An incredible wine bar … in Rapid City, South Dakota!

Here’s a story about finding a nearly perfect wine bar in the most unexpected of places.  If a wine bar like this opened in the Twin Cities, it would be packed every night, guaranteed.

Last August and September we took a blissful ten days off and went to the Black Hills of South Dakota. No cell phones, no laptops, a complete unplugging of our life in order to recharge the mental batteries (and it worked).

While in Rapid City (population 59,607) we visited a place I’ve had my eye on for a few years: Wine Cellar Restaurant.  I could give the address (you can find it on their website) but the easier way to describe the location is “right on the main drag.”  Rapid City should be named Rapid Village or Rapid Town.  It’s small in the glorious and wonderful sense, and not hard to find something when your only direction is “downtown”.

I get pretty cynical about restaurants, for I’ve worked in, operated, organized, and dined in my fair share of them.  Big mistakes piss me off to no end (before wandering to Wine Cellar we were at a good Italian restaurant around the corner … one of those places that is open for lunch but awkwardly shuts down between 2:00 and 5:00 … and basically got forced out when I tried to order more food and the indifferent waitress said ‘oh, we’re closed and the chefs went home’… urgh!!!).  Little mistakes I’m very good at picking up on but also dismissing … I’ll never short tip a server for forgetting that I asked for no ice in my water, for instance.

However, it is truly rare that an establishment simply does everything right and does it in a pleasant, confident, cool manner.  Wine Cellar Restaurant did it.   A few of the highlights:

  • Over forty wines by the glass including wonderfully obscure varietals like Fiano and Lemberger, on top of a serious line up of Rhone Varietals, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blancs, and more.
  • GREAT STEMWARE … the number one issue at most places trying to be ‘wine serious’. The Wine Cellar served everything in Riedel, with different stems for lighter whites, fuller whites, lighter reds, fuller reds, bubbly, and dessert.  I find it amazing (and inexcusable) how many restaurants in the Twin Cities refuse to take stemware seriously.
  • A personable server who was perfectly fine with me ordering just glasses of wine and no food.
  • Hours of operation were 3:30 to close.  This is simple, and genius. You get the post lunch crowd and the early off work crowd.  I can’t tell you how much money many wine bars miss out on by opening at 5pm. Many people want to rush from work to the wine bar for a quick one with friends.  If it’s 4:40 they are not going to wait for you to unlock the door.  Open at 3:30 and I guarantee you it will be worth it.

Mad props to Pamela Light, owner and chef, for putting a gem of a wine bar in a city that most people would not expect to find one.

3 Responses to An incredible wine bar … in Rapid City, South Dakota!

  1. Nicholas Kolnik July 7, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    Love it. Stemware is a huge issue for me with so-called wine bars in the Twin Cities are as well; it’s amazing how seriously it isn’t taken. There are retail shops showing up these places by using Riedel for *tastings*.

    Pairings in Minnetonka was all Spiegelau when they opened. Now, not so much, but at least the generic pieces they’re using are shaped properly and (almost) large enough to swirl a full pour. Domacin in Stillwater has set the standard for wine bars in the greater Twin Cities area, as far as I’m concerned. Riedel all the way, a solid wine list, and a knowledgeable staff.

    My brother-in-law cooks at Beaujo’s in Edina, a spot which I’ve been openly critical about regarding their stemware. He and I had a lengthy discussion regarding stemware (among other wine service-related topics) earlier this year; I was left drawing the conclusion that, by and large, the majority of the patrons at these establishments simply don’t demand better, because they don’t know enough or don’t care enough to do so. These places are more about the “bar” than they are the “wine”, and if that keeps them busy enough to stay open, then, unfortunately, that’s what we’re stuck with. For now.

  2. Jason Kallsen July 7, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    Thanks for the comments Nicholas! Great info.

    The number one issue I hear from restaurants about good stemware is breakage (and the subsequent cost of replacement). Combine that with customers not demanding good stemware and you have a perfect storm. But the analogy I always use, and I think it’s accurate, is this: if a restaurant had durable plates to serve food on but made the food taste not as good as it should, would they use them?

  3. Nicholas Kolnik July 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    I think that’s an appropriate analogy, especially when there are restaurants that clearly make an investment in dinnerware that, at the very least, makes food more *visually* appealing. Proper stemware makes wine more visually appealing *and* taste better.

    This discussion reminds me of a restaurant review I read a while back where someone was complaining about an establishment using stemware with a large bowl and that it wasn’t filled to the top. Stop bringing me these huge glasses and pouring just a small amount of wine in them, she wrote. If that doesn’t speak directly to the lack of consumer education on the subject, I don’t know what does. A glass is a glass is a glass to many customers, only necessary because it would be uncouth to drink directly from the bottle. 🙂

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