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The Wine Bar: The Most Significant Restaurant Genre of this Decade?

As the French Bistro was to the 1990s, gaining great popularity and establishing itself apparently as a fixture on the American dining scene, will the Wine Bar do the same in this decade?
To me the continued success of the French bistro has obviously something to do with the food. But it also to me has a lot to do with HOW we eat there and its surroundings (i.e. casual, bustling, fast and efficient service, and a “scene”, at times). But the French bistro also at the same time retains a certain “frou-frou” appeal. I believe that all of the above holds true for wine bars as well; and with the added “gravity” of being a place that takes wine very seriously. This I believe will keep it popular for the foreseeable future as well.

Thoughts

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  1. It could well be. Being a wino, I welcome the addition to the dining scene. I hate wasting my $'s and my time foraging the mini-bar, or doing a by-the-glass seleciton at the hotel bar and welcome a good wine bar. Usually, the first two questions to the concierge are: "where is the closest thing to an English pub, that this town has?" and, "can you recommend a good wine bar?" Usually, the answer is the same, "what in the hell are you talking about?" So, I'm glad. We will come to find that some are just vogue, and a few are places done right. We, the dining/wining public will be the better for this.

    I still wonder what happend to Jamacian cuisine, which I predicted would be the "next big thing," in dining. OK, you can't get everything right...

    Hunt

    2 Replies
    1. re: Bill Hunt

      I don't recall Jamaican really ever being that broad. And to me today excitement and newness in the dining scene isn't driven by the particularity of the cuisine alone anymore; as it looks as though we've exhausted many, at least in the bigger American cities. I think people have long known where to get their fix of a particular cuisine.

      1. re: Chinon00

        You are correct. Not long after New Orleans/Cajun cuisine became a buzz-term (back in the '90s), I had predicted that Caribbean/Jamaican food would be the next “big thing.” There were several small chains and a handful of stand-alones, that hit and then faded. There are still many, many stand-alones in various cities, but the “craze” never took off, as I had anticipated. I just saw “jerked anything,” becoming what “blackened everything,” had become. It was a genre, that never got off the ground. This is in no way meant to diminish the great Caribbean restaurants around the world, that do some wonderful food, it’s just that as a craze, it did not happen.

        As for the “wine bar,” I’m not sure that it will be remembered as the subject of this decade, when we reflect, but it IS big now, and, so long as it’s well-done, I’m very pleased.

        Sorry for the confusion,
        Hunt

    2. I thought Sushi bar was the dominent genre of the last decade and the Tapas bar the dominent genre of the next decade ?

      13 Replies
      1. re: Maximilien

        Agree with Maximilien on this one ...

        1. re: Maximilien

          This has just been my personal observation but I recall having sushi available in Supermarkets during the mid 1990s. I also recall a famous New Yorker magazine cover from the late 70s or early 80s which marked the arrival of the "Sushi bar" to NYC (if not America) IIRC.
          Now as for the Tapas bar I agree that it is more of a this century phenomenon and includes most of the positive characteristics of both the Wine Bar and French Bistro that I listed earlier. So I agree that the Tapas Bar may too be a fixture on the scene for a while.
          And deciding which genre has dominated this decade more (Wine bar vs. Tapas Bar) is difficult because they are again similar; specifically in providing long and detailed by the glass beverage lists which encourages exploration.

          1. re: Chinon00

            I think the tapas/izakaya small portions, communal dining, "death of the entre" is what will define this decade not only as a genre, but as a paradigm shift. Wine bars are merely following the trend in the popularity of wine consumption. And aren't they for people who are interested in drinking wine? Perhaps it's the circles I run in here in NYC, but I've never heard anyone suggest a wine bar for dinner (actually, for drinking as well). But I have been pleasently surprised at having friends suggest tapas/izakaya places. When I was living in Tokyo many years ago, my expat friends and I would lament that this style of dining had not caught on in the U.S. Now it seems it has.

            1. re: Silverjay

              I agree with everything you’ve stated. What I mean by a “Wine Bar” is essentially a place that is wine focused yet provides good solid cuisine but that is not formal or fussy.
              And whether we call it a Wine Bar or a Tapas Bar or a Small Plates restaurant they all share the same tendencies that you have explained (i.e "death of the entree"). I like to say that they allow us to EAT in a civilized manner without having to ACT so.

              1. re: Chinon00

                Well, I disagree that wine has anything to do with the broader genre and trend. I don't think it happens to be any part of the equation other than a happy popularity overlap (if you happen to enjoy drinking it) in the style of dining and how wine may be served. French bistros and tapas/izakaya/small plate restaurants appeal to a broad range of diners regardless of their tipple. It just sounds like for you, wine bars are an exciting sub genre. Myself, being in NYC, I have no sense that they are anything more significant than that. I'm not even sure wine is on the menu at the restaurants I'm thinking of. Perhaps others feel differently.

                1. re: Silverjay

                  Which (non-byob) French bistros and tapas/small plate restaurants that you go to do not have wine on their menu, or did I misread you?

                  Thanks

                  1. re: Chinon00

                    I'm thinking of the ones in the Asian vain, not French- http://www.momofuku.com/ & http://www.sakagura.com/ .

                    This isn't meant as a torpedo to your argument, but merely interesting reading in case you didn't catch it.
                    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/05/din...

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      Thanks for the article. I'm still kinda convinced after reading it that we actually agree on this one though. I'm sure that you are aware that this type of "death of the entree" style eating is what is found in most wine bars. And as for the wine bar’s significance, I believe that both Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud either have or will soon be opening a wine bar a piece (so I guess that I’m in good company huh?)
                      To me the line can often be blurred between tapas bars and wine bars and small plates restaurants because they all can play off of each other. Wine bars will often utilize tapas, small plate, antipasti, etc, menus. While tapas bars and small plates will have if not extensive wine lists fairly extensive beverage lists in general. And as I’ve learned from you Sakagura has about 200 kinds of sake imported from Japan, I assume to pair with the Japanese menu (you tell me).

                      Thanks again for the article

                      1. re: Chinon00

                        Yep, we agree on the small plates thing. And wine bars and izakaya (which means drinking place) will continue their niche role of driving this trend.

                        1. re: Silverjay

                          Ok, but then in your opinion how important or significant is the food served at izakaya bars (which I hope to visit soon)? I ask because in your latest post you emphasize that it means "drinking place", but in your post on Feb 20, 2008 04:07PM you state: "[F]rench bistros and tapas/IZAKAYA/small plate restaurants appeal to a broad range of diners regardless of their tipple". Could you help me out here?

                          Thanks

                          1. re: Chinon00

                            There's a variety of things to drink at izakaya besides any one focus. I meant this as a contrast to a "wine bar" which concentrates on wine. Unless you mean the term "wine bar" in a broader sense- in which case, this is the first time for me to hear that. Izakaya denotes a broad range of small dish eating and drinking, from hardcore sake places to gourmet small dishes. And I mean to emphasize that both wine bars and izakaya are simply brethen in a broader movement in dining, irrespective of what is served at the bar...For the record, btw, there are wine bars AND wine izakaya popping up in Tokyo these days. I visited one late last year. Though you'd probably be disappointed to know that I drank shochu instead of wine. But I mean to emphasize that I'm not in denial of the growing popularity of wine bars, merely your assertion of their significance on our dining culture....Anyhoo, check out izakaya if you can. A popular pastime of mine is "hashigo" dining. "Hashigo" means ladder in Japanese. Basically, it means "izakaya hopping". Many small plates to eat and many drinks to drink!

                            1. re: Silverjay

                              Ok, I read you wrong. When you stated they "appeal to a broad range of diners regardless of their tipple" I read that as an emphasis on food OVER beverage rather than as an emphasis on "a variety of things to drink" . . . "besides any one focus" as you have clarified.
                              Something tells me though that you think those that don’t care for wine will have no use for a wine bar. Believe me; they want YOUR money too. To be clear, typically wine bars will offer full bar service, if one isn't into wine. And as I’ve mentioned too many times already, many model their menus after tapas and small plates restaurants (which I think you like).
                              So, although it may seem counter-intuitive, one can enjoy an evening at a wine bar without drinking wine (because as it turns out, they can offer a nice way to eat too).

                              And the wine bar’s significance on our dining culture is debatable I agree.

                              Thanks

          2. re: Maximilien

            Good call. It will be interesting to see how wine bars and tapas bars duke it out. OTOH, where they blend, it ain't all bad.

            Hunt

          3. jfood is the other upright on this since he does not drink. but his friends do and have pretty decent collections.

            But to the question of whether the wine bar will be the next resto du jour, jfood cannot imagine that in his wildest dream. there may be a small subset of eaters (and probably a disproportionate percentage on these threads) that focus much higher on the wine list, but turningthis to a trend? Do not think so.

            jfood is seeing a much higher incidence of good ethnic food moving out of the city and into the suburbs. Likewise as the economy slides to the Big R, disposable income for most Americans will cause many to re-think the amount of money is spent on dinners and then when they sit at the table jfood predicts that wine consumption and mid-level restos will suffer.

            So the idea that the lowest ingredient on most Americans' disposable income list, wine, will be elevated to its own food and restaurant rage, is not a path jfood sees.

            17 Replies
            1. re: jfood

              What does jfood think of the food that he's eaten at Wine Bars?

              Thanks

              1. re: Chinon00

                Nondescript. Why? He has never been to a wine bar, does not know of one, would probably not go to a restaurant that has wine emphasis first, food second.

                There used to be a hot dog place in NJ that you picked which beer you wanted your hot dog cooked in. Even as a drinkin' 19 year old jfood found no desire to hit that silliness when there are so many great hot dog places to go to in NJ for a real hot dog. Jfood goes out for the food, just a different perspective.

                The whole wine bar thing just strikes jfood as kitchy.

                1. re: jfood

                  I'm just surprised that someone so admittedly uninformed about a particular dining genre could then provide such conclusive statements about its relevance.
                  The food isn't "second" so much as it is chosen carefully to match the wines at hand. And due to portion size and the by the glass wine service one can try for example 3 specific foods which have been selected to match 3 specific wines. I think that wine bars provide an excellent way to grow your knowledge of food pairing, among other things.

                  Thanks

                  1. re: Chinon00

                    Okeedokee, jfood is now officially informed after reading your post and feels even more secure in his opinion. it ain't a food genre at all. in some circles it will be a flash in the pan, in others it will probably not even garner a yawn. "Most significant genre"? Absolutely negatory.

                    Now if you can take that concept to ice cream where you can see how different toppings work with a particular flavor, jfood's there.

                    Remember the Cigar Bar?

                    1. re: jfood

                      Well I'd put it this way, the current "casual-fine dining" trend (which IMHO is most epitomized by the Wine Bar, Tapas Bar and the Small Plates restaurant) has provided a significant change in HOW we've eaten out this decade.

                      1. re: Chinon00

                        It is 2008, 80% into the decade and jfood thinks that Tapas are a nice change of pace but hardly mainstream and significant change and not even close to "HOW we've eaten out this decade." Yes they are fun to go to, but they are still the tail on the dog.

                        And the wine bar, is basically a small plate restaurant with a good wine list? Not to be argumentative but it still barely qualifies as a yawner.

                        And jfood has a much broader definition of casual fine dine, and not being epitomized by such a limited set of wine/tapas/small.

                        1. re: jfood

                          Well since I put "casual-fine dining" in quotes, I had something specific in mind. But please feel free to share your definition with us. I'd also love to hear what YOU consider the most significant restauarant genre this decade. Your earlier statement about good ethnic food moving out of the city and into the suburbs is a good observation but doesn't address the topic.

                          Thanks

                      2. re: jfood

                        I don't know jfood. While I'm not keen on pronouncements like 'most significant genre', statements like 'flash in the pan' and 'ain't a food genre at all' don't sit well.

                        Wine bars do provide a particular gastronomic experience (sorry, jfood, but as a European, have always considered beer and wine a part of dining and nutrition, all those vitamins!). While some are crappy (as is typical of any genre-- ugh, I hate this word for food issues) good ones develop, serve small dishes that will complement the wines served.
                        It is not to your liking, sure, but maybe then you aren't the best judge of their accomplishments? (Not to suggest that jfood could ever be less than excellent in jfood's postings!)

                        1. re: Lizard

                          L

                          Jfood wishes he could appreciate the nuances of the wine/food combo but does not drink and therefore does not have a dog in that hunt. Jfood always shakes a little at pronouncements (watched the debate last night, so it is fresh on his mind) and when he see "most important" he feels it has a much higher standard (stating the obvious, obviously).

                          And it also depends on perspective of locale. In FFD county, CT (which has a fairly high economic standard of living) jfood cannot count on one hand the number of "wine bars" in his county (not that he is looking for them mind you). So if one classifies this as the "most important" than dollars to donuts there would be numerous wine bars in his area. Yet there are few, if any.

                          Jfood absolutely agrees it increases the gastronomique experience, but so does a great piece of chocolate cake or hot fudge sundae.

                          But, Jfood cannot buy into this combo-plan as a genre (he hates the word as well), though. It is the delicate mixing of flavors from the wine-maker balanced with the qualities of the food. And that creates a third sensation while eating. No different from any other gastro-scientific combo. They have been described as small plate places with good wine selections and a good pairing-person. Great. But to go all the way to genre, and then ask if this non-genre (in jfood's opinion) is the most important genre gets two nope's from jfood.

                          1. re: jfood

                            "In FFD county, CT (which has a fairly high economic standard of living) jfood cannot count on one hand the number of "wine bars" in his county (not that he is looking for them mind you). So if one classifies this as the "most important" than dollars to donuts there would be numerous wine bars in his area. Yet there are few, if any."

                            It begs the question then, if there has been a "Significant Restaurant Genre" this decade what is it in jfoods' opinion and how many can be found in FFD County today?

                            And how does jfood define a food genre?

                            Thanks

                            Note: By "significant" what I'm getting more at is "new" and with staying power for the most part. Therefore we don't have to actually enjoy or frequent the genre to agree.

                            1. re: Chinon00

                              C

                              Believe it or not that is a very easy question to answer - None. Unless one classifies fusion as a genre (jfood does not), then there has been no single type food category that has vaulted to the esteemed category.

                              More importantly as stayng power in this region is good food, versus genre. If you wonder over to the TriState Board and look at the posts on favorites from many regular posters you will see:

                              - Asia
                              - American
                              - French
                              - Fish
                              - Indian
                              - Mexican/LA
                              - Spanish

                              Top 20 restaurants of the last 5 years probably includes representation from each of these categories. And the restaurants that have not survived have done so because they did not offer quality food. In any given month, jfood and his friends hit several different types of these on a rotating basis. February included Indian and American, March schedule has Spanish and Italian already booked and April already has Creole/Cajun (road trip to JazzFest in NOLA).

                              So the driver in the decision-tree is good food and fortunately the landscape has changed over the last 10 years and the jfoods now have myriads of choices over ten years ago.

                              1. re: jfood

                                Yes I understand what you mean. But where we are getting completely off track I think jfood is with the word "significant". I think what you're defining significant as is "outstanding food and service". That's understandable but really not what I'm getting at. What I mean is a new popular singular contribution to the dining scene (like the 90s French Bistro).
                                Now there were some terrible FBs and some fine ones (e.g. Balthazar in NYC) but the genre has held. That is my only point.

                                1. re: Chinon00

                                  C

                                  Jfood completely understands the question and his answer is that there is NO single genre or contribution to the dining scene in the last ten years that has been/is significant, semi-significant to the point of stating it has been a game-changer or line-leader.

                                  Jfood does not even buy-in to the position that the FB was in that category in the 90's (Jfood thinks Bistros have been around much longer than the 90's). Yes Balthazar is a great restaurant but stating it is a genre that has held over time is like saying Pastrami is a genre and Katz has maintained it position (gotta get down there next week). Both are restaurants, not philosophy. Chez Panisse might qualify, now that was a game changer. Just Jfood's opinion.

                                  Jfood is actually glad of this viewpoint. It allows him and his friends to enjoy the various new entries into the local scene versus the "gotta go to" lemming mentality.

                                  Jfood believes that the rings are slowly expanding like a pebble dropped in the lake. As the ring expands, new additions arrive to add to the choices. Jfood does not think there has been a brick thrown in the lake to create the splash you describe.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    I can accept your opinion that you think there has been no significant genre this decade. It is a completely arguable position and one that I will not challenge you on further. To clarify my point about French Bistro though, although I agree with you that they've obviously been around a while they appeared to me to really take off in the 90s, becoming attractive and relevant to a much broader array of people than before (and continue to). The same can be said of the tapas bar more recently.

                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                      jfood agrees that people became more aware of FB's in the 90's but falls into the expanding pebble concept above, not the brick. Jfood also thinks the cycle has started its downturn.

                                      Jfood also agrees that tapas are getting some good press now and is also a concentric circle behind the FB. Increasing in popularity around here. Jfood mentioned that to Mrs jfood in December 2006. Add Indian to the mix as well over the last three years here as well.

                                      What jfood has been waiting for you to bring up is sushi. That would qualify in Jfood's opinion closer to a brick than a concentric circle in the food business over the past 10 years. Can't go anywhere without some plastic containered nori, rice, fish being shoved in your face plus all the sushi bars opening.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        Well are we talking about "sushi" the restauarant genre or "sushi" the food item? Sushi (food item) has been widely available at supermarkets, corner groceries, and I've found it on some non-Japanese restaurant menus. And as for the sushi bar I agree that I've noticed a further increase in their numbers over the past decade. But this current development must be kept relative to it's previous standing, which has been fairly pronounced since the early 90s (at least). But overall, combining the popularity of the food item and the restaurant genre I'd say it must be considered one of the most significant food trends over the past 20 years (and with no apparent end in sight).

                2. re: jfood

                  Funny... When we want to cut back on dining expenses, my husband and I always head to our neighborhood wine bar for good wines at affordable prices and small plates that we can share.

                3. The original comment has been removed
                  1. Wine bars, maybe. But I tend to think many people go to those for the social scene as their primary motive. Not all, but many.

                    The trend I'm noticing is higher end burger and pizza places popping up all over. And this is a good thing. If people are willing to try a new version of that which is familiar, and they like it, then hopefully there will be a growing outcrop of demand for new twists.
                    Maybe instead of ordering the same old DominoHut or McKing varieties, they'll try a new topping or style that will open them up to other variations.

                    We all started with basics, and then mom snuck something else in... in time spaghetti became pasta, liver became pate, tombstone became flat bread with organic ingredients, ramen became pho, etc.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: tastyjon

                      Do you find much of a difference between wine bars and tapas bars in terms of the "social scene" aspect? Second could you please name for me a few higher end burger and pizza places so I'm clear on what you are describing?

                      Thanks

                      1. re: Chinon00

                        I run with a lot of different crowds and wine centric places seem to the first choice among many, particularly females, as a place to go out with friends (versus the bar scene). But I rarely hear the food selection being discussed in the choice of place. Likewise, Tapas bars are popping up all over, but I don't quite get a feel that they've become part of the social psyche, in terms of food or wine, as they are in Spain. That might change. But generally, when most folks I know want to both bevs and "trendy" food, the default right now is a Sushi place. It's what pals do in SoCal, NoCal, AZ, Denver and NY (and none of them know each other). Just an observation as to the social aspects.

                        As for the higher end burger/pizza places, look to the Burger Bar in Vegas, Mario's new pizza spot in L.A., etc. Foodies might seem to always want exotic, but a good many also want the familiar, just done with more flair. In Phoenix, for example, we've got the good old greasy pizza slice places, but also more gourmet spots such as Pizzaria Bianco (local), Cibo (Italy), Grimaldis (New York - though much different) and many others.

                        The higher end burger places also aboud. Some are burger centric... do a search for Stax or Delux. Other places simply raised their game, offering a wider variety of core product or higher end beef. Even some blah sports bars nearby are promoting angus or sirloin burger special nights.

                        Funny enough, we can probably thank the fast food places for raising the debate on burger quality. The $6 burgers at Carls Jr or Jack/Bix really do compete in value with many places and have spurred a reaction.