The phrases "best-kept secret" and "hidden gem" get tossed around a lot. But it's exciting when I stumble upon a place that really makes those phrases ring true — like, for example, Beaune's Wine Bar.
Never heard of Beaune's (pronounced "bones," after the owner's favorite wine-growing region in France, after which his cat is also named)? Neither had I, at least consciously, until I found myself sitting at a stop light on 22nd and Palm in Ybor, staring at the side of a building painted with the name and informing me that a wine bar was located in the back. How many times had I passed that sign and simply not noticed it?
Here's the scoop: Beaune's Wine Bar is a classy, romantically lit lounge that's attached to West Palm Wines, a retail wine shop specializing exclusively in wines from the Old World and South America. There are no domestic or Australian wines, simply because it's impossible for a little place like this to keep competitive with the big chain stores that can buy in mega-bulk.
I knew as soon as I sat at the long, wooden bar in the back that this was a very serious wine bar. Classic jazz playing in the background, walls painted in rustic, Tuscan colors, and exposed brickwork on the rest. There was the bar itself — constructed from old, wooden wine boxes, naturally — a series of dimly lit dining areas; a large, spread out lounge with couches; and a connected walkway to the retail store, where nearly all of the wine available to drink at the bar is served.
Oh, and wine? That's all they serve at Beaune's — no beer, no liquor.
There is a wine list at Beaune's, but it's just a handful of wines by the glass, priced modestly at around $7-$10. I asked for a bottle list, but learned there is no bottle list, just the physical inventory in the retail store. Guests simply walk in, peruse the selection (which is kept at proper cellar temperature), and bring a bottle back to the bar, where they pay a standard corkage fee of $10, regardless of the bottle's price. A $6 bottle? You drink it at the bar for $16. A $400 bottle? $410.
Here's the other thing. Beaune's maintains a massive "old & rare" cellar, featuring both bottles for sale, as well as private cellar space for serious wine collectors. How serious? It's $495 per year per 20 cases of wine. The temperature is kept at 55 degrees around the clock, and the wines are fully insured by Lloyd's of London. Some people keep many, many more than 20 cases of wine here. So, pretty serious, I'd say.
In the retail portion of the rare and old cellar, you'll find plenty of fine wines, ranging from surprisingly affordable ($100 for some old ports and early '90s vintages) to the very big leagues, such as a $26,000 bottle of 1967 Chateau Lafite. There are even a few bottles from the 19th century available — the 19th century! I was told that these wines are almost certainly no longer drinkable, but man, that's cool. If you're into four- and five-figure tabs, you can make them here. But even if you're not, you can find some really special stuff that will nonetheless do very nicely for a special occasion (and with beautiful and intimate scenery in the wine bar to match).
I'm sure serious wine connoisseurs are chuckling at my insistence that this place is some sort of best-kept secret, as they've likely known about it for years. They must have, as there's just no way this bar could fly under the radar with them for as long as it did with me.
If you're not one of these folks, perhaps you'd even be interested in the regular wine classes held at Beaune's. They generally run from $35-$50 and focus on a specific region, exploring the history and style of its wines, complete with tastings and accompanying food from the restaurant. These are advertised on Beaune's website, but I'm told that some other private events, like the occasional jazz concert, are sent out via mailing list, which you can sign up for at the bar.
This is a true haven for wine lovers, whether you're an extremely serious collector who needs to break out a special bottle from your private on-site cellar space, or just a beer drinker like me with a bit of a taste for wine and a strong enthusiasm to learn more about it. — [email protected]