What makes a wine bar a wine bar? It's a question we posed last year when Marvin opened in Beverly Hills and it's one that came to mind again when we walked into the high-ceilinged interior then waited for a table one evening at Esters, the bustling new Santa Monica wine bar, shop and gourmet retail market brought to you by team Rustic Canyon and its wine director Kathryn Coker.
The shop is clearly one of Coker's vision: around 20 quirky-yet-accessible wines are available to buy by the glass, and you can get bottles from a two-story-high retail wall of old-world-skewing selections that will cost you a $15 corkage fee to pop inside (each wine she chose, we are told upon being seated, has a story behind it). Upscale drinking snacks (lavendar almonds, curry cashews), wine-friendly small plates (four-cheese grilled cheese, ham with figs and beet molasses) and build-your-own meat and cheese plates were crafted in collaboration with Rustic Canyon's chef executive chef Jeremy Fox and pastry chef Jun Tan.
But with a space bordering on cavernous, not cozy, table service that feels more traditional than casual, and a by-the-glass list that is no bigger than many restaurant lists these days (Rustic Canyon's is larger, in fact), what, exactly, makes it a wine bar? The retail component — which also includes books and goodies from co-owner Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan's other Westside restaurants, plus a grab-and-go section of sandwiches and other wine-y snacks — certainly helps, as do the small plates clearly crafted to complement, not overwhelm, the drinks.