Every 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 can 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.
The London Wine Bar
415 Sansome St
San Francisco, CA 94111
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.
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