Downtown Napa is coming of age. Not long ago, visitors heading to Napa Valley zoomed past Napa to get to the wineries and the more popular towns of Yountville, St Helena, or Calistoga. But now, due to an influx of new restaurants, wine bars, cafés, and ‘name’ chefs, Napa is becoming a place to be and be seen. Check out these 11 bars that won’t disappoint.
Bar, Pub, American, Contemporary, Beer, $$$
Walking through the glass doors into Ninebark, you are greeted with an upmarket rural pub feel. With two choices of bars, one downstairs, relaxed and charming, and a rooftop bar, more ‘happening’ with sweeping Napa views, there’s something for all tastes. At the downstairs bar, you’ll find an extensive NW-focused wine list, and exquisite locally crafted drinks that burst with aromas of the surrounding gardens, as does the ‘provisions’ small plates menu. On the rooftop, you’ll find the barmen taking longer to craft ultra-creative cocktails and small bites to pair. The chef has playfully introduced drinks with a sense of place, such as their signature ‘Between the Vines,’ based on a vineyard worker taking a break under a fruit tree, and where mezcal meets pomegranate cordial and lime. Try it with their pickled vegetables served on ice, or house-made focaccia served with a trio of dips.
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For vinyl LP’s, cult wine, boutique beer and cider lovers, Cadet is the place to be. Snuggled into a lane off First Street, it was opened by a dynamic female duo, Colleen Fleming, whose family owns Kelly Fleming Wines, and Aubrey Bailey, a former sommelier from the French Laundry. It’s warm and inviting, modeled after wine bars in Paris. There’s a well-rounded and intriguing list of wines by the glass, but order a bottle and you get to choose from their eclectic collection of vinyl to set your own tone for the next few drinks. Beers are separated into categories based on their flavor profile, such as Farmhouse Saison, Pilsner, Sour, and Hope Forward, embracing both small local brewers and unexpected international gems. Morsels to nibble on include freshly shaved prosciutto, olives, white anchovies and grilled cheese. It’s a local’s favorite.
If you’re in the mood for hanging out in a convivial and crowded room full of locals enjoying a great selection of wines by the glass (there’s 400 bottles on the shelves), or a selection of American Whiskies (there’s 40 of them too), then Bounty Hunter is where you need to be. The food is one of their huge draws, particularly the beer can chicken, perched on top of an actual beer can, and the BBQ platters, perfect for sharing with a bourbon or rye. You sauce your own BBQ, so it can be a delightfully messy experience.
If it’s sparkling fresh sashimi or creative twists on Japanese fare, including their beverages, look no further than Morimoto. It is hip in the coolest sense, from the furnishings, to the cocktails, to the folk you’ll be mingling with. Try their signature ‘White Lily’, sudachi-infused shochu, calpico and yuzu, best paired with the hamachi tacos, yellowtail marinated in yuzu-kochu, guacamole, lime and micro cilantro, served on a crispy wonton shell. They have an extensive sake list and even a small bar exclusively for savoring the beverage. Wines by the glass focus on local selections which pair perfectly with Asian flavors, while you can travel the world if you order wine by the bottle.
There’s nothing quite like sitting at the Ca’Momi bar and enjoying a rustic and traditional pizza with a glass of their own Italian-inspired Napa wine, perhaps some Grappa, or their own Ca’Momi Grape Spirit Vodka. It’s a full and adventurous bar, and the wood fired oven pizzas and piadine (flatbread wrapped around fillings such as wild mushrooms or spinach and ricotta) are to die for. Watch an Italian movie playing on the wall, and imagine yourself sitting in a bar in Italy as you inhale the aromas from the wood fired pizza oven. And this is no wonder, as the owners themselves are Italian imports who once made pizza and wine in their home country. Top top this off, most Friday and Saturday nights they feature live music.
One of Napa’s real unsung heroes, and loved by locals, is Coles Chop House. The bar is no exception, seats disappearing shortly after opening at 5pm. Being a classic steakhouse bar, you can expect a drinks menu with significant emphasis on Napa cabs, and one that gives you the chance to try some rare and coveted wines by the glass. You’ll get everything from a 2012 Whitehall Lane, to 2011 Screaming Eagle ‘Second Flight’ Cabernet Sauvignon (At $840 a bottle, it’s nice to get to try this). But the whisky selection is just as grand, with roughly 170 on offer, a great bourbon program and even a whisky/whiskey flight. Don’t forget to order the house-made hash browns.
If you want to watch a sports game in a relaxed environment and with an amazing beer-by-the-tap selection, then Palisades is for you. Right next-door to the Opera House on Main Street, the Napa Palisades offers 40 beers focusing on local microbreweries. Pub grub with a twist, such as shrimp and grits, chorizo fries, and lamb burger, will keep you satisfied during the game. Wines on tap are designed to keep every palate happy, and there’s a nice non-alcoholic selection for the designated driver too.
Suits meets tourist meets the young and hip at this upstairs lively and chic terrace bar. They serve innovative Napa Valley wines and locally inspired seasonal cocktails in the inviting fire pit-warmed terrace, with the music of Andaz Artists. The Mercantile Social at the Andaz offers a well-balanced eclectic selection of spirits, with cocktails that range from the classic to the adventurous, including French absinthe, and digestifs like a Fernet Stock from the Czech Republic. Moreover, their killer baked mac’n’cheese will be sure to keep your hunger at bay, and will pair with just about anything. Not to mention smoothies and lots of organic and locally foraged munchies.
It’s not just an amazing selection of regularly changing boutique wines you’ll be able to enjoy seated around this lively bar, but a wine-friendly selection of cheeses, salads and sandwiches. Burrata comes as a salad, there’s a EuroTrip with Marconi almonds and fruit and honey, a marinated sheep and goat cheese plate, and of course the meat plate with prosciutto di Parma, soppresatta and pork rillettes. On top of the extensive menu of artisanal wines from around the world, and a particular focus on local hidden gems (available by taste, half glass, glass and bottle), you’ll find a nice selection of local craft brews (and a Belgian one for good measure) at Oxbow. They even offer non-alcoholic ale from Germany.
Sidle up to this bar and let the very knowledgeable and fun barkeeps guide you through a seasonal flight of limited-release, seasonal and unique craft spirits. Napa Valley Distillery features a huge variety of fruit-based distilled spirits, shrubs, tonics and syrups from around the world, as well as several brands of bitters that are not available anywhere else in the U.S. Their flagship product is Napa Vodka Vintage Reserve, made entirely from Single Vintage Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. They also make pre-prohibition-era barrel-aged cocktails, like the Negroni and East India, and seasonal liqueurs like their platinum medal-winning Meyer lemon liqueur.
Hog Island Oyster Bar is a casual and relaxed bar for watching chefs shuck, while you sip local wine and slurp these fresher-than-fresh morsels. Though also serving seafood entrees and organic salads, the oysters here are the real draw, fresh from their farm on Tomales Bay and around the world. They have a dedicated mission to support sustainable practices and follow the Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch Program, so you can enjoy your fare with a clear conscience. The wine list changes regularly, and includes some nice bubbles, perfect with a platter of oysters and seafood.