In March 2012, Luis Wine Bar uncorked a new place to enjoy a glass of wine, a craft beer, organic sodas and some noshes.
Located on Higuera Street near the corner of Santa Rosa Street, the wine bar serenely sits in downtown San Luis Obispo without being fully caught up in the hustle and bustle. With its high ceilings, dark leather furniture and stylish light fixtures, the tasteful lounge imparts just enough big-city atmosphere to be classy without being stuffy.
“I wanted it to be minimalist, but comfortable,” said owner Vanessa North, “and I wanted to make it the kind of place where my friends and I would want to hang out.”
She’s succeeded in that, thanks in part to the understated but upbeat soundtrack she’s added to the ambiance, plus a unique visual feature — a continuously changing mélange of music, beer and wine labels projected on the tall wall above the bar. The mix runs on an Apple program, the company North used to work for, and she personally curated the collection of a few thousand images.
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“It’s kind of like watching an aquarium,” said North, “and it really does spark a lot of conversations.”
A graduate of Cal Poly, North was living in the Bay Area and working for Apple’s China division when she opted to move back to San Luis Obispo.
In pondering what she was going to do here, she realized that she “wanted to do something that was part of the community rather than just sitting in an office.” That something ended up being Luis Wine Bar.
In terms of wines, North focuses on “local” — an area which she considers to range from Monterey County through Santa Barbara — and she typically has about 50 to 60 available at any one time.
She also offers monthly white and red flights of three wines each, all of which focus on something such as a particular varietal or region. For example, this January, it’s a stylistic showcase of the Alsace region with two French wines and four locals.
For beers, Luis has four rotating taps, 80-plus bottled beers in an array of styles, a couple of ciders and a gluten-free beer. The majority of the bottles are domestic microbrews, but you can also choose from a select list of Belgian and Belgian-style imports.
Foodwise, Luis offers several “light bites,” but North noted that she also welcomes outside food. Usually that’s from neighboring restaurants, and often from the vendors at the Thursday Farmers Market.
The Luis menu itself features some of the things you’d expect at a wine bar. You can order mixed nuts and olives, cheese and meats plates, and an artichoke, rosemary, cannelini bean dip served with market fresh veggies and/or crostini.
Other treats include a cream cheese square with chopped dried cherries and local honey, a gooey jalapeño cream cheese dip, and — because “bacon makes everything better!” — bacon s’mores served with mini marshmallows that you can toast yourself.
Those certainly aren’t a typical staple of wine bar cuisine. North admits that the idea was actually hatched during a camping trip, but she thought at the time, “When I open my wine bar, I’m going to have bacon s’mores.”
In fact, they’re a surprisingly good match with many of the potent potables at Luis. Specifically, North suggests “a Syrah — the Qupé on our current list would be perfect — and the PasoPort (a dessert wine). For beers, I would turn to our selection of stouts and porters. The Stone Vanilla Bean Smoked Porter would probably be a great match!”