The Old World design of the Arcata Plaza became decidedly more Euro when Ed and Anna Bernard purchased a small wine shop there 10 years ago. Situated on Eighth Street between a thriving Italian eatery and a clothing boutique, Libation is a wine shop and bar offering an impressive selection of bottles in addition to wine flights, craft beers and light bites. The walls are covered with rows of bottles stacked in wooden crates and maps of France and Italy's famous vineyards and villages. From the tall windows (perfect for people watching) to the long tasting bar stocked with esoteric wines, everything at Libation invites you to slow down and taste the good life.
On a Tuesday afternoon, Ed is busy writing the wine tasting menu for the week while jazz plays in the back of the shop. Customers pass in and out, some stopping to enjoy a hoppy Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point Brewing, others heading straight to Ed to ask which wine to take home for dinner. Any wine purveyor is familiar with the deer in the headlights expression of a customer grappling with a selection. Fear not. Ed has tasted every wine in the shop and can speak to its provenance, quality and style without hesitation.
On weekends, the small staff serves thematic wine flights at the bar that rotate weekly, from "Pinot Noir From Around the World," to "Visiting Northern Spain" ($13.50). Among the eclectic selection, the pinot flight featured Naughty Boy Pinot Noir from Mendocino ($9 glass, $22.50 bottle), and the Spanish flight included Dominios from the country's up-and-coming Ribera del Duero region ($7.50 glass, $17 bottle). After purchasing a flight, guests get a 10-percent discount on bottles.
Anna Bernard is the resident foodie, keeping the shop's tasting menu and picnic supplies well-stocked with a selection of imported olives, cheeses, pates and other delicacies she comes across at food shows and trips abroad. Locals who rely on Libation for first dates (good call) would be wise to remember the shop when setting off for redwoods adventures and afternoons at the beach — one can put together an impressive picnic basket in minutes and the shop will pop your bottle of wine in the "the chiller," an ingenius contraption that perfectly chills your whites, rosés and bubblies in five minutes flat. Libation's selection of cheeses, charcuterie, olives and chocolates all rotate, but the Bernards are particularly taken with the fresh, carefully wrapped triple-cream brie cheeses they order from France. You can sample them on Libation's in-house cheese plates ($12), along with wild boar salami ($7), duck rillette ($9) and sweet, green Castelveltrano olives ($5).
Back to that first date — does Friday night for live jazz and a flight of bubbles sound like a good idea? We couldn't agree more. As the sun drops over the Pacific a few miles from the hum of the Plaza, the staff buttresses the rows of wine bottles with wooden planks to stand in as bar tables and brings out extra stools for the evening crowd. Some of Humboldt's best jazz and blues musicians take turns playing at Libation every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening, where strangers quickly become friends, brushing shoulders in the cozy wine shop rows.
Libation is located at 761 Eighth St., on the plaza, open Monday-Saturday at 11 a.m. And if you're looking to learn, Ed offers two wine appreciation courses each year, starting with Wine 101 and ending with a wine pairing dinner prepared by the Bernards at the shop.
761 8th St., Arcata
Monday - Thursday
11 am - 9 pm
Friday and Saturday
11 am - 10 pm