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Invitame a una Copa 

Release Date: 2009-09-30

This week, Bar Tab had a case of the hiccups. First, Maroc’s beer-pong tournament was cancelled due to inclement weather. The final round was to take place in the pool, which promised to be a major Kodak moment for the chic, Miami-meets-Morocco patio bar.

Searching for a possible alternative with a similar flavor, I came across an invite to Club Luz’s “Latin Friday.” My bilingual girl-gang (A.K.A. Emma and Celeste) is always willing to investigate, especially if there’s dancing, so we carpooled to the Northside around 11 p.m. Club Luz has a swanky look with deep-blue light panels that illuminate an elevated DJ booth, and private seating areas that have undoubtedly been host to overpriced bottles of Grey Goose, mini-skirted bottoms, and plastic “Reserved” signs. In short, it’s an ultra-lounge, a species that is already on the endangered list in its birthplace of New York City.

In July of this year, the New York Times published a fascinating article entitled “Drink, Dance, but Don’t Say ‘Club,’” about the future of nightlife, detailing the disappearance of red velvet ropes, bouncers, bottle service, and the emergence of grownup, low-key bars with book collections, living-room furniture, pinball machines, and open-door policies. Among the quotes writer Allen Salkin collected are, “We’re in a period where a snotty attitude is not helping people feel better about themselves.“ and “The word ‘club’ has about as much cultural relevance as the Macarena.”

Except for several bartenders and the DJ, Club Luz was completely empty. It was only 11 p.m., but my girls were getting thirsty, so rather than waiting for the party to start, we decided to bounce. Nestled in one of the countless, homogenized strip centers of Stone Oak, we found Copa Wine Bar, a cozy-looking place with a laid-back crowd.

“I like it, we’re staying,” Emma informed me. We spotted three seats in a row at the bar and scooted them close together to speed read the dense wine list. “I’ll pick for us,” Celeste offered, “because I know what Emma likes.” From the “Sweet & Semi-Sweet Whites” category, Toad Hollow’s “Risqué” from Limoux, France, was exactly what las chicas desired — effervescent and crisp with a hint of green apple ($12).

I took advantage of Copa’s open-bottle policy and tasted several wines before making a decision. Rather than concentrating on the list, I scanned the long counter top (where the bottles are thoughtfully arranged in clusters ranging from light to full-bodied in character). Say what you will, but I have great luck choosing wines with cool-looking, art-directed labels. The first wine I tasted, Spanish vineyard Carchello Monastrell’s Cabernet / Syrah blend ($9) reminded Emma of The Cat in the Hat due to its whimsical, striped neck. “Nice, but a little too fruity,” I thought. When I asked owner Jeff Bridges if he could recommend a Napa Valley Cabernet for a decent price, he poured me a taste of Wilson Vineyard’s “The Crusher” ($11). I was almost sold on this one when I noticed more eye candy — Green Lion Merlot (also from Napa Valley, $12) pounced out from the full-bodied cluster. “You’ll really like this one, it’s a big Merlot.”

Bridges was right, it was perfect, and the bottle itself is a work of art, with a psychedelic green-and-red label that suggests both the Rasta Lion of Judah and vintage Barnum & Bailey ephemera. Emma ordered a spicy hummus appetizer for us to share and we rebooted our latest never-ending discussion — exactly who is going to buy our tickets to see DJ Tiesto at Cowboys Dancehall on October 25?

The crowd was surprisingly mixed for the neighborhood, couples sharing bottles at small tables, friendly regulars swapping wine knowledge at the bar, and the ever-present, affluent Gossip Girls of Stone Oak starting the weekend off slowly. Lucy, our bartender, has been at Copa since it opened in 2005 and has a great understanding of what she’s serving. “There’s a special place in my heart for Italian wines,” she told me over a taste of Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano, a complex and earthy red from a vineyard that has been producing wine for more than 1,000 years ($11).

Noticing the charming paintings on the wall, which are based on wine labels, I asked Bridges about the artist. “Aren’t they great? They’re by Jennifer McCormick, she’s in seventh grade,” he said proudly. The artwork’s unpretentious look adds to Copa’s warm, fuzzy vibe. “We just wanted to build a great big living room and invite our friends over every night,” Bridges added.

“So how do you feel about Jeff Bridges the actor?” I asked.

“Oh, he’s cool,” said our host. “In fact, every year for Halloween, we have a Big Lebowski-themed party and I dress as ‘The Dude.’”

“Do we have to go back to Club Luz?” Emma asked as we piled into her car. “Definitely not,” I told her. “I think we found something much more relevant.”

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