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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

There’s a wine bar in town called JJ’s.

Ralph and I walked by it for years before deciding to stop in. Why? Because sometimes you see a thing a thousand times and it becomes just the thing you saw a thousand times. Like a streetlamp or the fire hydrant with the blue cap that someone says hey, you know that fire hydrant? And you say what fire hydrant? And then you go look and sure enough there it is.

Anyway we stopped in some time ago, thinking it would be a bar. I mean, how different can a bar be? You’ve got your chairs, you’ve got your tables, you’ve got your people who bring glasses of things to your table.

JJ’s is that… and not that. I’m sure somewhere in the world something like it exists, it’s just that I’ve never seen it. So when I walked into this place, it was like Christmas and my birthday and the Fourth of July in one.

It’s been a while since our last visit, but we went last night.

It’s in a white house with black trim and a wraparound porch that I wouldn’t mind living in.

I especially wouldn’t mind living in it if it came with the wine.

That’s the first cool thing about it. The front room is where you’re greeted, and off to your left is a room with tables and chairs where you can sit restaurant-style, then through the double glass doors and to your right is a lounge area with comfy chairs around living-room-style tables, and some more rooms to either side, and a giant and luxurious bathroom where you can powder your nose and have a mint.

It feels homey and cozy, all warm décor and hardwood floors.

And yes, they will bring things to your table, like wine and charcuterie boards and warm brown butter cake. But the real magic for me happens in the hallway, between the entry and the lounge, bisecting the rooms with tables and the bar area.

Because in the hallway is where the wine vending machines are.

That’s what I said. Wine vending machines. This is what I want to tell you about today, these vending machines of joy.

They are perhaps mankind’s greatest invention.

I want you to imagine a beautiful old Victorian style house with a dozen nooks and crannies for you to explore and hide away for a little while, and when you walk in there is a corridor lined with cabinets on each side. And the top half of each cabinet is glass, and behind that glass sits bottle after bottle of wine.

At first it may look like a particularly nifty retail display or maybe a sideboard in a fancy house, until on further notice you see pour spouts jutting from above each bottle.

And at the side of each wine display is a little card reader, where you insert your prepaid wine card and sample to your little heart’s content.

I mean, you could just order a glass or a bottle from the menu and have it delivered to your table.

But where’s the fun in that?

I’m old hat now, so when we arrived I immediately filled up my wine card, plucked a glass from the racks above the bottles, and perused the samplings.

There was Merlot and Cabernet, Pinto Noir and Pinot Grigio. Reds in one place, whites in another. And a special little section for the “oh my god are you really going to pay that for wine” category.

I started there.

The most excellent thing about the wine vending machines is that you can get a single ounce pour. So, sure, that ounce cost $6, but you can try some really spectacular wines without coughing up a whole ton of cash for a bottle or full glass.

Depending on your mood, you can also get five or eight ounces if you find something you particularly like.

As I tried each one I made little notes for myself, mostly about whether I liked it enough to drink it again. They give you tasting notes, like dark cherry and chocolate and smoke, but mostly it all tastes like wine.

I had a particularly yummy Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley. That one went on the “yes, please” list.

A Merlot got dubbed “forgettable”. To be fair, what did you want for a buck and a half? A Cabernet that tasted like a mouthful of nickels was determined “interesting” and quite possibly repeatable with the right cheese.

If my list is to be believed, I had what amounted to about three quarters of a bottle of wine, one ounce at a time. A good judge of how many times you’ve been up to visit the vending machines is how likely you are to tip over into the potted plant near the door.

I feel like maybe I was slacking.

But to be fair, we did eat an entire charcuterie board by ourselves, followed by a three-scoop cup of ice cream each. Mine had Oreos and cream, chocolate fudge pecan, and peanut butter swirl. Because when it’s Friday night and you’ve been drinking protein shakes all week and eating salad and skipping cocktails, this is sometimes a necessary thing.

I put enough money on my wine card that there’s plenty left over for our next visit. The wines change every time, so there is always something interesting to try. All I know is putting wine in self-serve vending machines was genius. Technically they call them “wine stations” but for today’s word and my further enjoyment, I’m calling them vending machines. Haven’t seen anyone do it with whiskey yet but… note to anyone out there who needs a good idea. I’ll be there with bells on.

Photo: a few of the wines to on sample last night. I didn’t make it through all of them, but there’s always next time.