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  1. Arts & Entertainment

Bar Chinchilla makes for an intimate St. Pete visit

The tiny downtown bar has more than 50 wines available by the glass and a thoughtful beer selection. | Bar review

Some bars are like a blank canvas, where your experience is all about your companions. Take Bar Chinchilla. This new beer and wine spot in downtown St. Pete has more than 50 wines available by the glass and a well-curated beer selection. Ultimately, though, your experience will be less about the bar’s amenities and more about lounging with friends and chatting with the bartenders.

Bar Chinchilla is one of the smallest in town. Before it opened, the space belonged to the 4 Three Nine, a bar known for the close-up magic of its proprietor and bartender, John Williams. The space has since been flipped, with the bar moved to the opposite side of the room, and the rear curtained off for storage.

When I say the place is small, I mean you can fit about six people at the bar snugly. Another six in the café tables next to the bar would constitute a full house. There’s patio seating out front, too, but this place is best suited for date nights and day drinking with a small group on the weekends.

It’s also a very attractive space, well-designed to maximize tight quarters. Despite its diminutive nature, it doesn’t feel cramped at all. Cool blues and white subway tile brighten up the interior, aided by plentiful sunlight pouring in from picture windows.

You won’t find sports on the TV behind the bar; instead, there are various compilation videos of chinchillas doing typical chinchilla things like being unbelievably cute.

Why a chinchilla theme? According to the bar’s website: “Why not a chinchilla?”

There are eight beers on tap, representing a mix of local and high-end craft domestics, and this list is absolutely outstanding. Where else will you find beers like Almanac LOUD! double IPA, Collective Arts Guave Gose and Prairie Bomb! on tap, let alone at reasonable prices?

Ditto the bottles, which are both fairly priced and well-rounded in terms of styles. There aren’t a ton of options, but the ones that are there are great. There are also canned cocktails, ranging from an excellent wine-based take on an Aperol Spritz (Sprizzeri Classico), as well as a couple of canned vodka-based drinks.

The fizzy cocktail Sprizzeri Classico Orange with Bitters. [Justin Grant | tbt*]

Fifty-plus wines by the glass is great, but then you also have a selection of less-common Portuguese wines. These range from Vinho Verde and Douro wines to an impressive selection of Madeiras, complex fortified wines that vary from dry and spicy to sweet, dessert-like wines.

Also noteworthy is the bar’s excellent happy hour, which runs daily from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The open bottles from the previous day are available for half-price, along with $1 specials on drafts and select wines. This half-off deal is a fantastic way to try new wines.

This happy hour ensures that the wines are kept fresh, and they’re also served at optimal temperature. Reds are served in the low 60s, while whites are in the low 50s, or even lower if you plan on sitting on the front patio, perhaps with a cigar from the bar’s humidor.

If you’re in the mood to purchase a bottle of wine, you get a free shot at Chinchilla Drop, a Plinko-esque game that rewards you with anything from a bar T-shirt to a free bottle on your next visit.

Go to Bar Chinchilla to be with good friends or to get to know your friendly bartender. It’s an intimate experience, and sometimes that’s exactly the right thing.

jg@saintbeat.com

Bar Chinchilla

439 1st Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 827-7742.

The vibe: A tiny wine and beer bar with a well-picked selection and wide range of Madeira wines.

Booze: Beer and wine. Beer, $4-$16; wine, $5.50-$65 by the glass and $17-$185 by the bottle. Happy hour is from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily, featuring half-off select wines and $1 off all draft beers, as well as Vinho Verde and Douro wines.

Specialty: With more than 50 wines available by the glass, it’s hard to know where to start. Wines from Portugal are big here, ranging from Vinho Verde and Douro wines to a range of fortified Madeira wines, a relative rarity at local wine bars. If you’re in a beer mood, you’ll find eight on draft, along with a small but great list of bottled and canned options that include several sought-after beers at affordable prices, like Cigar City’s Marshall Zhukov imperial stout at $16 for a 22-ounce bottle.

Hours: 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 3 p.m. to midnight Friday; noon to midnight Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.

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