Only a few hours into Verve's life as Columbia City's first wine bar, every table is taken, each barstool anchored by somebody happy to be here. Maximum occupancy is 53, according to signs posted by both doors, and actual occupancy hovers around 44, reaching near-illegal levels as curious future Verve-goers wander in and out. (The fire marshal needs to calm down; no one's even browsing the still-to-be-filled wine racks in the retail area, no one's standing on the bar side of the room, resting their glass on a nice long counter made for exactly that.) People are drinking Prosecco (Collalto, $8 a glass or $25 a bottle) and eating fondue (Laura Chenel chevre with apples and bread, $11.95) and indenting the espresso-colored cushions of a big backward-J-shaped banquette.
Verve's nominal vivacity/energy/vitality is audible, with an opening-night buzz bouncing off light sage walls, pale hardwood floors, the backbar's translucent illuminated panels. One of the owners—a little flushed, entirely personable—is waiting tables; it's going well, she says, but they're already thinking about noise control. She's 100 percent behind the Melipal Malbec rosé from Argentina ($7/$22): "It's beautiful." She apologizes for her in-progress technique while uncorking it. "My goal is to not have to put it between my legs," she says: Mission accomplished. The wine, not overchilled, shows admirable restraint and, yes, a beautiful dark pink in the glass.
A redhead dominates a girls'-night-out conversation at the next table—she's disappointed her fiancé only spent $2,500 on her ring; she's about to have her 20th high school reunion, if you can believe that; she's happy with her method of birth control. Nearby a couple seated on the same side of a four-top gently maul each other in honor of incipient spring. The average age looks to be 34; if liberalism had a scent, it'd easily eclipse the fresh paint. A few regulars from Lottie's Lounge, down on the corner, are at the bar, but the sense is that the neighborhood has plenty of drinkers to go around; Lottie's has lent Verve pilsner glasses for its premiere, and someone who works there is here having a glass of wine.
If IKEA had a wine bar, it might look like Verve: clean lines, blond wood. The spotty-swirly macchia Venetian glass fixtures hanging over the bar recall 1200 Bistro or your nicer Starbucks. Verve's wines are sourced from around the world ("Take your taste buds on a journey..." reads a promotional postcard) rather than around the region to provide range along with value: Again, mission accomplished. Food prices, however, seem a little steep—$11 crêpes, $10 for a small ramekin of bagna cauda dip with vegetables. A crostini plate, at $11.95, comes with four slices of seeded baguette, green olives, warm spring onion dip, and ricotta with balsamic.
The funniest thing at Verve is in the bathroom: a sign stuck to the toilet tank reading "RECLAIMED WATER/DO NOT DRINK."