When Tom Verhey opened Pops for Champagne on Chicago’s north side in 1982, he was clearly ahead of his time. It would take another two decades for the idea of a bar specializing in sparkling wine to catch on. Today, nearly every major US city sports a Champagne bar or three. Here are some standouts, from coast to coast.
In 2012, Apollo Naff built this boat-shaped bar out of discarded wooden pallets, then filled the galley with Champagne. In the heart of downtown, it’s been a destination ever since, both for the bubbles and for a menu that highlights Northwest oysters and seafood.
Most bookstores entice buyers to linger longer with coffee; at Battery Park Book Exchange, owners Donna and Thomas Wright tempt them with Champagne. Grab a glass and a leather chair and settle in for the evening. Dogs are also welcome.
The granddaddy of Champagne bars, Pops opened in 1982, with 13 sparkling wines and a stack of jazz cassettes. Since then, it’s morphed from a funky jazz club where White Star was the order of the day to a swank downtown boîte with 150 sparklers. Owner Tom Verhey says he and his daughter, Sara, no longer feel the need to be completist in their list; rather, they aim to ofter the most compelling bottles of the moment, whether that’s the latest vintages from Salon and Vilmart & Cie or rarities like Sapience 2006, a collaboration between Champagne grower-producers Benoît Marguet, Benoît Lahaye, Vincent Laval and David Léclapart. For something local, check out Illinois Sparkling Company’s Rosé Brut Ombré, a sparkling chambourcin.
Brian Siffermann and Jeff Davis aim to keep the list democratic at this chic bar in downtown Denver. The range starts with $12 glasses of Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs and Scharffenberger Brut Excellence, then escalates to a bottle list that includes sparkling Loire chenin and Special Club Champagnes. Don’t miss the housemade chips topped with smoked wild-caught Alaskan salmon, crème fraîche, scallions and caviar.
After watching how many bottles of bubbles he sold at Houston’s Brasserie 19, Shawn Virene decided to go all-in, opening a’Bouzy in August 2017. Named for a village in Champagne, the space radiates bubbles, from the wall of bottles to the glass baubles suspended from the ceiling. Markups are slim—at $49 a bottle, he goes through 15 cases of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label a week—and the selection is vast, mixing well-known names with growers like Benoît Lahaye, Suenen and Alexandre Filaine from Champagne and curiosities like St. Reginald Parish’s Sparkle Motion, a pinot noir from Sisu Vineyard in Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton District. A vast patio and extensive menu make this an all-evening destination.
“Champagne for the people” is the tagline, and the selection lives up to it. Launched in 2015 by winebuyer Jim Coley, bartender Caitlin Corcoran and chef Howard Hanna—all local luminaries in their fields—the list is packed with affordable buys, from Les Vins Pirouettes’s buttery, rich Alsace Crémant de Stéphane at $44 to a host of grower Champagnes at less than $100, including lesser-seen names like Alexandre Penet and Sylvie Paulhiac-Delalot. The focus is on low-intervention, organic and biodynamically produced bottles alongside a menu of salty, cheesy things, like gougères, croques and roasted potatoes with Green Dirt Farm Prairie Tomme.
Architect and designer Charlotte Stengel was running a gallery out of an old apothecary before she transformed it into a Champagne bar last summer. Now there are wide couches to perch on while you take in the art, and a list of sparklers some 120 selections long. The current crowd favorite is the Gougenheim Sparkling Rosé of Malbec from Mendoza, says sommelier Ariel Reed; she’s also crushing the Moussé Fils L’Or d’Eugène, a pinot meunier–rich Champagne on the list at $55. Reed suggests ending with the Champagne cake, filled with strawberry curd and frosted with Champagne buttercream, and a glass of Malvirà Birbet Brachetto.
Last year, after only eight months open, this French Quarter boîte took top honors in Eater’s annual awards, snagging Bar of the Year. Credit goes to owner Crystal Hinds for the bright, airy space and for assembling a crack staff: chefs Brenna Sanders and Evan Ingram logged time at Quince, Rich Table and Saison in San Francisco before landing here. They revel in Gulf seafood and southern flavors in small plates like Murder Point oysters with harissa vinaigrette, or snapper ceviche with aji amarillo, sweet potato and sorghum. Sommelier Bodhi Landa stocks about 200 labels with a clear preference for the lesser-known and underappreciated. You’ll find sparkling elbling, Brazilian bubbles, effervescent gamay Beaujolais and micro-cuvée Champagne, with more than 30 choices by the glass.
There are plenty of places to drink great bubbles in NYC, but none are as fun as Air’s. Owner Ariel Arce keeps the atmosphere lively with bright colors and a list designed to encourage people to engage with the staff: Instead of the usual suspects, she’s filled it with wine-geek catnip, much of it coming in under $100. Head here to taste Champagne Demière-Ansiot Blanc de Blancs or rosés from Paul Bara and Camille Savès; look under “The Rare Stuff, Unicorn Wine” for the heavy hitters, like Bollinger R.D. and Dom Perignon P2. If you’re hungry, head downstairs to the Tokyo Record Bar, where Arce serves Champagne-friendly izakaya-style bites, and sometimes serves as the DJ.
Cheryl Wakerhauser has been stockpiling Champagne at her Portland patisserie since 2001—which means that she’s got quite a lot of it. And it’s ridiculously well priced. A range of J. Lassalle’s Special Club Brut vintages all run less than $175; Benoît Lahaye’s Rosé de Macération Grand Cru Brut lists at $84 while she’s offering a magnum of Éric Rodez Cuvée des Crayères Grand Cru Brut for $190. There’s an entire page devoted to Agrapart & Fils—18 bottlings in all, from the basic 7 Crus through the Venus. And there are plenty of rarities, like Jérôme Prévost La Closerie Les Béguines Extra Brut. And that’s just the Champagne. The list spans the world, with disgorgement dates provided wherever possible; there’s a deep and impressive detour into Sherry; and there are pages of sweet wines and Madeira for anyone who’s not into Champagne with their chocolate mousse.
The Riddler wins San Francisco’s bubbly battle by sheer, happy hedonism. The popcorn is free and the Tater-Tot waffles, topped with smoked salmon and crème fraîche, are legendary; the drinks run from a Chambong (yes, that’s a bong of Champagne) to grande marque library selections back to 1949 (Charles Heidsieck Extra Dry; $3,000). In between, there’s plenty to explore, including multiple cuvées from Jacques Lassaigne and bottlings from newcomers like Flavien Nowack in Châtillon-sur-Marne.
Ask a sommelier the best way to recharge at the end of the day, and chances are they’ll say “Champagne.” So it’s no surprise that Jayme Powers had to move her wine-country sparkling wine bar into bigger digs this year. Now in a sparkly gold-and-silver space right off of Sonoma’s main square, Sigh offers an ever-changing array of bubbles at low markups, featuring local greats like Iron Horse Wedding Cuvée ($54) and Champagnes like Lelarge-Pugeot’s Tradition ($74) and Roederer Cristal 2009 ($345).
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