The San Antonio Winery and Restaurant is emphatically not a wine bar. But the visitor can belly up to the counter in the wine store and taste three samples for free or pay a fee for three or four reserve wines, depending on the offering of the day. Additionally, there are range of wines for sale from the winery's own label as well as more rarefied partner vintners. Browse the locked cabinet for bottles priced to shock and awe. Naturally, a bought bottle of wine may be taken into the restaurant to be enjoyed with a meal but a pourer in the shop will blanch at the idea of opening a bottle there. Again, this is not a wine bar.
When I let friends know that I was writing a column on wine bars in the Los Angeles area a few suggested covering San Antonio. Its presence is known throughout the region. They advertise far and wide, billboards looming over all of the major freeways. Quite simply, San Antonio gets filed under "places for wine drinking," distinctions for such be damned. But if I measured the tasting room at San Antonio against true wine bars the winery would come out sounding like a cheap gimmick for selling bottles to opportunist drinkers. While the goal is to sell bottles of wine, the tasting room is better considered as a basic place to test the product before committing to a purchase. The discerning drinker is looking for new bottles to add to a collection, not for creature comforts that will help pass a pleasant evening.
Of creature comforts in the tasting room, there are precious few. There is no seating, the counter is a cul-de-sac at one end of the wine shop, and the pourers are typically harried by the large crowds that are the usual clientele during tasting hours. Even politeness from the counter servers comes at a premium, though they are very knowledgeable. Clearly serving the tremendous volume of customers supersedes attempts at a quality drinking experience. Winery tours are also available.
The San Antonio Winery is located at 737 Lamar Street in Los Angeles, just east of downtown. Restaurant & tasting room hours: Mon-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat-Sun 930am-7pm. Tours Mon-Fri 12pm-2, Sat-Sun 11am-4pm. http://www.sanantoniowinery.com/