Wally's Vinoteca in Beverly Hills: Wine, full bar, chef, 500 cheeses

Wally's Wine & Spirits partner Christian Navarro unveils the new Wally's Vinoteca at a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday in Beverly Hills.

It's something he's been obsessing about for 20 years. When Wally's founder Steve Wallace took the kid from Palm Springs under his wing, Navarro had the chance to meet renowned figures, taste glorious old wines and travel the world. And what he learned after all the ElBullis and extravagant tasting menus, is that he likes to drink great wine and eat, not taste.


Navarro loves places like Harrods Food Hall in London or the wine bars in Barcelona where you can have a glass of Champagne or cava and get a bite of something delicious. And then another bite and another glass.

That's the idea behind Wally's Vinoteca. And Navarro is able to do it because his partners Guess founders Maurice, Paul and Armand Marciano, who bought Wally's last year, have very deep pockets. You can see the money in the handcrafted, solid-wood shelves and the 4-inch thick Carrara marble tables — all of them communal.

"I want movie stars to be sitting next to carpenters or lawyers," says Navarro. "In L.A., people move in closed circles, and this is a chance to break out of that and maybe meet people you wouldn't ordinarily meet in the course of your day. One of my favorite places in New York is Blue Ribbon, where you can go at 1:30 a.m. and there's an hour and a half wait."

Wally's Vinoteca is going to be open until 2 a.m. to encourage people from the restaurant world to come in after they close.

The vinoteca will have 150 wines by the glass, temperature-controlled, and all served in Riedel glasses via Coravin, the wine access system that dispenses a glass of wine without ever opening the bottle. Prices will start at $10 a glass and go up to $500 or more. If you spring for a very expensive wine, you might get to drink it in a top-of-the-line Zalto glass.

If you want to drink a bottle of any of more than 3,800 selections, the vinoteca will charge its retail price (Wally's tariffs are generally on the high side) — plus $40. If we're talking a Lytton Springs Zinfandel or Querciabella Chianti, that's not such a tempting deal. But that means drinking a bottle of Dom Pérignon would cost just $150 plus $40, which would be a great bargain in the world of wine lists.

The selections run deep — very deep. Steve Wallace has stockpiled thousands of cases of important wine over the years. Take a peek in the glassed-in "vault" and you'll see stacked boxes of Pétrus and shelves filled with fabulous old Bordeaux, Burgundies and California Cabernets. "We have cases of '61 Palmer in the original boxes from the chateau," says Navarro. The shop will stock rare spirits from all over the world, too.

Wine may be the focus, but there's also a full bar. "No mixologist," says Navarro. "No handlebar mustaches or other mixologist shtick. We'll have bartenders, and we'll make you whatever cocktail you want." And if you're wondering, the coffee for the espresso machine comes from La Colombe Torrefaction out of Philadelphia.

On a walk-through over the weekend, the windows were still covered with brown paper and workers were busy shelving the hundreds of bottles of wine stacked on every available surface. Beneath a gorgeous mosaic mural of game birds inspired by those at Harrods Food Hall, 500 cheeses waited to be installed in temperature-controlled cases. A special caviar display case gleamed. The project's contractor walked around with the city inspector, checking off a list. The fire alarm loudly sounded (a test attended by a handful of firefighters in full regalia) while the chef calmly went about his work, filling a stockpot.

Yes, there will be not only cheeses and charcuterie, but also cooked dishes, too, served in small plates. Everything very simple, Navarro keeps repeating. The chef is Ralph Soroczynski, who worked at Providence and other high-profile places here and in France. The menu is still a work in progress, but one thing it will definitely have on it is bouillabaisse. The Marciano brothers are, after all, from Marseille, in the south of France.

Come Tuesday, ready or not, the tiny marble-topped tables will be set out on the sidewalk terrace. Champagne corks will be popping, the espresso machine hissing, the kitchen on full alert as Wally's Vinoteca finally opens its doors.

Wally's Vinoteca, 447 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills.

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