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Sippin' Sideways

Lower Washington wine bar Corkscrew is as mellow as a fine merlot.

Mike Warner is a protection specialist. In other words, he's in charge of protecting lots of important people, and laying a serious hurt on anyone who intends them harm.

Presumably, this makes him deadly. The fact that this isn't the first thing out of his mouth makes him a perfect unofficial spokesman for the establishment where he's currently relaxing: Corkscrew (1919 Washington), the two-year-old wine bar further down Washington Avenue (towards downtown) than the section of the strip recently spotlighted in The New York Times's Sunday travel section.

Warner admits his vocation only after being specifically asked what he does. The conversation then turns toward how the plot to Liam Neeson's Taken — in which the onetime Darkman plays a protection specialist of sorts — is entirely plausible, how "bodyguards" are knuckle-draggers (his words) whose job description consists of being big and pounding shit (our words) and, unexpectedly, how Corkscrew is not the a-hole farm that leaps to mind when somebody says "wine bar."

If the conversation falters at Corkscrew, you can always read the walls.
Larami Culbertson
If the conversation falters at Corkscrew, you can always read the walls.

"It's a really laid-back place, very mature," Warner says. "You don't have the $50,000-a-year millionaires around trying to impress everyone."

Sure enough, save two women at the bar fixated on the inadequacies of the cheese plate they ordered, our evening at Corkscrew is wholly smugness-free. You really have to be nitpicking to find anything terribly wrong with the place. (Or, since we love to nitpick, to find anything terribly exciting about it, either.)

"We pride ourselves on being comfortable with our customers," says Megan Adams, daughter and niece, respectively, of Corkscrew co-owners Doyle and Andrew Adams. "We try to be a little more informal, and our regulars seem to really appreciate that."

Corkscrew is divided into four main sections. Outside, there's a smattering of patio tables at the front and down the side of the building. Inside, two rooms offset the main bar area; one is a decent-size lounging area with plenty of seating, the other a tiny gathering room with a large wooden table, wine holders, a flat-screen TV and lots and lots of wooden things. The large front area feels more like a restaurant than anything else, with calm mustard walls sporting cryptic quotes like, "Always provide a corkscrew, and the wine will provide itself."

In a sly bit of design work, the light illuminating Corkscrew's more than 250 different varieties of wine shines directly down onto the bottles, while the rest is angled up and away. It makes the room well-lit without being bright, and subconsciously makes everyone feel really good about their skin.

Although Corkscrew's Thursday-night karaoke can get kind of silly — it's the bar's busiest evening, according to wine buyer Lee Wagner — your average customer isn't. He or she is likely to be between 28 and 50 years old and generally of the "professional" and "Caucasian" persuasions.

Mostly, you can expect things to remain pretty low-key for the duration of the evening. Mike Warner told us how he once judged a kissing contest between a few women at Corkscrew, but that's probably the type of thing that only happens when your chest is as wide as a refrigerator and your teeth are perfectly straight.

Simply put, if you're into the wine bars that seem to be the local nightlife scene's hottest trend right now, you're probably going to like Corkscrew. More, maybe, since it predates the trend by a comfortable margin. But if you'd rather get sloshed on proper liquor, the Adams brothers will officially open their latest bar, Washington Avenue Drinkery (4115 Washington), by the end of the month.

LAST CALL

Seriously, we thought we had grown out of liking that nasally whine-rock that was all kinds of popular a few years ago. Looks like we haven't, because we have been rocking locals BetterLuck's HateLoveLiveParty like mad. Hit them up on MySpace at www.myspace.com/better­luckrock, see them as part of the "Texas Takeover Tour" Sunday at Warehouse Live (813 St. Emanuel) or read our interview with them at blogs.houstonpress.com/rocks.

 
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