It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and a bartender named Otto is at his post, wiping down surfaces and putting away glassware. He pours me some white wine—a totally pleasant sauv blanc on special for ten bucks a glass—and changes the TV channel from basketball to baseball just as a guy he knows by name shows up to catch the Dodgers game.
This bar has a lot of regulars, maybe even more than most. See, even if many people—busy parents in particular—can’t typically seem to make time for a draft beer and some conversation with fellow adults at the local watering hole, they kind of have to make time to go grocery shopping. And this bar, a popular L.A. destination since 2016, is conveniently located inside a Gelson’s supermarket, right between the bakery and the checkout lines. It’s a solid hang. I’ll even let the overhead sign that says “Noshing & Imbibing” slide.
Grocery store bars should be more of a thing. Sure, grabbing a latte at your supermarket’s in-house Starbucks makes an end-of-the-workday stop for toilet paper and cat food a little more palatable, but having the opportunity to actually sit down, sip on something, and socialize a little turns a mundane errand into an event. It’s an antidote to the often unpleasant human interactions we suffer when we shop for food. In a store’s cramped aisles, other people are inconveniences; at the bar, they’re company to be enjoyed. Grocery store bars foster community. Just ask the folks who regularly show up to Gelson’s at 7:30 on weeknights to watch Jeopardy! together.
If they seemed like little more than a fun novelty pre-2020, I’d argue that the pandemic has made grocery store bars essential. For a span of several months, going to the store became many people’s only source of social interaction. And for literal years, pragmatic risk aversion has resulted in untold canceled plans and strained friendships. Even if you can’t justify meeting up with that coworker you really like at a cramped restaurant and chance bringing home a case of COVID that will spread through your household like achy, snotty wildfire, you can absolutely justify a trip to the grocery store—and, what the hell, a glass of wine in a clean, airy environment.
All you have to do is get used to a little bright lighting and an incessant soundtrack of UPCs being scanned.