there’s johnny: vendome wines & spirits


I take special delight in all the words people use in place of currency. Words like; clams, cabbage, dinero, bacon, c-note, dough or simply the name of the dead president on the front of the bill. These are all so much more fun than money. Why is cash so often disguised and nicknamed? Maybe we use all these words cause talking money can be uncomfortable. Gauche, if you please. This is extra true if you’re the one collecting, or the one that doesn’t have it. “I need those clams” and “I don’t have the cabbage” comes out a whole lot smoother. Plus it makes us all sound a little like firefighters in the Bronx. And who doesn’t want that?

I don’t have enough clams. It’s stressing me out and at the same time it’s one of those nights I feel I could go mad if I don’t get out, (don’t worry, this isn’t turning into a therapy session, just a clever lead in?). Luckily it’s Wednesday night and that means it’s $1 pour night at Vendome.

There are a handful of Vendome locations in and around Los Angeles. Tonight I’m sitting inside the one in North Hollywood, or as the cool kids say, NoHo. Vendome is liquor store with a wide variety of wine, beer, spirits and cigars. It’s a huge store with a great selection and knowledgeable staff. They also do their part providing wine education to the good people of the valley. In one corner of the store they’ve set up a makeshift tasting bar. It’s not much to look at; rectangular, wood base, kitchen granite counter top, mismatched bar stools, dark maroon linens, with matching awning overhead. They even painted the drop down ceiling panels maroon. “Defining the space”, as one theater set designer I knew would say. Signs like “wine drinkers welcome”, “wino crossing” and the forever classy “zero to naked in 1.2 wine bottles” adorn the bar. As one friend once said about my own apartment, “there’s no touch of a woman here”. There are five gentleman, all probably in their 50s, that I’ve been seeing pour here for years. They’re an odd cast of characters; a long grey haired gentleman in a concert tee, another who looks like he just rolled out of bed, one dressed to operate your local bodega and one who styles himself as Count Chocula might if he sprung to life off the cereal box and walked among us. But all playfulness aside, collectively they are as knowledgeable and passionate about wine as anyone you could meet. They have a strong, loyal following, and when they’re not helping customers on the floor,  pour delicious tastes 6 nights a week. Each night is themed. There’s an online calendar. Tonight’s lineup features “Faves of France”. And as I said, on Wednesday, it’s $1 pour night. $1 for 1 ounce of any of the wines on the evening’s lineup. I take my list, which also provides room for comments that I dutifully scribble in throughout the night. I request the first white to be poured. Haut Marin 2016 “Cuvee Marine” Cores de Gascogne, (light bodied, mango, peach, stone fruit, slightly sweet) greets me with a frisky hello.

To the right of me rests Shareen. She’s a regular here at Vendome which I’ve slyly deduced after several workers have swung by to say hi. She is an African American woman; thin, dreads, and I’d guess somewhere in her mid 30’s. She shows delicate while capable and confident. At first we are polite and stay to ourselves. It’s a busy night at Vendome and the only drawback to that is you sometimes have to really work to grab the attention of one the bartenders to help you to your next pour. They are only 1 ounce after all and have a habit of vanishing quickly. When Shareen and I discover we are at the same number, working our way down the night’s pour list, we join forces. Funny how she is so much more successful than me at getting the bartender’s attention. Shareen is a thoughtful conversationalist. She tells me she’s in IT and I say “I need you everyday of my life” and she says “most people do”. We start by talking about the heat. It’s legally required when starting any conversation in LA this summer. We work our way through topics including; our jobs, wine bars, too much cologne verses body odor, and our affinity for vino. After I tell her how much I like Spanish wines she tells me about how she’s become obsessed with visiting Spain. She keeps going back. Spain; it’s on my top five list of places I most want to go next. And there’s those clams again.

The Faves of France is an okay way to while away a few hours on a Wednesday night. Most of the wines tonight are earthy, medicinal, lite peppery styled wines. Not what I generally gravitate towards. But education is a big part of why I’m here. Heck, it’s why the maroon awning is here. I do find a friend in the Chateau Picoron 2015 Saint-Colombe Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux, ( fruity nose, cherry start, waves goodbye with an oak bone dry finish). Shareen and I both agree it’s our favorite. I even revisit it before I go. The whole adventure costs me 12 George Washingtons. France and America, fighting for freedom together once again.

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