The energy at Lasita in Chinatown spills out into the Far East Plaza courtyard on a Saturday night. Laughter mixes with the pulse of music and a cascading clatter that comes from serving rounds of Filipino rotisserie dishes and second (or third) glasses of chilled Catalunya red wine to an engaged and increasingly national audience. A few miles away in Cypress Park, the sidewalk at Barra Santos brims with vitality as diners converge over cafe tables to enjoy Portuguese bar snacks and vermouth on tap.
Wine bars didn’t use to look like this. Fifteen or 20 years ago, the term wine bar likely conjured up images of “farmhouse chic” decor and vertical barrels that doubled as standing tables for fuddy crowds eager to sip old-world wines and snack on unpitted olives. Winemaking and drinking have both changed tremendously since then. Today, a new generation chops it up on sidewalks and inside dim dining rooms, sharing bottles of natty wine over tightly grouped tables at wine bars and wine-focused restaurants all across town. Slouchy outfits from high-end designers drape the often younger millennial clientele as they peck at endless plates of farmers’ market vegetable dishes and duck out to smoke cigarettes. The LA wine bar is back, thanks to a new crew of places like Stir Crazy on Melrose and Voodoo Vin on Virgil.
If Rustic Canyon (2006), Barbrix (2009), and Covell (2010) marked the beginning of a new post-Sideways wine bar and restaurant journey for LA, it was places like Max Marder’s cliquey Marvin (2014) — a favorite of scene-y LA kids and celebs alike — and Tabula Rasa (2016) in Thai Town that gave the movement some speed. Many others, like Melanie, Augustine, Garcons de Cafe, Wife and the Somm, Dudley Market, Melody, and Bar Bandini have upped the tempo since. In Chinatown alone, neon-lit French discovery Oriel (2017) walked so that Lasita and Mandarin Plaza’s Café Triste could run.
“Wine got democratized,” says Elfie Astier of Mar Vista’s Evil Twin, which opened in early 2023. “It’s not as snobby, stuck up, or complicated.” Astier has been a known name around the neighborhood for two decades thanks to her bakery Hotcakes Bakes, but it wasn’t until she decided to split the space with her son Dylan Weiss to open the dinnertime Evil Twin that she reached a new clientele. With retail bottles of low-intervention wine from labels like Wavy, Good Boy, or Jumbo Time, small plates like bluefin tuna crudo, and a glowing evening patio, there’s something for everyone. “We have accomplished people, trendy people who are on the border of Venice and Culver City, people who are passionate about wine,” says the Paris-born Astier.
On Melrose just east of La Brea, Mackenzie Hoffman and her partners recently flipped longtime coffee shop Stir Crazy into a wine bar and restaurant — and kept the name. “It’s hilarious to keep [it],” says Hoffman. “It’s fun to say, and it’s just so wacky.” They transformed the address into a dim evening charmer with retro-cool wall sconces and dark wood, the kind of place where older locals swing by early before the place turns into a twentysomething hangout. Hoffman has deliberately curated an aesthetic that speaks to the youthfulness of LA’s current hospitality moment, though she shies from the word “vibe.” Still, the lo-fi, flash-heavy social media photos and compact menu feel familiar, like something seen at Justine’s in Frogtown or at Good Clean Fun.
“I don’t know how to define us,” says Hoffman. “Are we a wine restaurant, a cafe, or a wine cafe, or a wine bar? Then I throw my hands up and don’t really care anymore.” She credits Stir Crazy’s structural bones with helping to shape its feel and ethos. “The space is definitely a character. I’m very thankful for these four walls because the intimacy helps us to answer the question: ‘Why exist’.”
Hoffman sees Stir Crazy as a place to drink wine, yes, but also to build sustainable hospitality practices for guests and employees. Stir Crazy is only open Monday through Friday, meaning weekends off for workers while giving locals a place to enjoy on a Monday night. The staff is given a set range of guaranteed weekly hours, and they often work communally in the dining area to take orders, run dishes, and seat customers. Hoffman gets emotional when talking about the “sustainability of self” that she and her team are trying to build by not pushing for more hours right now. “It’s so hard for me to give a shit about clout and notoriety and hype when my team is safe and they’re happy,” she says.
The space does not have an “intimidating” host stand or bar seats; customers are invited to linger comfortably at tables instead. “Wine is the most boring part about Stir Crazy,” she says. “Wine is awesome, I love wine, wine is my life, but wine doesn’t matter if your guests can’t enjoy themselves.”
Rebecca Phillips often wonders what sustainable hospitality looks like for Vintage Wine + Eats, the Studio City wine bar she opened in 2019. Phillips, formerly of Barbrix, finds that her Valley audience wants something personal and homey. “Wine is so fucking stuffy,” she says. “Everybody is like ‘Oh, we’re trying to make wine accessible,’ but it still feels like noses are up in the air sometimes.” Offering something casual to a Valley audience can be a bridge to vibrant wines and a subtle wine education. Nights run the gamut: Vintage might host a country karaoke session on a Thursday, or sell $3.50 burgers on a Tuesday. The wine list skews more old world than fully natural (think Mâcon-Péronne chardonnay and Tuscan sangiovese), but she insists there’s something for the Napa lovers and wine nerds alike. “We really want you to come as you are.”
Nobody is trying to take the scene too seriously. The faux-rustic trend of yore – still prevalent in wine towns dotting the Central Coast or down in Temecula – has largely been replaced in Los Angeles by a new outpouring of younger, like-minded wine folks who could care less about the old stemware. A boisterous night out now at places like the Ruby Fruit, Tilda, Kippered, or East Hollywood’s Lolo might start with grilled peaches and burrata or a pop of tinned fish before progressing into luminous bottles of natural wine from producers like Scotty Boy. So why this new wine bar moment, and why now? Evil Twin’s Astier puts it simply: “The natural wine movement helped wine become much easier to access to young people. It’s just not as complicated anymore.”