Spill the Secret: New Underground Wine Bar

Syrah Wine Parlor is not your mother’s old hangout

 There’s a challenge to writing about cool, new, secret nightspots. The more publicity these places get, the less cool, new and secret they risk becoming. In the case of Syrah Wine Parlor, perhaps it's just best to uncork the news and air out the details.

In an era of rooftop bars, Syrah goes the opposite direction. It's underground -- in the Gaslamp Quarter beneath Dakota Grill & Spirits (at Fifth Avenue and E Street). Even after you find the corner stairwell, it's still a challenge to find the entrance. There are multiple doors down there; the actual entrée is covered by fake clover that looks like a big hedge. (I probably shouldn't have told you this, but, fact is, there's a camera watching you try to get in, and your travails are being shown on a TV monitor next to the bar.)

Syrah is the brainchild of Matt Spencer (the owner of Firehouse in Pacific Beach and former owner of the hip Aubergine nightclub). One of Spencer's current partners in Syrah is restaurant mogul David Cohn.

In Spencer's words, the décor at Syrah is "'Alice in Wonderland' meets 'Pirates of the Caribbean.' " Tables are carved from big slabs of wood. Wine casks hang upside down from the ceiling and serve as lamps. There are more faux hedges all around the interior, and some French Victorian-looking walls are adorned with fake moss.

Syrah is unlike most pricey, wine-oriented establishments. There's a DJ booth and a full bar with off-brand-but-upscale liquors handpicked by beverage director Adam Stemmler. And a charcuterie is manned by a guy nicknamed Ginger who carves up duck prosciutto (who knew prosciutto wasn't just a ham!).

One of the most chill aspects of the place is an uncompromising lack of knowledge of wine. Spencer, Stemmler, Ginger and general manager Erin Litts readily professed a need to beef up on the oenophile oeuvre.

"We're a wine bar and lounge," Spencer said. "We're bringing the North Park spirit to downtown. Yes, wine bars are generally feminine, but we're accessible to everybody. We're focusing on wine but in a laissez-faire way."

The cat is out of the bag.

Ron Donoho, formerly executive editor of "San Diego Magazine," is a regular contributor to NBCSandiego.com who covers local news, sports, culture and happy hours.

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