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02.19.2007

San Francisco Wine Bar: The London Wine Bar

londonwine.jpgEvery wine bar needs to have something to make it different from all the others. Not all have a claim to fame, but the London Wine Bar certainly does. This brick fronted nook in the heart of San Francisco's financial district is able to assert, with some authority, that it was the first wine bar in America, opening its doors to wine loving patrons in 1974, back when a really good Napa Cabernet would cost you about $20.

The London Wine Bar has been slaking the thirst of its financial district patrons for a long time, and you get a sense of that walking in the door. The place feels more like a pub than a wine bar, with old wood booths and paneling, bankers lamps, and more. I guess this is what wine bars used to look like back in the day. Just like regular bars. But with wine.

Actually the place is a full regular bar as well, so if you've got some martini swilling friends in tow, this is a place where you can have your wine and they can have their spirits and everyone can get along just fine, so long as you http://www.vinography.com/archives/images/london_wine_bar-thumb.jpgcan elbow your way up to the bar, or stake out a table or wooden booth amidst the post-work crowd.

Its sad to say it, but the London Wine Bar hasn't held up too well against the test of time. Oh sure, it's still there and by all appearances, doing a brisk business, but compared to other wine bars in the city it seems just a bit....tired. The by-the-glass list is decently sized and changes with some regularity, but is often heavily California weighted. In its favor, the list shows a bias towards small producers that, while not always great, are certainly better than heavily commercial, mainstream wines. The bottle list is somewhat better, and generally broader in scope. The wines are served in the type of wine glasses you'd expect in a bar that had only a house red and a house white. The food on offer is quintessential bar food, and those items which might sound wine friendly are generally unappetizing. The cheese plate is particularly pitiful.

I've had wildly variable service at the London Wine Bar, mostly dependent upon how close to happy hour it really was. The gents behind the bar usually know what they're doing when it comes to the wine, but I've had servers on the floor who hadn't a clue about the wines.

The London Wine Bar is a good bar, but by today's standards, and certainly by the standards of the Bay Area's wine lovers, it's not a very good wine bar.

WINE LIST: two stars

STEMWARE: one half star

SERVICE: one and a half stars

FOOD: one half star

ATMOSPHERE: one star

OVERALL: one star


The London Wine Bar
415 Sansome St
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 788-4811

Open Monday thru Friday 11:30 AM - 9:00 PM. Evening parking can be had without a lot of trouble after 6:00 PM, except on Friday nights when it gets a bit tougher. There are always a lot of taxis in the neighborhood and the place is stumbling distance from BART. Because of its financial district location you'll see more people in suits in this wine bar than most others in the city, but don't take that as a dress code.

Comments (12)

Rob wrote:
02.20.07 at 12:37 PM

That's a fair assessment. I find myself returning to LWB, mostly due to the convenience of its location. It could be so much better. One thing that drives my crazy about LWB are the stingy pours. Also (along similar lines), as a repeat customer, unlike almost all other wine bars (and bars with good wine by the glass) I frequent, I don't think they've ever offered me an extra taste of anything, even though I usually chat-up the proprietor (and he recognizes me when I visit). You'd think they could off-set some overhead wine cost with the regular drink business.

Fatemeh wrote:
02.20.07 at 8:17 PM

Um, this is totally shallow, but um...

Well, the mani-pedi place next door? They let you bring in a glass from LWB. And LWB is great about letting their glasses go over there.

So, yea. It's a girl thing, but hey.

Alder wrote:
02.20.07 at 9:46 PM

That goes down as one of the most entertaining comments I've ever received.

Geoff Smith wrote:
02.21.07 at 10:59 AM

Fatemah,

What is the best wine to accompany a mani or a pedi?

Geoff

Jim wrote:
02.25.07 at 8:14 AM

Tis a shame since this is the place that started my interest in wine in the very early '90's.

I was on a consulting project in the financial district, found LWB close by, was curious and decided to give it a try. Having been a beer drinker my entire life it was a new experience for me. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the world of wines at LWB. To this day I have found memories of LWB.

It's sad to hear that LWB hasn't kept pace with the passion of wine lovers over the years.

PublicEmily wrote:
02.26.07 at 8:46 PM

This is the first wine blog I've read, and it's funny, since I was at the LWB on Friday for the first time in years.

It's definitely a cozy little place. And I must say, our bartender was really great. (Maybe he read this blog.) He let us taste the wine before we bought a glass, and chatted with us about what we should do at our upcoming wine party.

Yeah, the cheese plate isn't gourmet, but it's free -- all you can eat. And that's a boon when it comes to the Financial District. If you want fancy-dancy, head to the Ferry Building. If you want a quiet little place, London Wine Bar is the place to go.

Alder wrote:
02.26.07 at 9:47 PM

Thanks for the comments. They must really have liked you. They always charge me for the cheese plate.

Lambo wrote:
04.05.07 at 2:31 PM

Whoever wrote the main review above is pretty clueless about a few things. I'm referring especially to: "Actually the place is a full regular bar as well, so if you've got some martini swilling friends in tow, this is a place where you can have your wine and they can have their spirits" - uhhhh, dude, this place serves wine and beer, not hard alcohol, not now, not ever - did you really go there?

The LWB is a relaxed place with good wine for a lot of tastes. Best way to experience it is to ask the server/bartender for wines of a style that you like. Rather than ordering French or California, try asking for a dry white or a big fruit zinfindel. You will be surprised at what they come up with, and you will discover a lot about wine that you did not know before.

Alder wrote:
04.05.07 at 2:38 PM

Hmm. Could've sworn I saw someone there getting a mixed drink. Thanks for the correction, despite the scornful tone.

What are the other things that I am so clueless about?

Alder

lambo wrote:
04.07.07 at 9:07 AM

Well, let's look at a couple more of your comments:

"The wines are served in the type of wine glasses you'd expect in a bar that had only a house red and a house white."

Simply and completely not true. They use oversize wine glasses that could never be mistaken for what you describe. They don't change styles by varietal, but they are more than decent glasses.

"The cheese plate is particularly pitiful."

Are you referring to the free blocks of very ordinary cheese at happy hour, or what you order off the menu and pay for? The cheese plate you pay for has several varieties of cheese, a little fruit and bread. It won't win awards, but it is a satisfying plate and far from "pitiful".

I'm still wondering whether or not you actually went there. I don't care whether or not you like the place, that is personal preference, but your basic facts can't be trusted.

Alder wrote:
04.07.07 at 10:00 AM

Lee,

Compared to most every other decent wine bar in the city, the LWB stemware is sub par. They are wine glasses, sure, but they're not good quality ones.

The cheese plate that I ordered and paid for the last time I was there came with bread, three slices of cheese, a couple of walnits, and some grapes. The pitiful thing was that these cheeses were essentially the quality and variety you would buy at Safeway -- Fontina, plain Cheddar, and something else, if my memory serves. It's truly embarassing given the incredible cheese resources available in San Francisco, and anyone with a shred of gourmet sensibility would find it pitiful.

I've been to the LWB dozens of times, the last time being about 5 weeks ago. What sort of interest do you have in so staunchly defending someplace from someone whose opinion you clearly don't value (but is obviously shared by any number of people, if you read the other comments on this blog post)?

P.S. Anyone who is interested in seeing the rather ordinary bisto style glass (rather than crystal) wine glasses that are offered at the LWB can simply click on the photo above (that according to you, Lee, must have been taken by someone else, eh?).

Lambo wrote:
04.07.07 at 5:34 PM

"The wines are served in the type of wine glasses you'd expect in a bar that had only a house red and a house white."

OK - name one bar that describes the above - I don't believe you can.

That isn't the cheese plate I've received, but that subject is more of an opinion than a fact, so that discussion has to end somewhere (seen the cheeses at the Marina Safeway lately?)

You have been there "dozens of times" but still thought they served hard alcohol? Wow.

Your opinion is as valid as anybody's, but the facts should be presented with some standard of care.

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