A new French-style wine bar on San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito opened to welcoming crowds this weekend.
Anticipation had been building among residents since a local couple signed on in September 2021 to turn the building at 10368 San Pablo Avenue into a gathering spot called Banter Wine.
Bay Area natives Claire Sullivan and Devin Hohler faced a bumpy road to opening, from pandemic-era permitting delays to a freak car accident that smashed a hole through the building's wall during renovations, and even welcomed a baby along the way.
But the couple was all smiles at their long-awaited opening. "We’ve had so much fun already this weekend," the pair posted on their popular Instagram account, which has been gathering followers among residents and area wine fans eager for the new spot. "Thank y’all for the warm welcome!"
For now, they're open Thursdays through Saturdays, 4-9 p.m., serving domestic and European wines, along with lighter food inspired in part by Sullivan's half-French heritage and history in the Bay's wine and dining industry – think cheese and charcuterie. Sullivan grew up inside the local industry: Her parents own Beaune Imports, importing European wines to the Bay, and she's worked at Chez Panisse, as Alice Waters' assistant and with the Edible Schoolyard Project.
Banter Wine is also offering a wine-of-the-month club for local pickup, with three "daily driver" bottles for $65 or two "slightly more *special* selections" for $80 (plus food pairing suggestions and a glass of wine on the house).
Above: Claire Sullivan and Devin Hohler welcome guests. | Photos: Banter Wine
The wine bar is located across from the El Cerrito Natural Grocery Store, along a stretch of San Pablo Avenue that's part of a 2014 El Cerrito city plan aimed at transforming the avenue from just "a thoroughfare" into "a place that provides opportunities for living, working and community life."
Sullivan and Hohler dreamed up the vision for the wine bar during the early days of COVID-19. "The inspiration for Banter came due to us spending a lot of time in our backyard drinking wine during pandemic evenings and imagining how cool it would be if we had a fun wine bar to go to that was a bit closer to us than all the amazing ones located in Oakland," Sullivan said.
"On a whim, I started looking at commercial spaces available for rent, and we stumbled across our cute building," Sullivan shared with Hoodline. "It took a while for me to actually take the leap to reach out to the agent about a visit. From there I asked them if they’d be open to us turning it into a bar and I also asked the city planning department. I expected someone to tell me 'no' along the way but kept on getting 'yeses.'"
Banter Wine is serving wine and light food Thursday-Saturday 4-9 p.m. Located at 10368 San Pablo Avenue, El Cerrito. More information at www.banterwine.com.