of being at a bar.

The value and relevance of a bar, like an ecosystem or Lindsay Lohan, depends on both
randomness and resiliency to randomness. There has to be a balance between what biologists call regular stochastic fluctuation and ecological predictability. This is why strip clubs (all randomness) and family picnics (all predictability) are both strategically unwise and usually illegal forums for chromosomal intermixing.

Successful bars and clubs toe the line here, manipulating variables such as bouncers, cover charges and dress codes on one hand, and caged dancers and free shots on the other, in order to carve out a particular night-life niche. Wine bars, however, strive to transcend randomness and predictability, they strive to be
SOPHISTICATED, and this is ultimately why they are boring. Dynamic social interaction requires crowdedness, an element of aggression and the occasional casualty.

Think of the
college house party: it's so unsophisticated it's unsafe. People are falling out of windows, vomiting in Rubbermaid trash cans, and God knows what else but bodies will be found in basement the next afternoon. A college house party is one of the most dangerous places on the planet, and simultaneously, among the best places to meet a girl.

Wine bars, by contrast, provide the illusion of vigorous socialization without any real threat of injury or embarrassment. They are like
youth soccer: you can play out the season, never touch the ball and no one will notice.

The wine bar, however, poses more trouble than a classification conundrum. Girls going to wine bars is not like girls playing soccer, because the former but not the latter means girls NOT going to other venues that serve alcohol and are conducive to talking with strangers. It means girls not going to pubs or sports bars or lounges. And if this happens often enough and consistently enough, what you get is an ecosystem with no Lindsay Lohans and no place to meet girls. What you get is San Francisco.


  1. Totally agree about wine bars.

  2. This post is right on, and I am outraged. We need more Maunaa Loa's, and less Cellar 360's. It's OKTO drink beer.

  3. I agree to a certain extent this assessment, but I may rebuke your post with a counter blog on the wine bar as illusion of social space for meeting women. I think you have to look and compare at a wine bar versus a sports bar as to what sort of ensemble are you interested in for the evening?

  4. Exactly. Leave to SF to champion bars where you can ponder, explore, and discuss but may not under any circumstances actually enjoy yourself. "I want to open a bar." Oh. "But it won't be any fun." Oh!

  5. Wine bars may be bad places to meet girls, but they are GREAT for a first date.

  6. The problem is not the wine bars but the crowd.
    I can tell you that if we could replace the crowd (in these wine bars) with Italians, French, Greeks or even New Yorkers the mood would be totaly different.
    I think there is a problem in the city when it comes to interaction with people, and everybody tend to take themselves too seriously.
    Please change the crowd!!!