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Drink in the atmosphere at the Wine Cellar (while you still can)

Luis Santana/tbt*

Sadly, this soon could be the future home of a supermarket.

Luis Santana/tbt*

I sometimes joke about the "Barfly curse," an imaginary (I hope!) phenomenon involving the closure of bars shortly after I visit. In one case, a bar that I wrote about threw in the towel within 24 hours of my story being published.

This week, my plan was to avoid the Barfly curse by visiting the Wine Cellar — a long-running restaurant and bar in North Redington Beach that may close soon to make way for a Sweetbay supermarket.

Naturally, I hate to see small businesses call it a day, especially when they have a history as rich as the Wine Cellar, which has been in its current location since 1976. It's even worse when the place in question is as singular as the Wine Cellar, an old-school fine-dining establishment with, yes, a cellar of high-end wines, ranging from affordable glasses from California wineries all the way to a 26-year-old Bordeaux that can set you back a cool $800. It's a restaurant from a different era.

I wanted to check it out before the supermarket takes its place. You can't blame this one on the Barfly curse.

Stepping inside the Wine Cellar, it feels as if you've been transported back in time. While the décor can seem dated, it also gives the Wine Cellar a dose of old-school charm. The place is large; as far as I could tell, there are three separate main dining areas, each with a completely different vibe, as well as a ballroom, all put together with some French, Italian or German influence — one that extends directly to the menu (both food and wine). Bricks, wood, wine-barrel façades, classical paintings and stained glass make up the primary visual components, with other areas decorated with winemaking relics and various other antiques, such as an old wooden phone booth.

The hallway between the dining area containing the bar and a rear ballroom is dotted with newspaper articles, accolades, and photographs that illustrate the Wine Cellar's long history on the beach. One of my favorites is a series of photographs from 1985, when the Wine Cellar catered the set of the film Summer Rental, starring John Candy.

For such an elaborate and spread-out setting, the actual bar is quite small and simple. Most of the bar business, unsurprisingly, comes from diners enjoying a pre- or post-dinner libation. To that end, the Wine Cellar has a wide variety of cordials and rich spirits, such as Scotch and Cognac, that make for a nice drink after a big meal — and this is the kind of place where people eat big meals.

Of course, it's all about the wine here, whether it's a simple pinot noir with your dinner or a bottle of any number of high-end vintages on the menu to celebrate a special occasion. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, so if you have any trepidation about dropping $100 or more on a bottle, feel free to ask for input.

When I asked our bartender about the Sweetbay situation, he informed me that the zoning permit was denied a day earlier, so the Wine Cellar will stick around at least until March, when the next zoning hearing is scheduled. What happens from that point on is anyone's guess.

The Wine Cellar is probably not casual enough to be an everyday drinking destination for most, but for a special night out, an interesting change of pace, or simply to experience a part of Redington Beach history while it's still here, the Wine Cellar is truly one-of-a-kind.

The Wine Cellar

17307 Gulf Blvd., North Redington Beach; (727) 393-3491 thewinecellar.com

The vibe: A fine dining landmark with an old-school Continental European feel.

Food: Soups, salads, and appetizers, $5.99-$12.99 (although the caviar is $145); entrées, $16.99-$75.99; desserts, $3.99-$7.99.

Booze: Beer, $4-$4.50; wine, $5.50-$15 by the glass and $21-$799 by the bottle; liquor, $5.50-$8, although certain ultra-premium spirits, such as Remy Martin Louis XIII, can go as high as $170. Wells and domestic bottles are half off during happy hour, which is until 6 p.m. daily.

Specialty: Wine is by far the star of the show here, but diners will find no shortage of quality scotch, brandy, and other after-dinner spirits and digestifs. The wine list covers a lot of ground, ranging from 20-odd wallet-friendly wines by the glass to premium dessert wines and Champagnes, all the way up to premium grand crus, with vintages dating back to 1986.

Hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday; 4:30 p.m. to midnight Tuesday-Saturady, 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Closing hours sometimes vary, so call ahead if you plan on stopping by late.

Drink in the atmosphere at the Wine Cellar (while you still can) 10/04/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 4, 2012 3:24pm]

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