Wine Snobs Don’t Necessarily Keep a Wine Bar in Business

I pitied the wine bar proprietor when my Haahvaaard friend took him to task for his wine list, after the jazz band finished. “Look,” she said, “I’m a wine snob, and if you really want to appeal to the NPR market, you’ve got to do better than this.” Sadly, she missed the point – the wine bar owner had upscaled the EXPERIENCE, and that’s good business anytime.

Like many wine bars in recession-challenged cities like San Francisco, Café Royale (Leavenworth @ Post) has reformatted and reformatted again. Owner Les Cowan has put together an incredible list of events: live music many nights, always Jazz (no cover charge) from 6-8 p.m. Sundays, comedy acts, artists’ receptions. Something for everyone!

Last Sunday, the Gregory James Quartet was playing mellow jazz. My friend knew the girlfriend of the lead guitarist – that‘s why she was there. Join us, was the text message. And so, I did. It was great until those well-toned taste buds spoke up. Not mine – hers.

I’m not a wine snob. I’m a wine fan. I’m also a proponent of this great American (and worldwide) business of wine, and my taste buds are obviously not up to Harvard snuff (although my student loans were…). But I liked Les’ list. Good tasty wines at wine-by-the-glass prices that keeps the place open, and accessible to a local clientele. And those regular locals are the folks who keep a wine bar in business.

Café Royale’s list features a respectable 20-or-so wines. It is varied and affordable. In the reds, a Torres Tempranillo 2004 is $9/glass, $34/bottle. Monte Vina Zinfandel 2003 at 8/30. In whites, a Benvolio Pinot Grigio 2006, 8/26. Norton Torrontes 2005, 8/30. Jekkel Gewurtz 2005, 8/30. And to tickle the sweet tooth, Warre’s Optima tawny port 10 year, $10 a glass.

Check it out. Oh, and check the wine-snobbism at the door when you enter. Put on your party hat and tip it a bit for the wine bar owners who make it possible for us commoners to enjoy art, performance and music with a nice glass of wine in our hands.


  1. Thanks so much for the thoughtful column (and publicity). By the way, I wasn't bothered by your friend's well-meant advice, no matter that it was more theoretical than practical. Nary a week goes by without someone favoring me with advice about how to run my business. In fairness, occasionally I get a good idea that way, so I'm always open to suggestions, even from wine snobs. I was thinking the other day, when did it become honorable to be a snob of any kind? When I was young, being a snob was a bad thing. Guess I'm not young anymore. Oh well.

    Les Cowan
    owner, Cafe Royale

  2. Very thoughtful and well written column and response, I will be sure to visit Cafe Royal next time I am in town...however, I work with several very small California wineries, representing them on a national (and sometimes local) level... in these recession challenged times, Les (and other wine bar owners) would you please look more favorably on US made wines to help support OUR economy instead of Chile, Argentina, and Italy's...I understand as well as anyone the quality and values that are coming from those (first two) countries currently due to government support of their wine industries and very low pay to their workers...but there are also some very tasty value wines made right here in the USA and their purchase would help just a little to get our economy moving again....and maybe in turn give a few more locals who work in wineries, as farmers growing grapes, label printers, bottlers, barrell makers,etc.,etc. enough money to come to your wine bar...just a thought...(perhaps you already do feature many US wines, but Ms. Keck only mentioned the "value" part of your list?)I can't wait to come in either way, it sounds like you have a wonderfull, well thought out spot that is doing well in these tough times.

  3. At the risk of sounding "snobbish", as the Brits might say - "spot on". Seriously though, you're absolutely right, it is the reasonably priced "good, tasty wines" that are keeping the doors open as wine lovers everywhere have become so much more savvy when it comes to the all too often shameful margins some operators want to charge.
    Great article. The next time I'm in the Bay Area, I'l be sure to stop into Cafe Royale for glass or two!
    Bruce @ Naples Wine News

  4. Keep her the hell away from Paso!

  5. All right y'all, drop me a line when you are ready to visit Cafe Royale. We'll make it a Special Event. Upscale, of course! barbara (at) winebizpr (dot)com