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Distillations: Going the Distance at The Hidden Vine 

Wednesday, Mar 26 2014
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"I have this friend, Scott, who just discovered he's a hipster," I tell Janine over a glass of Spanish wine at The Hidden Vine. "He looked up 'hipster' on Urban Dictionary, and there it was."

"Oh no!" she says. It's been years since I've seen Janine. A recent event in my life has caused me to reach out to a lot of people I like but lost touch with over the years ... a list that is disturbingly long.

Nobody here holds it against me, though; they all have their own lists. This place where everyone values community so highly works like hell to push us apart.

"We were making fun of him for his sudden realization," I go on, "when he turns to another friend and says, 'Well, I bet Benjamin's an even bigger hipster than I am!'"

Janine nearly spits out her wine, laughing.

"And I said, well, Scott, we can have this discussion if we really have to, but first ... come on. Look at me! Just look at me!"

Janine has put her wine safely down on the table. "Face: unmustached," she says. "Pants: not skinny. Not even jeans. Bike: not fixie."

"I don't even have a bike."

"The man doesn't even have a bike!"

"So then he says, 'Well, Benjamin, you do have great taste in alcohol.'" I roll my eyes. "But you can't reduce every instance of good taste to hipsterism."

"No," she agrees. "It's possible to know about things in this world, and have strong preferences, without being hip at all."

"Exactly!"

The Hidden Vine could be mistaken for a hipster bar, or at least an overly trendy one, by the casually unobservant. The fireplace is faux — the books on the mantle above it pointless. The finished-wood-and-brick walls, the emphasis on small tables and comfortable couches, all come together to give it a "drawing room" quality that a lot of really trendy bars are going for these days. Most of them spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, and fail.

They fail for the same reason so many old friendships fail: Eventually the distance between you becomes the only thing you have in common, and there's nothing else left. The old friendships that succeed are the ones where you see each other again and can pick up right where you left off. The distance between you is invisible, it doesn't get in your way.

The best ambience for a bar is one that lets you relax enough to ignore the ambience, to feel comfortable being who you are, with who you're with, and ... if you're daring enough ... to connect with complete strangers.

The Hidden Vine's got that. The atmosphere, though delightful, disappears like the years between good friends as you sit and drink. Only the bocce ball court in the alley outside can periodically impinge on your drinking ... but come on. That's fun. I mean, just look at it.

The wine list is small for a wine bar — the paucity of choices representing a sure curatorial hand — and a little on the pricey side, but the portions are generous. The food is likewise small and dangerously close to trendy, but just gets away with it.

They toe the line, but in the end it looks effortless.

The difference between a hipster and someone with good taste, after all, is that hipsters are constantly pursuing novelty, and it will never be enough — they'll pursue it off a cliff. People with good taste are chasing a vision of truth and beauty, and they know when to stop.

"Scott didn't give up," I tell Janine, "Eventually he said, 'Well, I assume at least you got those clothes at a thrift store!'"

There's a long silence while I sadly shake my head.

"Oooooo," says Janine. "And he's your friend?"

"Not since he learned I shop at Safeway. That was the last straw."

"I'm amazed you have any friends here at all."

"Yeah."

"We're going to do this again soon," she says.

We're going to try. But not hard enough that it breaks us.

About The Author

Benjamin Wachs

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