In a word, Vino Rosina is adorable.
OK, two words: Adorable and overdue.
Harbor East can't get enough bars and lounges of any kind, and the clean cut wine bar Vino Rosina, which opened in the Bagby building in mid-May, is a perfect fit for the ritzy waterside neighborhood. Opened by Jim Lancaster, the man behind the Rosina Gourmet sandwich shops, Vino Rosina ticks nearly all the boxes.
As soon as you set foot inside Vino Rosina, you'll notice the tasteful rehab of the rustic warehouse space, with its high ceilings, exposed brick and light wood trimmings. The doorway to the rear dining area is surrounded by shelves of wine bottles, and the square-shaped bar topped with stainless steel is near at the front of the bar, which faces South Exeter Street.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Square bars are the best. So many Baltimore watering holes have long and narrow bars where you can only interact with the folks to your immediate right and left. But U- and square-shaped bars open the place up, making it easier to meet new people and talk to those around you.
When my wife, Amie, and I went on a recent Saturday night, there were three bartenders for the 30-odd bar patrons – a solid ratio. Most of the customers, young and old, were sharply dressed. Our glasses weren't empty long, and the bartenders seemed to know their grapes. I'd expect no less in a bar with nearly 60 wines available by the glass and another 200-some in bottles.
The wine list, designed by Olivia Boru, is all over the map — France, Italy, South America, California, Australia — and the glasses are available in three- or six-ounce pours. The three-ounce pours average $4; six-ouncers are about $8. The bottles are also affordable, falling mostly in the $30-$50 price range.
We stuck to three-ounce pours, which, to our untrained eyes, looked more like four- or five-ounce pours. Amie started with a The Chook, an Australian sparkling shiraz ($5 for a three-ounce pour) served in a champagne glass. As odd as it sounds, The Chook was exactly how you'd imagine a sparkling shiraz: Bubbly, light and refreshing but also dry and full-bodied.
The Sol Malbec available by glass, the Argentinian Urban Uco ($3.50 for three ounces), was like the best malbecs, big and bold. And the Las Rocas, a Spanish Garnacha ($3.5 for three ounces) was a spicy sipper.
Wine may be Vino Rosina's forte, but the bar also stocks some tempting beers and infused vodkas. When we went, none of the four taps was wasted on a boring domestic like Budweiser. Instead, they had Saison Dupont and Mama's Little Yella Pils, among others. Another 30-odd beers were available in bottles.
House-infused vodka is one of the latest trends to take hold of the Baltimore bar scene, and Vino Rosina jumped right into the mix, with four glass vats of vodka in the middle of the bar.
One vat, the "dirty martini," had a blend of different olives in vodka; another had olives, smoked bacon and ham hocks soaking in vodka. There was also a tub of lime, cilantro and red chili peppers marinating in tequila. I tried a Strawberry Rhubarb Martini ($12), made with vodka, strawberries, basil and rhubarb. It was reddish pink in color, extremely aromatic and well-suited for sweaty summer nights.
Vino Rosina's only stumble was its food. Eager for a sweet way to finish the night, we ordered the Smores ($6), and boy was it a letdown. It wasn't a sandwich but a scoop of chocolate sorbet, house-made marshmallow and graham cracker tossed in a glass. The sorbet was bland, the graham cracker dry and crumbly, the marshmallow passable. The two of us could barely finish it. But that was our only complaint about the place.
Though it has only been open a few weeks, I can see Vino Rosina flourishing. It knows its audience, and strikes the right tone in the right neighborhood.
If you go: Vino Rosina is open for lunch and dinner Mondays-Fridays and dinner Saturdays and Sundays at 507 S. Exeter St. Call 410-528-8600 or go to vinorosina.com.