Food & Drink

Review: Serenity Wine Café

With its DIY concept, everyone gets to play bartender at Serenity Wine Café.

You probably haven’t seen a selection of vino quite like the one at Serenity Wine Bar and Café (1121 Hull St., 443-708-0392.) Sixteen featured varietals are not printed on a menu—instead, the bottles are displayed in a pour-your-own tap system that’s the embodiment of instant gratification.

“Chip goes on the bottom facing to the right,” my server, Tiara, cheerfully told me when she handed me a digital card I loaded with $10. Grabbing a glass and approaching the machine, I felt like a kid whose mom had set them loose in a 7-Eleven with a green light to sample as many Slurpees as possible. Red? White? Sweet? Dry? There’s no reason to choose just one. One-,three-and six-ounce pours are offered for each bottle, most (but not all) of which have detailed tasting notes posted above them. (The machine displays the price for each size pour of each wine.) Trying more than one is one of the best parts of Serenity’s set-up, so I started with a ripasso, a red from the Veneto region of Italy I’d never had.

“Finding anything you like?” asked owner Nneka Bilal, who came across the concept on YouTube. Serenity is the first self-serve wine establishment in the city, although others, notably the ingeniously named WINO (Wine Institute New Orleans), are popular elsewhere.

Serenity’s vibe is much more café than bar. Housed in a wide Locust Point rowhome, there are several long communal tables with a few high tops, smaller tables, and armchairs thrown in the mix. (In fact, there is no actual bar.) Paintings by local artists line the walls and a chalkboard that hangs over a mantle, on which board games like chess and Connect 4 sit, displays available beers. In keeping with its neighborhood feel, beer and wine also are available to-go.

Bilal worked at a pizza restaurant for 23 years, so pies are a centerpiece of a menu that also includes sandwiches, pasta, and staples such as wings. After pouring myself a Spanish red from a winery called Zaleo, I pulled out my phone and typed, “what goes well with tempranillo?” Google answered, “dishes with corn as a major ingredient,” so I ordered fajita nachos, which came with plenty of tortilla chips topped with chicken and chunky vegetables.

Craving an after-appetizer drink, I inserted my card into the slot, then pressed the button for a red blend. The machine belches out a burst of air when a pour is completed, the suddenness of which can be jarring. Still, it’s preferable to being cut off by a bartender.