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What’s happening in downtown Martinez?

What’s happening in downtown Martinez?


Sleepy downtown Martinez is slowly coming into its own. Known for generations as the home of the Shell Oil and Tosco refineries, there has been a push for revitalization for a few years which is a welcome sight to many residents. Despite being the hometown of Joe DiMaggio and the birthplace of the martini, Martinez hasn’t been in the news too much. That’s going to be changing.

Photo via http://www.barrelagedbar.combarrelaged

In late 2014, the Barrel Aged restaurant closed due to water damage following a burst pipe. The damages were supposed to be fixed with construction, but the issue may either be tied up with the courts or insurance companies.

The restaurant served fanciful cocktails from a bygone era such as Negroni, Blood and Sand, Bees Knees, Sazerac, and the now hugely popular Manhattan. I only was able to partake in the cool but approachable bar and restaurant a couple of times before they closed down.

Rising from the ashes like a Griffin, Barrel Aged became Barrelista, and moved into a shop across the street from the previous iteration. Barrelista is a small coffee shop with a lot of soul. The restaurant continues to expand into a sidewalk dining area and into a back area for mimosas on Sunday and its signature cocktails. Barrelista brews Four Barrel coffee, which is roasted in San Francisco. The coffee company uses a sustainable approach to gathering beans for roast, and the coffee is always fair trade coffee, which wins the company “Green” awards year after year.


In addition, Barrelista also has just been recognized and awarded through Central Contra Costa Sanitary District for its green efforts in pollution prevention and environment sustainability. So, not only is it a delicious and fun trendy stop when shopping at the Farmers’ Market or antiquing in the many quaint shops downtown, Barrelista is also a company that demonstrates great values.


Reconstruction of an historic building downtown brought forth another new coffee shop, States Coffee & Mercantile. This hip store has been covered in the press by East Bay Times and other media outlets, and is raking in great reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor.

Photos via http://www.statescoffee.comIMG_8512.jpg

Different from your typical neighborhood store, States Coffee & Mercantile broke the mold in coffee shop design. A combination of a cool coffee shop with leather goods, States is a hybrid of the original Peet’s in the 1960’s and Venture Quality Goods in nearby Lafayette.

A purveyor of coffee in addition to American made goods, States has built a loyal following in the community in a short time. Along with the Barrelista and some other downtown shops, States Coffee & Mercantile also embodies the face of the future of Martinez, with its iconic black Ford van included.

Processed with VSCO with m3 preset

Another exciting development, for me at least, is the “Coming Soon” sign at 718 Main Street (formerly part of Martinez’ first movie theater!). Nate Houston along with Cory Katz will be opening up Bar Cava, a wine bar with eats, in this location once internal construction is completed in October. I’ve met Nate a few times at Residual Sugar in Walnut Creek, and was overwhelmed by his knowledge of wines, particularly Spanish wines. He poured a couple whites for me to taste based on what I told him I look for, and he was spot on with his selections.


Bar Cava won’t be limited to only Spanish or other European wines. Cory’s love for big, juicy Napa reds will be featured also, with new finds available at least once a month.

Not limited to small plates, Bar Cava will also feature domestic and European cheeses and procured charcuterie meats. Sunday brunches will be offered at some point, and Bar Cava will be serving Mountain Grounds Coffee.

Photo: Bar Cavabarcava2

These two have big plans, and I personally can’t wait to experience this new spot as their dreams come to fruition.

Read my blog for more news on Bar Cava and other local East Bay spots. Cheers!



Cornerstone 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (Howell Mountain)

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January 8, 2012:  Yesterday, I took a wine tasting course for the volunteers over at White Crane Winery in Livermore.  Although I’ve been drinking wine for a number of years and had also been taught what to look for at previous tastings, I did learn a lot.  More on that in another post.

In order to give my UC Davis Aroma Wheel a spin, I stopped by the Wine Thieves in Lafayette tonight and picked up a 375 ml. of the Cornerstone 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain (Napa).

January 9, 2012: I had neither “Soiree’d nor decanted the wine last night.  At first sip, after breathing for over an hour, it was still tighter than an infant’s grasp on a man’s beard.  However, my initial impressions were of chocolate and vanilla.

Tonight it is much looser, the flavors more approachable.

The color is a beautiful deep garnet, with a tiny clear rim.  The fingers appear slowly, and travel even more slowly down the glass wall.

The chocolate (cocoa?) aroma is still present, along with an appealing tobacco — a vanilla cigar?  I had a pepper steak earlier this evening, so, not surprisingly, I’m detecting a faint whiff of spice or pepper on the nose.

The initial impression is gradual, and slightly fruity (red fruits, raspberry), slightly floral.  The feel is the beginning of a small wave, an eddy caused by a boat’s wake.  The peak is pleasant, no overly exuberant tannins, and the taste rounds out with a balanced, elegant finish.

I’d drifted away from bordeaux a few years ago due to over-muscular tannins, and had begun exploring more fruit-forward or earthy varietals, specifically GSM blends, malbecs and mourvedres.  This wine is the beautiful denouement to the drama.

According to Cornerstone’s site, over two-thirds of the Howell Mountain vineyard fruit is certified organic, and the winery is striving to increase that number.  While the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is virtually gone, after my tasting this evening, this winery is definitely on my watch list for the years to come.


Whatever Floats Your Cork (Jezebel, 2009 Pinot Noir, Oregon)

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Drinking wine is like listening to music.  Sometimes you want to listen to a song to elevate a good feeling, or to forget a bad day.  Sometimes you want to rock out to your favorite band, and sometimes you want to mellow out to the haunting vocals of a lyrical hero.

Too often we drink wine because it’s the wine everyone else is drinking.  This is similar to hearing a song on the radio and when you realize you don’t really like it, it’s too late — you’ve heard it so many times it’s stuck in your head.

I hate to admit I’m intrigued by Katy Perry.  She worked with Alanis Morrisette during the mid 90’s and appears (to me) to have potential.  I will continue to keep my thoughts to myself though, while I listen to Teenage Dream in my car on the way to work. 

Just like musical tastes, people should drink what they truly enjoy — even if it’s the much maligned white zinfandel.  After all, if you’re not drinking the wine you like, there is no sense in drinking it at all.

My musical tastes are more diverse than my taste for wine.  I have 50’s pop, hardcore punk, classical, jazz, ‘smooth’ jazz, new country, classic country, classic rock, and anything else you can think of in any of those spectrums.  I have reggae, Cuban, Latin jazz, and even a little bit of hip hop. 

Paso Robles vineyards

When it comes to wine, however, there exists only a small range of wines I’ve explored.   I have had many chardonnays, cabernets, syrah, and zinfandels from the Paso Robles area, Amador Valley, and the Livermore Valley.  I don’t know that much about Napa wines, and if I were asked to point out on a map of France where the Rhone region is located, I would fail miserably.

What’s worse, besides the initial foray into chardonnays, cabernets, syrahs, and zinfandels, the only other wines I’ve explored at length have been Rhone varietals — viognier, mourvedre, grenache, and GSM, the blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre.

I’m not worried though.  I’ve already had a malbec that I would love again, and I am prepared to buy and drink an unknown wine from Wine Thieves that I may not like.   The experience will be good, and I’ll be smarter in the long run when making choices in wine tasting at wineries or at restaurants. 

After all, it’s like my Miles Davis collection on CD.  I have 23 or so now, but there’s always room for the remaining 40 or 50 other classic albums that I don’t have yet.


Tonight’s Tasting:  Jezebel, 2009 Pinot Noir, Oregon

Listening to: Wayne Shorter, Adam’s Apple with Herbie Hancock, Reginald Workman, and Joe Chambers, 1966

Appearance:  clear medium rim, pale red hue

Nose: light spice, faint earthy scent

Palate: light berry on initial impression, soft body, mild berry and woodiness on finish

 This wine was a good value (from Diablo Foods) and a very good pinot noir.  This is a great every day wine for a pinot lover.

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