December 13th, 2010

13 Celsius: Vino Done Right in the Midtown Night

In 5 Words: Syrah, Vino, How-To-Midtown, Distressed, Star-Gazing

Amongst the demolition that enables new, three-story town-homes to sprout forth from the earth in Midtown, there lies a testament to incorporating the old while creating the new. A vision of the future, using what the past has left us and pre-distressed. The bars around the area that have slipped into strip centers and slapped lacquered wood veneer on the walls seem only interested in making a quick buck at the expense of the hopelessly trendy. You can accept them for what they are in the moment, but you’re left wondering what new concept is going to replace it once the regulars reject Escoclub/Wild Western Creek/Vision/Impromptu/Whatever-They’re-Calling-It-Today. When you walk into 13 Celsius you’re faced with the opposite question: Where can I find more places like this one?

With work coming to a close on Friday, I was left with the guilt of not having finished my tasks for the week and the hope that the weekend’s festivities might help me forget such dalliances. Naturally, instead of working hard for the last couple hours to spit out TPS reports and sign off on objectives completed, I took to the phone to figure out where that first sip of precious, memory-forgetting-elixir was going to come from. At first I looked for a quick, early dinner option, but when my friend told me he was headed up to 13 Celsius I called off the chowhounds.

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After a quick stop home to change into classier attire, I made my way to Midtown before the club-rush to get to the wine bar on the corner of Caroline and Anita. With these winter nights crushing out the sun too soon, it was already dark by the time I parked on the street and tripped into the building. Dimly lit by the lights hanging down from the distressed ceiling, 13 Celsius leaves a lot to the imagination, which, by the look of it, is a good thing for the mature couple sitting in a cozy set of chairs.

This is a place made for second dates. First dates are a blur of facts, stereotypes, assumptions and posturing. If you pass that test by barely a thread, you have to bring out the big guns. Sharing a bottle of a classic vintage beneath low, yellow lights is just the ticket. 13 Celsius is perfectly prepared to take on the task of making a good impression and might even erase the fact that you made your bread roll into a poem-reciting puppet at Tony Mandola’s last weekend. Who cares what kind of suppressed, frat-boy urges you’re hiding when you can confidently pick a bottle from the menu?

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Apparently, 13 Celsius is also conducive to people watching. I take my lingering glance away from the couple and settle into my place at the marble bar. My two friends have already had a bottle of Syrah uncorked and are taking it to task, swishing and sniffing. They ask the bartendress for another glass. Perfectly willing to stumble my way through an order when need be, riding their tailcoats is even better as they are more familiar with the art. All I would be able to muster would be pointing into the glass wine closet and uttering a caveman-like grunt at what looks good.

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We are sitting at the elbow of the bar giving us a good view of all the subdued happenings from within the small building. 13 Celsius doesn’t seem like the kind of place that would be able to host a bustling night of debauch, but I’ve seen it so. The tables are small and seat four people at most. But when the wine starts flowing groups blend together like the best Malbec. (Yes, I am a little ashamed of that vino reference.) The chunks of plaster on the walls that have come off near the ceiling beg the question  of what kind of scenes they have witnessed, but this place hasn’t always been a place to drink and congregate. Unfortunately, the only tales they can tell revolve around starched shirts and that stubborn mustard stain that the dry cleaners just couldn’t get the better of.

With our bottle nearing the last pour, I head outside to the patio to avoid the “do we or don’t we” question about the next bottle. The enclosed patio was once part of the indoors, the roof having caved in and conveniently allowing a hollowed out respite for smokers and star-gazers. You just have to trust that the rest of the walls aren’t going to come tumbling down on you, even though all the stress marks and rotten concrete beg otherwise.

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As I join my two friends still sitting at the bar they are having a conversation about the invention of the foot railing for bars and the necessity of purse/coat hooks fastened to the underside of the marble slab. They have closed the tab and are signing credit card receipts. My trip to the outside has served me the greater purpose of avoiding payment. As their flirtations fail with the cute bartender I’m taken to wondering what art will pop up next in the space allotted by the bathroom.

13 Celsius has hit the mark when it comes to feeling exclusive without ever having to hang a velvet rope or post a man at the door. You feel like you’re in on the secret, whether that be a great place to hang out or the newest wine that the bartender can suggest. While other spots in Midtown fall short when it comes to exclusivity, 13 Celsius has achieved it without trying. Whether you’re looking for a way to start your night on a classy note with two buddies, or trying to erase the epic disappointment of a first date, you’ll be in the right place.

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As we walk out the door I notice that the couple I walked by on the way in is now reaching across the knee-high table holding hands. Another successful night. If I had any advice to give, it would to be to leave the complimentary olives alone. No need for another anthropomorphic mistake, buddy.

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Where -  3000 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004 (View Map)
What – Wine by the glass, bottle or even to take home

Wear – Don’t be a slouch, but no reason to overdo it.
How Much – How much are you willing to pay for a little bit of class?
Hours – Sun thru Wed 4PM-12AM; Thu thru Sat 4PM-2AM
WebWebsite; Twitter; Facebook

— Paul

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