By Frank Sabatini Jr. / Photos by Sara Norris
Gone are the days when neighborhood liquor stores were best regarded for their inventories of Boone's Farm wines, bottled screwdrivers (remember Tango?) and boxed sets of Black Velvet whiskey perched regally on top shelves. Today, scores of retail booze outlets (like the five included here) pay greater respect to the ol' brown bag by carrying the latest and greatest releases from distilleries, vineyards and breweries - not to mention the requisite munchies needed for soaking them up.
Old Town Liquor & Deli
2304 San Diego Ave., Ste. C, Old Town
Owner Zack Romaya has amassed a dizzying inventory of tequila that tops off at 700 varieties, giving indecisive customers reason to regroup over a sandwich and deviled eggs from the store's deli. Nestled within the selection is Casa Dragones, a fine, small-batch tequila contained in skull-embossed crystal bottles designed by acclaimed Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco. They sell for $1,699 apiece. But patrons on a budget throwing shot parties need not fear, because prices on other palatable brands drop to $20 a bottle. The shelves also hold high and low-end champagnes, whiskeys, cognacs, Ports and Sherries.
Mixon Liquor and Deli
1427 First Ave., Downtown
Established in 1933 by "Grandpa Mixon," this store was issued one of the first liquor licenses for non-bar spirits in San Diego after Prohibition. It moved from Little Italy to Downtown in the 1940s and remains in the family four generations later. In addition to a deli that slings breakfast fare and well-endowed sandwiches, the store has a booze collection embodying everything from high-end bourbons and tequilas to cheap vodkas and familiar wines and beers. Many of the liquors are sold in near-extinct half-pint bottles, which cater to a wildly diverse downtown clientele that excludes neither the judges from the nearby courthouse nor the folks who stand before them.
Holiday Wine Cellar
302 W. Mission Ave., Escondido
Having grown to 4,000 labels since the place opened in 1965, the wine collection at this family-run store in Escondido is worthy of a museum exhibit. The inventory encompasses everything from affordable domestic and Moroccan wines to one of the world's rarest pinot noirs - Domaine Romanee Conti from Burgundy, France. On the low end, there's Boones Farm and Lancers, "but we don't stoop to Mogen David 20/20," says manager Jim Kern. (For Mad Dog-loving diehards, the store sells retro, leather bota for toting the cheap stuff around.) Equipped with an underground cellar for private parties, the 8,000-square-foot store also flaunts a formidable selection of tequilas and single-malt Scotches, the latter of which include a $2,500 bottle of The Last Drop, distilled in 1960.
1279 University Ave., Hillcrest
What started in 1939 as a grocery market specializing in cheese eventually morphed into a liquor store during the late '70s. Since its remodel several years ago, Servall is undergoing yet another change, one that will bombard beer connoisseurs (by April) with 2,500 choices stretching across a few lengthy aisles and into its existing walk-in cooler. Already, the store carries a sturdy payload of craft beers, local and imported, along with nearly 150 types of vodka and premium liquors. Crowning the top shelf are jewels such as Johnny Walker Odyssey triple-malt scotch ($1,600) and Louis XIII cognac ($3,000). Speaking further to our sinful indulgences are cigars, meat jerky and a vast selection of Sathers candies hanging from the front counter.
KNB Wine Cellars
6380 Del Cerro Blvd., Del Cerro
The 20-foot-high wall of liquor at the entrance confirms that KNB is much more than a wine depot. The six-year-old store, which features a bistro and brewery, spans 5,500 square-feet and carries thousands of diverse spirits, including some that have been long celebrated in countries abroad: Aquavit from Norway; Arak from Lebanon; and the colorless, fruity brandy, Eau Ve Vie from Switzerland. Appeasing the mixology community is a large selection of bitters and liqueurs that lead to copious wines hailing from vineyards around the world, including Mexico's Guadalupe Valley. Owned by Tony Konja, founder of the Keg-N-Bottle franchise, this one-stop-shop emporium also spotlights beers on tap and in bottles.