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The Savvy Traveler

Wine Country After Dark

Part One: Napa

Ok, so it’s not LA. It’s not New York. And it’s definitely not St. Tropez. When in wine country, don’t expect to find nightlife that rivals the major after-dark scenes from around the globe. But, just because you’re in the sticks doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time. In fact, if you know where to look, wine country is actually teeming with spots where you can wet your whistle and – gasp! – even shake your booty a bit after dark.

For starters, the town of Napa – not small by any means with a population of more than 125 thousand - offers the most options for visitors looking to stir up a little adventure après-tasting. First, drop into the Bounty Hunter, a downtown Napa gem where owner Mike Pope offers an impressive international selection of beer and wine by the glass alongside home cooking-inspired savories like Beer Can chicken and Cowboy Steak. Its cherry downtown location and popularity with the locals make the Bounty Hunter a sure-fire bet for a good crowd and great jumping off point for your night on the town.
The Bounty Hunter, 975 First Street, Napa ( 707) 226-3976

Next, head over to the River City Bar & Grill for outstanding custom cocktails and a lively bar scene. The place recently re-opened after cleaning up extensive flood damage from the relentless winter ’06 storms. Management took advantage of the opportunity to remodel the place and spiff up its décor, and the new modern-ish vibe and attractive river-front setting is drawing throngs of locals to the restaurant’s popular bar. Recent weekends have seen the place packed with an energetic crowd sipping cocktails like the signature Dark ‘n Stormy (dark rum, ginger ale and lime juice) and the Two Feet High & Rising, a playful nod to the spot’s unfortunate past made with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, ginger ale and lime.
River City, 505 Lincoln Avenue, Napa (707) 253-1111

Didn’t think bar-hopping happened in wine country? Think again. If you’ve still got the night itch, head on over to new spot NV Restaurant and Lounge on 1st Street. The newcomer with a deliberately ambiguous name (is it short for Napa Valley or “envy?”), is getting solid marks for its food, although the real news here is what’s happening in the lounge. On weekend nights you can wind down near the spot’s chic fireplace while listening to live music and noshing on a delicious selection of affordable small bites. Even better, the bar service is excellent and the spot draws a stylish crowd that tends to linger until 2, a rarity in wine country.
NV Restaurant and Lounge, 1106 First St., Napa (707) 265-6400

Those willing to venture a little further up valley will find two more solid nightlife outposts in the quaint – nay, ridiculously cute - town of Yountville. The first is the bar at Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s dressed-down bistro located just down the street from his eponymous French Laundry. Bouchon serves an abbreviated menu including to-die-for gourmet sandwiches, fresh oysters and moules frites until12:30AM, with no reservation required at the bar. The well-lit spot recalls a stylish Parisian bistro with its potted palms and brass accents and hits the spot for savvy late-night diners who appreciate delicious food and a small but lively bar scene. Full bar.
*Insider tip: now that Bouchon’s been given a Michelin Star expect it to be tough to score a barstool there, even at midnight. Call in advance to check availability.
Bouchon Bistro, 6534 Washington St., Yountville, (707) 944-8037

Feel like shaking your groove thang? Cross over Highway 29 to The Wine Lounge at Domaine Chandon, where you can dance to local DJs at their limited-run “Blend” weekend dance party. Weeknights offer a more low-key lounge-like setting in the tasting room, which converts nightly after 6pm to The Wine Lounge. Drink specials and discounts on Chandon bubbles are part of the package seven days a week, as are appetizer specials from chef Chris Manning of Chandon’s award-winning étoile restaurant. The Monday party, dubbed “Thank God It’s Monday,” features $5 sparkling wine cocktails, $9 small plates appetizers and a DJ. Call the winery for Wine Lounge events, dates and details.
Domaine Chandon, One California Drive, Yountville (707) 944-2280

Travelers who find themselves as far up valley as Calistoga will be rewarded with stunning mountain views, charming architecture and warm local character reminiscent of a time gone by. Tucked inside the Mountain View Hotel & Spa in this otherwise sleepy town is brand spanking new BarVino, a hybrid restaurant/wine bar/wine store that features a fascinating line-up of wines from 28 small local producers. Eclectic selections like Sly Poke’s Charbono, a varietal red that’s rarely seen on wine lists in its native Italy, let alone in California, make up the spot’s most popular wines. The youthful crowd is peppered with local winemakers and other valley movers and shakers, but the vibe is decidedly unpretentious.
BarVino, 1457 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga (707) 942-9900