Welcome to the East Bay’s Wine Bars

Your wine adventure and education are just minutes away on a corner near you.


Photo by Becca Wyant

It’s all about the palate. What tastes good is the draw. It gets you in the door, in your seat, and in your element. This is why wine bars are on your corner, tempting you to come in — not for a quick drink, but for a delicious experience.

Sauvi b? They know that. Zin? Easy. Pinot? Done. To sip wine is to enjoy the world at its best: fresh, ready, new. A whole glass is like a dip into a fountain, a vacation in eight ounces. It’s cooling. It’s renewing. It’s warming. It’s a reason to go out on a hot afternoon — or on a chilly evening — for a perfect date.

The popularity of the wine bar is no surprise, because a sensual, full-bodied cabernet or a perfectly buttery chardonnay just sometimes makes more sense than an after-work martini or run-of-the-mill gin and tonic for unwinding and relaxing. Wine is where you turn when craving an end-of-the-day libation that will be romantically flavorful, allowing you to put work aside. Welcome to a taste of tranquility.

“It feels like you’re treating yourself to an event,” said Grace Peter who has lived in Oakland for five years and remembers when her neighborhood sommelier at Bay Grape arrived down the street.

“At a bar, you go to meet strangers,” she said. “But at a wine bar, people don’t come up to you. You can work or be alone. It’s just nice.”

Peter and many others in her Adams Point neighborhood consider Bay Grape a destination that’s a second home, an accommodating place for wine lovers of many sorts.

“In creating Bay Grape, we wanted a place full of vetted, awesome wines, where guests could learn something about wine without feeling like it was a formal, traditional or stuffy wine environment,” said co-owner Stevie Stacionis. “We wanted a place where wine folks could nerd out if they wanted to but that you didn’t need to be a wine nerd to feel comfortable or like you could get something really unique and enjoyable. Mostly, we wanted to make legitimately great wine approachable and fun.”

Those who make a living off wine, especially wine bar mavens, pride themselves on serving worthy — and worthwhile — varietals.

At the Punchdown, natural wines rise to top of the on-offer serving barrel.

“We like the way it makes you feel and how easy it is to recover,” the Punchdown’s co-owner, D.C. Looney, said of natural wines and his preference for them, describing the feeling as more akin to a high. “We believe that natural wine is actually healthy for you. Plus, they say that it doesn’t give you a hangover, which is true most of the time. There is a big difference to conventional wines. You can taste and feel it — it is almost magical, like tapping into an ancient form of medicine that has been used for over 8,000 years. How appropriate that it is now needed more than ever before, given the state of the human condition.”

The wine bar choices in Oakland abound: Pull up a stool at the Oakland Yard on 40th Street; grab a seat at Bay Grape on Grand Avenue; find your spot at Ordinaire, also on Grand Avenue near the Grand Lake Theatre; scope out Minimo on Third Street; or make yourself at home at the Punch Down on Broadway.

Said Looney, “I think that a wine bar is a much more mellow vibe. And it is fun because it is educational and you get to have a new experience every time you come in. Each wine, region, vintage is so stylistically different from one another. It is a lot of fun introducing people to new regions, experiences, and flavors that may be new and unexpected. When you walk into a busy natural wine bar that is buzzing on natural wine, it is a beautiful thing all around the world.”

Ready for your buzz? It’s waiting for you. This one’s all sultry, memorable, and elegant. Leave the tequila shots for someone else.