The Library Wine Bar, Cheltenham Road
There is something of the Bermuda Triangle about a little Bristol café/bar these days. I don't think you'll ever see such a venture successfully pitched on Dragon's Den, without Peter Jones destroying the pitcher's soul in the process. Coffee shops replace failed coffee shops. Music bars build stages on the bones of dance floors. Don't get me wrong, I'm always in the corner of the independents rooting for the Davids to usurp the Goliaths, but one gets jaded. It takes a lot for me to get attached to a new drink or food-based establishment; I've been disappointed too many times. It's precisely because of all this disappointment, however, that I get a good feeling from The Library.
Firstly, to quote Dragons' Den again, it starts with 'the people'. Sisters Louise and Sarah are polite, eloquent, knowledgeable, lovely, while lacking any sense of naïvety in the eyes. Within thirty seconds of talking to Louise, I assess that the motive behind their venture is the classic one: locate a problem, then solve it. In this case, the problem is a lack of an extensive, quality wine selection in the Gloucester Rd area. Their solution: devote an entire bar to wine, in the same way an ale house would to beer. At worst, it'll be a point in a pub crawl to cater for the uncatered for; at best, it might become many people's new favourite place.
“Some people like to sit and enjoy a few different wines, and then they can settle up at the end just like a restaurant bill.” says ex-accountant Sarah, while her sister sets up a table for two chaps wanting to do exactly that.
I manage to sample just a few varieties before I have to depart, and it's obvious that the ladies are not merely good salespeople. I'm light-years away from approaching sommelier status- that's not currently up for debate, and perhaps it never will be. However, I do have an almost allergic reaction to inferior wine; my cheeks tighten, the tongue retracts, and I find myself approaching future sips with a tentativeness befitting an under-prepared piranha tamer. These mouthfuls, on the other hand, slide down beautifully, missing every acid detecting spot in the gullet.
“We like to bring in a couple of new wines every week,” explains former restaurant manager Louise, “all from different countries and regions. Then we do tasting sessions to see which ones will fit well amongst the others.”
The Portuguese Vinho Verde is smooth, airy with flowery backgrounds. Its fellow countryman, the Douro, has a port-like aroma, but manifests with delicate dryness in the mouth, and the superior Prosecco goes down a little too easily. They're the kind of glasses you initially want to upturn and guzzle, but actually end up slowing you down as you take in the depths and complexity.
Despite the intense focus on quality, The Library doesn't present any exclusivity or pretentiousness. Of course your wine-hating friends can grab a glass of lager (lovely Freedom lager, no less) and, if you just fancy a pre-dinner swifty that won't break the bank, Prosecco before 7pm is just £3 a pop. The food menu is a wise move, too; no cramming a busy kitchen into the back room and burning unnecessary cash and nerves. Instead, they've sourced local, artisan products that are the perfect accompaniment to a lightly chilled Pinot Noir.
If you're a grape aficionado, you'll feel right at home. If you enjoy widening your layman palette, you won't be asked to leave the moment you enquire as to what 'blanc' means. And even if the mention of the word 'Burgundy' leaves you dry-mouthed and irritable, one of the sisters will happily rustle up a gin and tonic for you; don't despair. So pop in some time. Trust me; if you don't at least like something about it (bearing in mind that they were playing endless Motown when I was in there) it's probably your fault.