Review

269 West uncorks in Ocoee

If you want a night out with no frills, there's nothing quite as reliable or unfrilly as a strip-mall bar. The modern equivalent of a warm campfire, these unpretentious nooks are the best way to take the temperature of a community, especially in the suburbs, where good company typically counts for more than a pricey drink selection or bartending flair.

Even though 269 West is technically a bar, and definitely in a strip mall, it's also very much a product of its community. The immediate neighbors for this new wine lounge are Publix and Subway, but the mood and menu are more informed by the gated communities nearby, complexes along the shores of Lake Apopka with breezy names like Forestbrooke and Westyn Bay.

To that end, 269 West is doing a little extra to lure local wine lovers out of the box and out of their homes. Most of it is in the decor: The place is equally suited to date night or girls' night, with rows of soft black chairs positioned around small tables. Neon accents along the walls echo the changing "ground effects" under a single wide marble bar top, and a large wine rack tempts patrons from the back corner. A couple of flat-screen TVs provide some distraction but don't intrude.

In case you hadn't guessed by now, the wine menu takes front and center. When my wife and I dropped by for an afternoon visit, she picked out a heady glass of 7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel ($12) while my less picky palate went for a Lucky Star Pinot Noir ($8). The wine selection isn't the most adventurous thing around, but there is plenty to choose from, especially if you like Chilean reds. Owner Matthew Winter assures us he plans to change up the menu every three months or so, once he gets a feel for local tastes.

Until then, kudos to his eye for quantity: When we split a final glass of Silver Palm Chardonnay ($10), neither of us went home thirsty. My glass was more than half-full and it wasn't just my optimism.

The bar is beer and wine only, but the draft menu holds up its end. Beers on tap include the ubiquitous Blue Moon ($4.50) and Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA ($6.50), and there's a wide selection of domestic bottles ($3.50-$4.50).

To help soak all this up, there is a small tapas menu that heavily employs that wine-pairing staple: Cheese. Nightcap munchies or afternoon snack attacks can be kept at bay with Shrimp & Crab Parmesan Dip ($11) or a Five Cheese Course ($13) including brie or other seasonal favorites, both with pita bread.

If you're looking for a quiet date, drop by early for two-for-one wines or beers during happy hour, 4-6 p.m. Unless it's your job to notice the music (like me), you won't: The mix of Dave Koz, Tracy Chapman and other adult-contempo stalwarts keep things suitably loungey.

Local acts liven up the place with live jazz and pop on Wednesday and Friday evenings, and DJs spin more up-tempo fare on Saturdays. I'm especially keen to drop by on the new Tuesday poker nights: Buy-in to the Texas Hold 'Em tables is free, and chip leaders can walk away with gift certificates and other prizes.

A transplant from Germany, Winter has plenty of local experience as the former owner of Matthew's Steaks in Ocoee. He knows his market, no question. If his lounge were just a few miles away — say, in the vibrant downtown area of Winter Garden — he might have some competition. But for now, 269 West offers a suitable touch of class on the "strip."

tcaviness@tribune.com or 407-420-5677

269 West Wine Lounge

Where: 269 West Road, Ocoee

Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight, Tuesday-Sunday

Call: 407-516-1928

Online: 269west.com

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2013 YEAR IN REVIEW
Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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