Syrah has had to employ a street-level guide to help visitors find the entrance. She’ll ask if you’ve been there before and, if you haven’t, instruct you to go down the stairs, past black walls covered with old band stickers and gig posters (two dance clubs occupied the space before Syrah) and enter the door on the left. But there’s no door—well, there is—but it’s hidden behind fake grass with its handle barely exposed.
Tim Burton might be re-imagining Alice and Wonderland, but, with Syrah, designer Michael Soriano beat him to it. If you’ve been to The Pearl Hotel and Restaurant in Point Loma, then you’ve seen Soriano’s work. (Along with architect Petar Perisic, who died unexpectedly last year, Soriano won a prestigious “Orchid” award from the San Diego Architectural Foundation for The Pearl’s design.)
Soriano’s talent is in taking a space and dividing it up into distinct parts without really dividing it up—if that makes sense. And he’s a master at blending disparate elements. Syrah’s ceiling, for instance, is decorated with thick, old sun-bleached wood vines. Hanging from the vines are glass votives that hold tiny flashing lights, intended to resemble trapped lightening bugs. It’s rustic with an old-school, Pirates of the Caribbean / Blue Bayou vibe. Add to that a ceiling with exposed beams and pipes and a rough-hewn / unfinished-wood bar area. The seating, on the other hand, is mostly retro-elegance, comprising high-backed upholstered banquettes, little Victorian sofas and a corner spot that resembles an eccentric professor’s study with a fireplace and a huge painting of an English garden. And, elsewhere, you’ll find suspended Mary Poppins-style umbrellas.
But it all works—and really well—without feeling forced or kitschy or, even worse, shabby chic. We won’t be surprised if Soriano gets an Orchid for this one, too.
Drink-wise, the menu is small but well edited, with 20 wines by the glass, none of them more than $11. Bottles range from $20 to $76 (and, no, there’s no particular focus on Syrahs). If wine’s not your thing, creative specialty cocktails, like the Caprese Martini, are $9. Food’s limited to cheese, meat and dessert plates, but the portions are pretty generous.
We can only hope that the folks who frequent this place are the sort who’ll enjoy and appreciate Soriano’s work. At Syrah’s grand opening, the guest list got a bit out of hand—to the point where getting from one side of the bar to the other was a futile task. Soriano seemed overwhelmed by the crowd, which was keeping him from enjoying the Nena Anderson Trio, who were playing some kick-ass old-timey jazz guitar.
Amid décor so intricate and interesting, it’s important to keep things simple and chill.Syrah Wine Parlor is located at 901 Fifth Ave., Downtown. www.syrahwineparlor.com.