South Lake Avenue is going through some tough times, with empty storefronts abounding, but things are looking up on the block between Green and Cordova. The Counter‘s customized burgers are proving a hit, Crocodile Cafe has been reborn as Café 140, and now there’s a new spot in the Commons that people are talking about: the Wine Detective.
Part retail store, part wine bar and part high-tech tasting center, this new spot was created by two wine-loving local couples, Alan and Violetta Markie and Lev Gertsik and Yulia Meitser (the men are both psychiatrists). They invested in state-of-the-art Enomatic machines, which make tasting a fun, self-serve game (although there’s always a wine lover on hand to provide guidance if you want it). A staff member loads a card with a dollar amount, and then you wander around and explore which of the 32 reds and 16 whites you’d like to taste. When you find one, you insert the card into the machine, hold your glass under the spigot, push a button, and out comes one ounce of wine; if you want more of a proper drink, you can get as many ounces as you like (prices are in the $2 to $5 an ounce range). If you try something and like it, you can buy a bottle to drink on-site or to take home. (Note: If you’re going to stay and drink awhile, get a bottle—it’s cheaper.)
It’s a comfortable place to sit, sip and nosh, with two lounge-y seating areas and a wooden communal table; a projector fills a large wall with vintage photos from the Library of Congress archives. There isn’t a lot of seating, but that’s all right—many prefer to stand around the machines and chat, so they can keep going back for another one-ounce taste. To eat are a good assortment of cheeses, charcuterie and pintxos, small, open-face Basque sandwiches (try the Serrano ham, Manchego cheese and oven-roasted tomatoes).
All in all, the Wine Detective is a fine addition to Pasadena’s wine community and café culture—it’s a worthwhile destination both for serious oenophiles and for people who just want a comfortable, stylish, quiet place to talk over a drink and a bit of pâté and pecorino.
The Commons, 146 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena, 626.792.9936, winedetective.com. Sun.-Wed. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 11 a.m.-midnight.