San Francisco Wine Bar: The Bubble Lounge

bubblelounge.jpgThere’s definitely something to be said for finding your niche and sticking with it. For nearly 10 years the Bubble Lounge has been serving Champagne and sparkling wine to San Francisco’s jet set and financial district fun seekers. While the dot-com boom days that packed them in are gone, the Bubble Lounge continues to be a popular post-work watering hole, and enough of a weekend seen that it can be a daunting place to drop in on a Friday night with friends without some pre-planning. Perhaps its continued popularity is due to its location at the nexus of Ad Agency Row and the Financial District, which tend to supply a never ending supply of account managers and analysts with a penchant for sparkling beverages.

The Bubble Lounge cultivates an upscale clientele, albeit without the stuffiness you’d expect in LA or New York. The mood lighting is always on, the couches are red velvet, and the music doesn’t exactly fade into the background. This isn’t the type of place that you can just slouch over to — on most nights you’ll have to compete with some pretty dolled up folks (can you say bachelorette party?) not to mention adhere to their strict dress code: no sneakers, gym or workout garments, sandals, baseball caps, military or combat fatigues, or swimwear.

If you’re not in for the social scene, I recommend a trip to the Bubble Lounge on a Tuesday night, where you’ll likely find it a mellow and comfortable (those couches are so very soft) place to relax and drink some bubbles.

The Bubble Lounge offers wine drinkers a list of Champagnes and sparkling wines by the glass that is simply unmatched anywhere. While serious wine geeks won’t find many small production grower Champagnes on the list, it is certainly the most extensive list of such wines by the glass anywhere — offering the opportunity to try things that are only occasionally offered by the glass at high-end restaurants.

Be warned, such opportunity has a cost — most glasses start at the $14 or $15 level and go up from there, ending at around $30 for some of the top vintage cuvees. While such prices are undoubtedly a bit steep, where else in town can you have a glass of Krug Grand Cuvee, followed by a glass of Laurent Perrier Brut, followed by a glass of Pol Roger, without spending $800?

In addition to the almost 30 wines by the glass, the bar also has several flights of Champagne in three ounce pours for those who feel like exploring without a significant investment of liver or pocketbook. And of course, those who are interested in ordering by the bottle will find an extensive library of vintage and non-vintage cuvees that is really quite impressive.

The staff at the Bubble Lounge are helpful, but only occasionally well informed about the wines on their list — most assume by default that you’re there to enjoy yourself more than geek out and learn about the difference between Spumanti and Method Ancienne. At any given time, there’s generally at least one person there that can answer more detailed questions about the wines, or make more subtle recommendations for someone interested in educating their palate, so be sure to ask if you need help.

In addition to the wine list, a full bar is available, including several signature Champagne cocktails. The bar also offers a range of small food plates that are quite competently made, from simple selections of caviar, sushi, or oysters, to smaller prepared items like tuna tartare or little grilled sandwiches. They also have a cheese platter which is quite competent. There’s definitely enough food on offer to make it a destination for a light dinner, but if you’re really hungry, the bill can add up in a hurry.

The Bubble Lounge is still going strong after all these years for a reason. It’s a nice place to enjoy a glass of wine, and its by-the-glass list is still unmatched, even though there are now 10 times as many wine bars in San Francisco as there were when the place first opened. If you like Champagne, it’s either your destination of choice or your nemesis.

WINE LIST: three stars

STEMWARE: two and a half stars

SERVICE: two and a half stars

FOOD: two and a half stars

ATMOSPHERE: three and a half stars

OVERALL: three stars

The Bubble Lounge San Francisco
714 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
Tel: 415-434-4204

Open Tuesday thru Friday 5:30 PM to 2:00 AM, and 6:30 PM to 2:00 AM on Saturdays. Closed Sundays and Mondays except for private events, which sometimes occupy the cave-like space downstairs from the main lounge. Reservations are accepted during normal business hours, and can be helpful on a Friday night.

Parking is hell in that neighborhood at any time. Taxi is recommended.