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Drowning in Options at Press Club 

Wednesday, Jun 10 2015

"This is the nicest basement I've been to in months," Mari said as we descended the stairs into Press Club with my father. The room is impressive, big with several different bar areas and "living room couch"-style setups — if your living room was one of the sets of Mad Men.

It's ungracious of me to complain, but the whole room strikes me as surprisingly ostentatious for someplace so deliberately wooden and colorless. It's expensive and impressive without being interesting or affecting. The principals clearly paid someone a lot of money to design a room that would make people with lots of money not think about anything but money.

We're here, at a place often described as San Francisco's best wine bar, as an act of hostility. My dad has been in town for just one day and already he's driving me crazy. He's one of those guests who refuses to express any preferences during his visit.

What would he like to see while he's here?

"Whatever you think is interesting."

What would he like to eat?

"Whatever you think it good."

When would he like to get started this morning?

"Whenever you're ready."

Eventually, I had no choice but to retaliate by taking him to a wine bar. My father knows more about wine than me, and we both know it.

"What do we want to drink?" he asked.

"I defer to the expert," I said, as viciously as one can say such a thing. It didn't come out as dramatically as I'd hoped. But he couldn't argue.

Press Club's menu raises the question: What is a wine bar for? The trend in Bay Area wine bars these days is to be nonthreatening, to serve as a gentle introduction to the world of wine. The menus tend to be small, noncomprehensive, and separated into sections by flavor rather than region or grape.

Press Club's gone in the other direction like a bat into hell. Its menu, which bears a striking resemblance to Infinite Jest as edited by a sommelier, consists of five pages of wines by the glass, 10 pages of wine by the bottle (with prices almost up to $900), and a section devoted to the Coravin system, which allows you to open bottles of rare wine, pour them by the glass, and reseal the bottle. (The process involves the use of a thin needle, argon gas, and the natural properties of cork — no twisty-tops need apply — and is still fairly unusual to come across. My dad was impressed. )

There are also flights, food, and a four-page selection of beer.

The servers are helpful, but the menu assumes you know what you're doing. You don't go to Press Club to "discover" wine, and we spent a ridiculous amount of time figuring out what to order, eventually choosing a bottle of 2002 Solar de Randez Reserva, a Spanish rioja. It was robust and fruity and lovely. I couldn't help but feel cheated that we didn't order something truly exotic, but that's the price you pay for passive-aggressive ordering strategies.

The pressure lifted once we'd finally committed to a bottle, and real conversation resumed. My father made a good faith effort to keep the topics neutral and pleasant, asking how the drought has impacted California's wine industry (short answer: It's hitting small producers hard), but it inevitably degenerated into dad telling Mari stories of my childhood. There wasn't enough wine in the world to keep that from happening.

There was, of course, the one about how campus security had to confiscate a bunch of weapons from my room freshman year, which ... that story gets so exaggerated. Then there was the play I wrote when I was 5 years old, which I barely remember and is hard to fathom given that I was functionally illiterate at the time.

"There was a lot of transcribing," dad admits.

And of course there was the prank I pulled at my 10-year high school reunion. And, actually, the first time my dad and Mari met was pretty embarrassing for everyone. Turned out we were all staying in the same hotel.

It's amazing how long it can take three people to get through a bottle of good wine. Eager as I was to go to the Press Club, I was more eager to leave it. It turned out that thrusting decisions back on my dad hadn't made me any happier. There's probably a metaphor about adulthood here somewhere.

Maybe I'll visit Press Club again when I have a better game plan.

About The Author

Benjamin Wachs


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