When you hear the name, Esters Wine Shop & Bar, you may think you have this space figured out. Sure they are known for their 250+ selection of boutique wines, wine club and tastings on Sundays, but there is more to this cozy westside wine bar and market than meets the eye.
Esters is a member of the Rustic Canyon Family of restaurants – a partnership between Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan and Rustic Canyon restaurant’s wine director, Kathryn Coker, and her husband, Tug. Tucked inside a beautifully refurbished 1937 Art Deco building, the retail area features floor to ceiling racks of wine focused on smaller producers, as well as a separate room for high-end finds.
The 1,600 sq. ft. space also boasts a cozy yet stylish 20 seat U-shaped bar and charming outdoor patio. The versatile vino spot serves up way more than wine, but cocktails aren’t exactly new to Esters. Until earlier this year, you could order house bottled classics such as barrel-aged Negronis, Old Fashioneds, Manhattans and Vieux Carré. These staples are still on the menu, but now there is a full hand-crafted cocktail program, helmed by lead bartender Michael Croom.
“The batched cocktails were really popular and Esters really wanted to expand on that,” says Croom. “But we run super skinny here; not many bells and whistles. We don’t guide you on our bourbon selection, for example, because we basically don’t have one.”
Don’t let that limited selection fool you. Croom carefully curates each and every spirit and uses fresh, mostly organic ingredients to create a special, seasonal menu. Drinks are purposely made simple to accommodate the small space and intimate staff.
“Sometimes we don’t have a bartender in before 6 p.m., so we rely on servers to make the cocktails,” says Croom. “Therefore, we can’t make the cocktails overly complicated. I wanted to create a menu that was really exciting but included drinks that were easy to execute.”
The result? An amazingly, streamlined selection of cocktails. The Dream In Color is an ultimate standout made with St. George tarragon gin, aixa, Benedictine and orange bitters.
“It’s a simple twist on the classic gin cocktail a Poet’s Dream but it is slightly rounder and spicy from the Benedictine,” says Croom.The Jake’s Sake, made with bourbon, grappa, chile and celery came about through a serendipitous accident.
“This drink is based on one of the nicest guys who ever worked behind the bar here,” says Croom. “Once while batching the Old Fashioneds, he mistakenly used celery bitters. While it was kind of bizarre, I’d been meaning to add something savory and veggie-based to the cocktail menu. So the For Jake’s Sake was born.”
The Martini(que), created with French rum, Vermouth and Nonino is another favorite of Croom’s.
“Everything I do is spirit based or inspired by someone that is doing something really exciting,” says Croom. “The French Islands know how to make rum. It’s funky, sweet and earthy because of the raw sugar cane.
While Croom created the well-rounded menu with the intention of there not being a “most popular” drink, there is no denying that the Social Bittermint gets people really excited.
“It’s basically a Whiskey Collins but half of the whiskey is Amaro and it’s topped with Fentimans botanical orange soda instead of soda water. I also didn’t realize the Tea(quila) was going to blow up the way it did.”
Made with Yellow Chartreuse, chamomile-infused tequila, grapefruit, lemon, honey, and a chamomile flower garnish, the Tea(quila) balances the sleepy bedtime tea with an upper spirit for a cocktail that is sure to keep your attention.
Other menu highlights include the Sexy Thyme made with St. George Terroir gin, campari, orange, cocchi, thyme which has a cool crisp alpine-y taste, the Pearis to Andalucia made with Amontillado sherry, St. George Pear Brandy, lime and simple syrup with a freshly-grated cinnamon garnish, and the L.A. Winter with Amaro Ciociaro, fernet and quinquina.
In addition, Esters offers a thoughtfully curated selection of craft beers and specialty imports from around the world.
Of course, all these libations can work up an appetite. Known as the “Little Kitchen That Could,” Esters offers a full food menu created and curated by Chef Jeremy Fox. Sample dishes include oysters on the halfshell, Chicken Liver Tartine with cherry, mostarda, pistachio and thyme, House Corned Reuben with housemade sauerkraut, raclette, and smoked tomato on Milo & Olive’s rye bread 72-Hour Short Rib Steak with scallion and romesco.
Esters even hosts a Tuesday burger night starting at 4 p.m. until they run out and a weekend brunch with its own menu of curated cocktails.
“I always want bubbles at brunch and right now we have a wintry, spicy shandy made with a Yeti stout,” says Croom. “It’s dark black, almost looks like syrup, but it’s lightened up with light fresh lime and topped with cinnamon. It’s bubbly and surprisingly fresh, exactly what you want to drink with pancakes.”
Esters Wine Shop & Bar details
Monday – Thursday 12 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Friday 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
1314 Seventh St., Santa Monica (310) 899-6900