Next time you're out trolling for wine bars with longstanding traditions, you might want to pass on San Diego. There are only 14 such establishments around town, and the oldest--downtown's The Grape--dates to about 1995. But who knows what the future holds. Wine bars are big business in large urban areas now, and since San Diego is already a large urban area, it may find it needs a bunch more such drinkeries to go with it.
For as long as it's open, The Grape will be the dean of the city's wine bars. And inside, it looks every bit the part. There's a stately, continental flare at work here amid the low, foggy lighting, with profuse murals of grapes, vintners and casks lining dingy yellow walls. The long, tubular ceiling is witness to the bar's signature pastime--the flight, consisting of three 2-ounce pours from different manufacturers. I had the delicious No. 1, which ran me $10.75 and included a Firepeak Vineyards Carpe Diem Chardonnay and a Rutz Cellars Cuvee Pinot Noir (both from California) and the Cabernet Sauvignon from the Foolish Oak vineyard in Washington state. Each drink's muted tones complement those of the other, and that's the idea behind the 21 other flights on the menu. The Grape regularly holds tastings and also sells cheeses, cigars, Scotch, bottled beer, pizza and salads. You can get wine by the bottle, too. Those prices run well into the double and triple figures--one Dom Perignon issue from France will cost you 600 of those green, cloth-based sections of paper.
The Grape's very narrow entrance is located at 823 Fifth Ave., and its very narrow door opens at 5 p.m. and closes at midnight Sundays through Thursdays and from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The number is 619-238-8010--but unless you really must, don't call ahead. This is a drop-in joint, as the lived-in look will strongly attest.