First Look

Houston's newest wine bar is a playground of good drinks: Cool, not pretentious

Houston's newest wine bar a playground of good drinks: Cool not trendy

Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 bar
The backsplash at Camerata, with tiled letters to facilitate the tab system, and the poured concrete bar.  Photo by Kirsten White/KirstenWhitePhotography.com
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 David Keck
Sommelier David Keck runs the operation with restaurateur Paul Petronella. Photo by Kirsten White/KirstenWhitePhotography.com
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 menu wine list
Keck put together an extensive wine list from scratch, with a focus on classic wines from classic regions.  Photo by Kirsten White/KirstenWhitePhotography.com
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 playing cards
Photo by Kirsten White/KirstenWhitePhotography.com
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 front doors
Photo by Kirsten White/KirstenWhitePhotography.com
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 seating area
Interior designer Gin Braverman outfitted the space with sleek sofas and cowhide rugs.  Photo by Kirsten White/KirstenWhitePhotography.com
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 interior view
Photo by Kirsten White/KirstenWhitePhotography.com
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 community table
A community table at the center of the space makes the perfect gathering place. Photo by Kirsten White/KirstenWhitePhotography.com
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 beer tap
Photo by Kirsten White/KirstenWhitePhotography.com
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 wine and glass
Photo by Kirsten White/KirstenWhitePhotography.com
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 bar
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 David Keck
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 menu wine list
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 playing cards
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 front doors
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 seating area
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 interior view
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 community table
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 beer tap
Camerata Houston wine bar July 2013 wine and glass

Biking home at dusk from opening night at Camerata, it crossed my mind that the Montrose wine bar might become my new favorite neighborhood hangout. That distinction was cemented over an earthy rosé during happy hour on Monday night.

The wine bar was conceived as the professional playground of David Keck, who got his start with wine about five years ago at Cova before working on the bar programs at Stella Sola and Uchi. He received his Advance Sommelier Certification last October, and was soon after approached by Paul Petronella — who'd had an eye on the vacant spot next to Paulie's Restaurant — about opening his own place.

It took just about as long for interior designer Gin Braverman to outfit the space at 1830 Westheimer with cowhide rugs, hairpin leg tables, leather sofas and a tiled bar backsplash as it did for Keck to develop the wine list, his first from the ground up. He told CultureMap that they were trying to do the same thing with both the decor and the menu: Bring it back to the basics. The effect is just the right amount of cool, without pretension. 

"What I think the world needs is more wine that comes from specific places and tastes like the places they come from," says Keck, who tells CultureMap that he selected classic wines from classic regions before filling in the menu with "odd balls" to "keep things interesting." 

 Keck selected classic wines from classic regions before filling in the menu with "odd balls" to "keep things interesting."  

The "Beverages by the Glass" menu consists of a handful of reds, a handful of wines, a few bubbles and few rosés. About a third of the menu is changed out each day, and happy hour means half off on sips and glasses from bottles opened the previous night.

Also on the menu are a handful of beers, which Keck assembled with the same philosophy, choosing Old World, traditional styles from traditional regions — think Orval and Ayinger Brau-Weisse — all in large-format bottles.

"We like to share a bottle of wine, so why not the same approach to beer?" he says.

Keck acknowledged that craft brews are already well-represented around Houston, but he will keep a couple of local beers on tap and rotate them out often. The sparse food menu is also local, with salami and cheese selections sourced by Houston Dairymaids. A selection of four costs $25 or all eight costs $45, and it's ideal for enjoyment at the long wooden community table or at the poured concrete bar.

That bar (big enough for personal consultation by the well-trained staff) and a swiveling lamp at the end (touch-activated to facilitate blind tastings at night) were the only two elements that Keck insisted upon incorporating into the design. They're crucial for the educational component that he's hoping to bring into the space. 

"We've already seen a huge amount of support from the sommelier community," says Keck, who has brought together a talented team for the Camerata staff. "I feel pretty strongly that the people who pour your wine should know a lot about it."

Camerata will be open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Parking is available behind Paulie's or after 6 p.m. in the lot behind Southland Hardware on Morse Street.