Gone are the days of expensive wine bars where servers sneer at uninformed drinkers. Today, wine bars are friendly, inviting spaces where bartenders and servers are excited to share their knowledge and love of all kinds of wine. And there’s something for everyone, whether your taste is for funky, natural, and biodynamic bottles, more classic French and California wines, or you’re not really sure where to start.
Etinosa Emokpae says wine bars can be an excellent way to explore what you do and don’t like. The Philadelphia-based sommelier was the wine director at Friday Saturday Sunday and helped open Walnut Street Café. Today, she works for Skurnik Wines, one of the leading wine importers in the region.
“The best thing about wine bars is that it’s cheaper,” Emokpae says. “If you’re drinking something at a wine bar, nine times out of 10 they’re going to be pouring you a taste before you get a whole glass, and you don’t have to commit to a whole bottle.”
Since Pennsylvania is a control state, meaning the state controls basically all alcohol sales, buying bottles can be a little pricier, which makes trying things by the glass particularly appealing.
TIP: Once you’ve found a glass that you like, Emokpae recommends asking your server to recommend something else to try on your next visit.
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The most important thing, she says, is finding a bar with an environment that appeals to you. “At the end of the day, this is just booze,” Emokpae says. “We still need to have a good time.”
Here are some great spots to have a good time drinking wine in Philadelphia and the region:
Bloomsday does excellent, high-quality natural wines without any pretension — the servers know the wine list backward and forward, but the bar also serves up drinks like prosecco water ice floats, if you’re looking for something a little less serious. “Bloomsday is by far my favorite wine bar in Philadelphia,” Emokpae said. “They have arguably the best listing for drinking, but also to buy in the bottle shop. They do a great job of sourcing and making their list really unique.”
Fishtown Social owner Vanessa Wong made the switch from practicing law to running a restaurant and bar, and her approach to wine is friendly, inviting, and approachable for drinkers with all levels of knowledge. As a parent, she wanted the space to be a place where parents could stop by and have a glass of wine and a few bites of food — so don’t be afraid to bring kids. Over the years, the wine program has evolved toward natural bottles, but they’ve maintained a laid-back approach that will make you wish this spot was in your neighborhood.
320 Market has two locations, in Swarthmore and Media, both well-stocked with grab-and-go food, beer, and a varied, affordable selection of wines by the glass and bottles to go. They may not be the most glamorous spots, but they’ve been focused on natural and low-intervention wines since 1991, so they really know what they’re doing. “I think they were one of the first to do a bottle shop focused on natural wine,” Emokpae said. “I think the breadth of their list is absolutely incredible.”
Owner Jill Weber’s past life as an archaeologist informs much of the wine list at Jet Wine Bar: She brings in wine from some of her favorite places in the world, including Lebanon and Turkey. As a result, the list is different than what you’ll find at other spots, the staff is super knowledgeable, and the outdoor patio is perfect for sipping rosé and white wine all summer long.
There are many reasons to love Martha, including its delicious food like pimento cheese dip and vegan hoagies. The bar also focuses more on Pennsylvania-made wines, a region that is just starting to get more attention. Look for Pennsylvania-made white and rosé wines on their list, or ask a bartender for a recommendation. The bar also recently instituted a service charge, which allows them to better pay employees across the board.
Technically, this is a wine store, not a wine bar, but they always have a couple of bottles available to drink by the glass as well as a handful of beers on tap (plus they keep one or two bottles of all the whites, sparklings, and rosés chilled for immediate consumption). The best move, though, is to buy a bottle and take it across the street to the seating area they call the Piazza — there’s no corkage fee. Ask the knowledgeable staff to recommend a bottle (or three), whether you’re looking for an affordable wine to pair with a cheesesteak for a chill afternoon with friends, or a fancy bottle for a special occasion.
Chloe Grigri’s wine program at Good King Tavern is focused on the best and most exciting bottles coming out of France — from affordable Languedoc whites to more expensive Burgundy reds and everything in between. This is an excellent place to sample a few wines while you nibble a few snacks, and take home another bottle for later. Grigri also runs Le Caveau, a true wine bar upstairs from Good King Tavern with an even larger by-the-glass menu that has remained closed during the pandemic but is expected to reopen this summer.
Beverage director Frank Kinyon designs a.bar’s by-the-glass and to-go bottle programs with two things in mind: first, that they’re high-quality, low-intervention wines, and second, that they’re priced affordably enough to encourage guests to experiment and try new things. Almost all their wines are organic or biodynamic, and the menu is written with approachable tasting notes that help you figure out what you might like (though the staff is also ready to offer recommendations).
Emily Kovak runs the wine and beverage program for Port Richmond’s The Lunar Inn with an eye toward mind-expanding, super-approachable wines meant for drinking while also having fun. Try a glass of rosé brewed in the style of beer, or go for a chilled red to pair with their excellent cheeseburger. Once you’ve had your fill, buy a couple of bottles to go at Tiny’s, the (yes, tiny) bottle shop they run behind the bar.
When what you really want is a glass of icy frosé, a spacious garden, and a raucous evening of fun with friends, head to the Wine Garden. The Black-owned bar specializes in wine-based cocktails like their rosé pop, a glass of rosé paired with a popsicle, water ice floats, and lots of sparkling wines. The bottomless mimosa brunch is also a popular choice on Saturdays and Sundays.
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You don’t always want to spend a lot on wine, so Manayunk’s Jake’s and Cooper’s offers a “Cheap Wine” program — for $18, you can order a half-carafe (which is about three glasses of wine). These wines are perfect for evenings when you don’t want to think too much or spend too much. When you’re ready to explore a little more, lean on the staff for recommendations, or turn to their easy-to-understand tasting notes, all written with the beginner’s palate in mind.
Versi Vino’s slogan is “taking the guess work out of ordering wine.” The menu features 39 wines by the glass, and you can order by the taste, half-glass, full-glass, or bottle. If this piques your interest, they also run tastings and classes, both digitally and in-person — and most include several bottles of wine as well as face-to-face instruction time.
The Farm and Fisherman has a kind of market-turned-restaurant vibe. Sit down for a full meal, stop in early for a glass of wine from the bar’s extensive list, or take home a bottle for later. The selection skews classic, with a few cult favorites tucked in for good measure.
The 8,000-square-foot Di Bruno Bros. Wayne location is the latest in the Philly mainstay’s takeover of the region. In addition to all the meats, cheeses, and high-end groceries, the Wayne location also hosts Bar Alimentari, a wine bar and restaurant where you can drink some of the best bottles selected for their wine shops by beverage director Sande Friedman. The list pulls from a wide variety of regions, including Italy (of course), and all the glasses are perfect for pairing with snacks.
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Etinosa Emokpae, Philadelphia-based sommelier
About the writer:
Maddy Sweitzer-Lammé is a food and restaurant writer based in Philadelphia with roots in the South. Her work spans restaurants, home cooking, and all the ways food is intertwined with community, politics, and pleasure. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Philadelphia Magazine.