Downtown Wine Merchants Emerges from the Pandemic

Downtown Wine Merchants Emerges from the Pandemic

Nestled on the corner of 14th and Broadway, right outside a BART entrance, and across the courtyard from Oakland City Hall, Downtown Wine Merchants enjoys a very central location in the former Tully’s spot in an iconic flatiron building. Yet, when the pandemic hit and everything shut down, what was once a bustling corner suddenly screeched to a halt.

Many Oakland restaurants pivoted and offered take out or delivery, but bars were particularly challenged. The landscape had changed and there were no longer office workers coming in for lunch or a drink after work. No one was getting off BART. In fact, there were very few people in downtown Oakland at all. But Downtown Wine Merchants opened in 2014, and was not going to go down without a fight.

Wine Flight at Downtown Wine Merchants

Adding a New Service: Free Wine Delivery

When the Bay Area shut down for COVID, Downtown Wine Merchants started offering deliveries of wine. A loyal tech-savvy customer helped them out by creating an online ordering page – pro bono!

When asked where they deliver, Susanne Breen, owner of Downtown Wine Merchants, said “pretty much anywhere in the Bay Area, as long as the purchase is a minimum of one case.”

It sounds to us like it would be easy enough to pick a mixed case to get free delivery. If you are unsure, Susanne is happy to curate a case for you based on your personal preferences. In either case, who wouldn’t want a case of wine delivered to their doorstep?

One of the benefits of being a small wine merchant is getting to know your customer. Susanne usually sends her husband to do the deliveries, but warns him that it will take longer than expected to complete his delivery route because the customers will want to catch up on the doorstep and find out how the wine bar is doing.

Downtown Wine Merchants has a good relationship with the neighborhood; learning to co-exist with the homeless in Oakland city center and supporting local causes. The wine bar was a window sponsor for the Black Joy Story Windows this past summer, a celebration of local Black artists in the area. And the wine bar chose to keep the art up beyond the event to continue supporting the artists and keeping this part of Oakland beautiful.

Black Joy Story Windows, Photo Credit: Artist As First Responder

Downtown Location is Easy to Access

If you are looking for a wine bar in downtown Oakland, this is the place! BART accessible, and conveniently located near offices (for non-COVID times), this wine bar has a comfortable, neighborhood vibe, with both local and European wine selections, but nothing from the southern hemisphere. Wines are mostly organic, and they also have a selection of local wines on tap. Whether you are looking for a glass of wine to sip or want to try something new, there are plenty of options. There is a featured flight on the menu, but you can customize a flight too. Need a suggestion? Ask Susanne, the owner and she will be sure to steer you right.

The vibe on a Friday afternoon, was comfortable and calming. With regulars lining the bar, and friends catching up at tables, the customers are as diverse as Oakland. Some come for wine, some come for dinner, all come for a place to hang out and enjoy wine. Despite the wine bar being open again, albeit at limited capacity, they still do a good take out business, with Chef Chris Ahr at the helm. Many regulars continue to order their favorite meal that they pick up along with their wine order.

With an eye towards sustainability, the decor uses recycled wood from barrels, re-purposed wine bottles that have been cut to form lamps or utensil holders, and offering wines on tap with optional refillable wine growlers for purchase. Wine on tap, or wine dispensed from a keg, provides a fresh pour for each wine by the glass or wine tasting order. The wine kegs save packaging materials, such as a bottle, cork, wine labels, and are refillable. In addition to the wines by the glass, clients can purchase a Downtown Wine Merchants logo wine growler (which holds about 4 glasses of wine) and bring it back for refills. Don’t worry, each growler purchased comes with detailed instructions for cleaning before bringing back for a refill. One additional added benefit is a lower price point that Downtown Wine Merchants gladly passes on to the customer.

Wine and food naturally go together, so when Downtown Wine Merchants got a new chef, it all came together so well. When Chef Chris Ahr joined the wine bar, the food offerings were pretty minimal and predictable (charcuterie platter, cheese platter, small plates). Now the food menu has a wide assortment of options, including entrees and dessert. Chef Chris, sources ingredients locally, visiting multiple farmers’ markets to pick the freshest ingredients and he has high standards! When he couldn’t source a bun for his pork sandwich, he created his own, which is just an example of the lengths he will go to for a dish. Some of the favorites on the current menu include: Smoked Salmon with Asparagus, Summer Peaches and Prosciutto salad with frisee and pickled green strawberries, Maitake Mushroom and Brie flatbread (perfect for vegetarians). And the desserts are amazing, as Chef Chris started his culinary career as a pastry chef. Be sure to pair dessert with wine: the Buttermilk Summer Peach Shortcake paired wonderfully with the Vietti Moscato d’Asti from Italy, and the Chocolate Pot de Creme was delectable with the Graham’s 10 year Tawny Port from Portugal.

Whether you want to sip some wine after work, enjoy a Saturday afternoon, or try something new, Downtown Wine Merchants is the place to be!

Faces of the East Bay