When a slew of wine bars opened this year in Beijing’s Sanlitun-Workers Stadium Corridor — Veloce, The Loop, Cru, Everwines and more — I didn’t imagine my most frequent stop would be Calfornia Grapes in the less-than-ideal B1 area of Sanlitun Soho. All of the wine bars mentioned above have their merits, and I’ll cover them soon, but I find myself drifting to Cali once a week to sample among the two dozen wines by the glass, talk to my fellow customers (I have run into a surprising number of people I know) and shoot the guff with owner Frank Yglesias and the staff.
The stripped-down warehouse feel and the location will not be to everyone’s taste, and it can be hit and miss as to whether there is a crowd, but I find California Grapes a nice retreat for drinking decent wines at decent prices without pretension. It’s a place to grab a few glasses after work, hang out with friends or c0-workers, meet new people — I have met restaurant owners, wine makers, computer programmers, auction house employees, antique traders and more here — and pick up a bottle or two for home consumption.
California Grapes has live music on Saturday afternoons. On a recent Saturday afternoon, singer-guitarist Chris — known by many in Beijing from his gigs as Nashville, Nearby the Tree and elsewhere — and a bass player did sets until 7 PM. (He’s the only guy I know who plays Mark Knopfler’s “Local Hero” theme song — superb tune and movie. )
This place has wine by the glass from rmb20 to rmb65, or you can mix and match three glasses for rmb100. It has also started offering free house wine for women on Thursday evenings. And there was a deal last that involved all-you-can-drink house wine for rmb100, which is good for those who like volume, though I recommend working through the by-the glass menu. It changes each month and the wines are fun to compare.