Anyone who knows me knows that I'm more likely to go to a bar to whine than go to a wine bar. Most of my time is spent at dives bantering with blue-collar types, sipping on dirt-cheap brews. But sometimes even I like to chill somewhere classy and upscale, a place that actually requires me to put something on my feet other than flip-flops. So, in an attempt to meet some cool cats and classy dames, I went to Harrison's Wine Bar for a night of sexy music and fluorescents.
Ambiance: This place is part electric dance party, part bachelor pad, and part chill zone. Red flashing lights, mirrors, the Victoria's Secret fashion show playing from a handful of TVs, and the booming trance music cranked out a frantic, sexy atmosphere. Little glowing lights that run parallel through the room, like the ones on the aisles of an airplane, guided me from the front entrance to the bar area. Sitting on the left was a small stage blocked off with velvet ropes and a stripper pole in the center. A row of classy black leather couches, all drawn close together around matching tables for intimate conversation, lined the left wall. In the wall behind the bar, two little alcoves had been carved out, and red-light-bathed bottles of liquor sat positioned in each one. There's something that feels right about a bar that displays its liquor like a Buddhist shrine.
Bartender: Even without a huge crowd, the bartender seemed perpetually busy. He was slight, with dark hair and a boyish face. I ordered a Stella Artois and bobbed my head to the throbbing trance music.
"So, what's your name?" I asked.
Trance music drowned out his answer, so I cocked my head like a confused spaniel.
"Marco," he sighed. "Like Marco Polo."
I stifled an urge to call out "Marco!" and instead asked how long the bar's been around.
"We've been here eight years," he said. "And we keep the place classy — we don't let people get too drunk and disorderly here."
Knowing that I've been known to be "that girl," I asked how that's possible. Besides, I was under the impression the drunk and disorderly have inalienable rights.
"We'll ask people to leave if they get like that, especially if they're bothering single girls." He gave me a knowing nod, as if assuring me that I'm safe. Clearly, he didn't know that my heels double as deadly weapons.
Owner: Marco was eager to push me off on the owner, Rich Duncan. Rich spoke with a South African accent, wore a white Tommy Hilfiger long-sleeved shirt, and had a contagious laugh.
Upon discovering my intentions were of the writing variety, he pulled a daunting binder out. It was full of articles about Harrison's Wine Bar.
He turned to Marco first and ordered a bloody mary. "And not too spicy," he said. And then, as if his drink had reminded him of his significant other, he summoned over his blond, petite wife, Mary, who sweetly obliged and took up a seat beside him.
"A lot of people have written good articles about us," he prefaced.
"That doesn't mean I will," I smiled sweetly to show that I wasn't becoming "that girl." At least, not yet.
"This is me a lot younger and more handsome," he said, pointing at a newspaper photo. He then pointed to his face. "This is what alcohol will do to you.
"We have swingers' meet-and-greets a few times a month," he continued after a brief laugh.
"Swingers, eh?" I looked around.
"Just for meeting people and getting to know one another." He seemed to pick up that I was envisioning crazy orgies on the black leather couches mere feet from where I sat.
"Sounds fun," I said.
"Also, this was the first wine bar in this area," he said. "Since then, quite a few more have popped up, but hey, the more the merrier. I was the first. My car's license plate says 'WINE BAR.' "
"Tell me about your wine selection," I said. "I've never really found a wine I like."
"Oh, we have wines that range from $10 to $300 a bottle," he said. "In fact, I'll give you a bottle to take home of a good wine. Inexpensive, but if you like it, you'll have something to order next time." He told Marco, who had to climb on a ladder to pull a bottle off one of the elevated wine racks. It was a bottle of pinot noir called La Baume. I didn't know if I'd like it, but just holding it made me feel a little bit classier.
A dark-haired woman in a very short black skirt took up a barstool to chitchat with Mary. Rich was quick to point out that he could see her panties. They were white, which, under the black lights of the bar, made them glow electric purple.
The woman got up, hugged Mary politely, and left.
"You didn't have to point that out," Mary said patiently.
"If you wear a black miniskirt, your underwear has to match," Rich said matter-of-factly.
I pointed to my own white shirt, which under the lights was actually hazy fluorescent lavender. After I had stopped laughing, he asked: "What's your astrological sign?"
"Scorpio," I said.
"My daughter is a Scorpio, and she is evil," Rich said.
"All dads think their daughters are a little evil," I said.
"No, she's really evil," he said. But then he perked up and pulled out his BlackBerry. "Are you on Facebook? You should add me!"
Customers: I picked up my bottle of wine and decided to check out the patio area. The patio was comprised of two short rows of canvas bungalows, sleek couches divided by bamboo walls. A stone fountain bubbled to the right, and glowing candles dotted the tables. A fire pit burned wholesomely at the farthest end of the bar. As I searched for an unoccupied wicker couch, I almost stumbled right into an intense make-out session. Confident they hadn't seen me, I backed away and grabbed a spot near the front. A tall, straight-backed waiter was taking an order from the couple on the other side of the division wall.
"Should I step on the grapes myself?" I heard him quip as he walked away.
I peered around the wall at the neighboring couple.
"Hey, before your conversation gets any more intimate, can I interrupt?" I asked.
Jackie, a petite, well-dressed woman with large brown eyes, and her husband, Jaime, who was broad, with salt-and-pepper hair, were happy to oblige.
"This is our first time here," Jaime said. "We came to check it out before the meet-and-greet next week. We'd been involved with some group in Miami, but the Miami clique is already pretty tight. We are really shy. Really shy. Almost antisocial." They laughed.
"It's a nice place," Jackie said. She seemed taken in by the romantic setting and the crisp, pleasant evening. The waiter returned with Jackie and Jaime's drinks.
"What do you think you're doing? You go sit down and relax!" he pointed at me.
I was tempted to break the bar's rule about forbidding disorderly drunks, but Jackie stepped in to defend me. "She's working," she said. Jackie, apparently, knows how to shut up the troublemakers.
And one more thing: On my way out the door that evening, I had just one more question to ask. I leaned into Marco as I paid my tab.
"I'm not an idiot, but I just have to ask, what is this?" I pointed at a giant, water-filled tube. Bubbles were streaming up through it, and it was aglow with color. "Does this thing have a name?"
"It's a bubble tower." He looked at me. "It's really just a fancy decoration."
"It's... hypnotizing," I said.
When a place has dozens of wine bottles, leather couches, and a supersexy bubble tower, you know you're living the high life.