Having recently celebrated its third anniversary, an impressive feat in the notoriously precarious restaurant business, The Vine has not only survived but has steadily increased its business.
"I think we found a niche in OB with what we wanted to do," said managing partner Brian O'Loughlin, who owns The Vine along with his wife, Hannah, and co-owners Bob and Margaret Fischer. "We are able to be as casual as we wanted to be with wine and food, and people have responded to it. We have a pretty big local following."
Chris Bowd, a 10-year OB resident and self-proclaimed regular, has been coming to The Vine since shortly after its opening.
"At first I figured it was a typical wine bar. You know "¦ where it's assumed that you're already knowledgeable about wine. There's a certain attitude," said Bowd, sipping a new staff-recommended beer.
The beer selection may rival the extensive and impressive wine list, according to Bowd and other beer aficionados.
One such "expert" posted his thoughts of The Vine's offerings on the Beer Advocate Web site (beeradvocate.com), proclaiming, "Beer tasting takes place in dark, oaky or even smoky places, caverns of privacy. Wine bars are places where people flaunt their wine snobbery and relish in their exclusivity.
"The Vine is not at all like any of that. The wine and beer enthusiasts can sit comfortably side by side," added the beer devotee.
Bowd echoed the observation, attributing this to the attitude of the employees. "Everyone is so nice and casual "“ not even remotely snobby. Brian has a knack for hiring the right people."
O'Loughlin said several staff members have been with him since opening day, including manager Renee Rosenbaum, kitchen manager Matt Murphy and server Sean Burke, all of Ocean Beach.
Jason and Jenny Clough, new to Ocean Beach, were hooked after friends insisted they check the place out. In addition to the "awesome" food and beverage selections, "You can't beat the happy hour prices," said Jason.
The Vine's happy hour is unique in that it is offered seven days a week from 4 to 6 p.m. and all beers and wines are half price. According to the Cloughs, "It's a great opportunity to try the more expensive wines."
The staff also knows its stuff and is enthusiastic about enlightening anyone curious enough to learn. And although any one of them could spout the "proper" lingo and adeptly inform customers of a wine's astringency, body, bouquet or legs, what truly makes a wine great, said O'Loughlin, is "if you like the way it tastes."
Featuring an extensive variety of wines and beers from around the world, The Vine's focus is on small production, high-quality wines and handcrafted beers.
"To complement this," O'Loughlin said, "our cafÃ©-style menu offers eclectic dishes and twists on old favorites."
At the bar, on the sidewalk patio or at the cozy tables in the ambient dining area, patrons can enjoy everything from a Euro cheese board, olive sampler or Ahi tartar served with olive tapenade and garlic toast to the popular flat-iron steak topped with caramelized shallots, candied walnuts and Roquefort sauce, bacon-wrapped scallops with a port reduction sauce, or perhaps a very tasty burger made of prime angus beef with caramelized onions and lightly smoked cheddar cheese.
The burger would also qualify as one of those twists O'Loughlin mentioned, along with other selections like the penne pasta "“ not served with traditional red gravy but with a sautÃ© of Italian sausage and broccoli rabe tossed with fresh parmesan.
Shannon's Super Sexy PÃ¢tÃ© is worth noting, not only for the tasty twist on pÃ¢tÃ©s of the past, but also for the fact that it came to the menu via OB resident Shannon Essa, who claims to be the first ("or maybe second") customer. Essa, who works in the wine industry, knows of which she speaks.
Among other things, she has co-authored a guide to eating and drinking in Venice, Italy, entitled, "Chow! Venice."
It would be remiss to neglect the desserts, which include a decadent chocolate lava cake; the same goes for the crÃ¨me brulÃ©e, served over chocolate-covered bananas.
The true surprise on the menu is that with the exception of a few items "” like the six-ounce filet wrapped in pancetta with a cabernet demi-glace at $14.99 "” most items run under $10.
Perhaps slightly tongue in cheek, Essa stated on her own Web site (poptarticus.com), "I am ecstatic that there is a place for me outside of my house. If you can't find me at home, and you know I am not traveling, I'll be at The Vine."
The Vine Wine Bar and CafÃ© is located at the corner of Bacon and Niagara streets. For more information, call (619) 222-VINE (8463).