Waiting for restaurants to open can be akin to watching water boil. In the midst of the summer doldrums, every bar or restaurant that manages to open feels like a gift: somewhere new to try on that odd night off.
When I popped into Covell Wine Bar last week, it had been open exactly 18 days, so new that the paint still smelled fresh and the exterior had a decidedly raw look. A couple of tables out front were occupied by guests hovering over glasses stained with red wine, friends lazily talking and watching the scene on Hollywood Boulevard just west of Hillhurst.
Inside, the long narrow space is suitably dark. Pages from an old encyclopedia are tacked to the wall as an improvised wallpaper, their edges fluttering in the slight breeze. Above the banquette where my friends and I settled, antique cameras are displayed on pedestal bookshelves made from old books. A few feet over hangs a collection of old keys.
The whole effect could signal just another hipster joint, more style than substance. But Covell Wine Bar is something more, combining a passion for soulful wines with a relaxed vibe and a quirky flea market aesthetic. It reminds me of some of the new generation of wine bars in Paris operating with just a toaster oven.
Owner Dustin Lancaster has moved from Cafe Stella's bar to this, his own place, and from the looks of it, a lot of people have followed him from Silver Lake to Los Feliz. Wine savant Matthew Kaner is already familiar to the neighborhood too, from his days at Silverlake Wine.
The half dozen wines by the glass on offer start at $7 and go up to $13 or $14. Kaner is switching out wines all the time as he finds some new appellation or producer he's crazy about. That night, he pulled out a lovely Chenin Blanc from Jasnières in the Loire Valley, a crisp, fresh Langhe Chardonnay from Barolo producer Ettore Germano, and, my favorite with the cheese, a Gerhard Riesling Kabinett Trocken (dry) from the Rheingau.
The menu is pretty basic at this point, but includes one stellar hot offering, a classic Croque Monsieur, which if you don't already know, is a French grilled cheese sandwich slathered in béchamel sauce. Presented with a thatch of baby greens in a sharp mustardy dressing, I caught the scent of nutmeg in the béchamel as our server set the bubbling cheese sandwich on the low table. It's a very good Croque, that's for sure, and a bargain at $9.
Other than that, there's a cheese plate or a charcuterie plate on offer, both $18 each. The cheese plate features local organic honey, and usually five cheeses, though they were down to just three on my visit. They're excellent and interesting. Charcuterie includes bresaola (the air-dried beef from northern Italy), some excellent chorizo, salametto (salame) from Fra Mani and duck prosciutto, with cornichons, and mustard, if you like, and sliced baguette. The latter is built for reds, in this case a silky Bourgeuil from the Loire Valley and a Tannat (the grape that goes into Madiran from Southwest France) from Uruguay. All great finds.
Too bad I had places to go, people to see: I could have happily stayed for a while longer, sipping more of Bar Covell's latest discoveries and enjoying the low-key vibe of this new wine bar.
Where: 4628 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz.
When: Open from 5 p.m. to midnight Sunday to Thursday; 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Food service continues until one hour before closing.
Cost: Wines by the glass, $7 to $13; Croque Monsieur, $9; cheese and charcuterie plates, $18.
Contact: (323) 660-4400; http://www.barcovell.com.