Unplugged Offers an Unpretentious Experience in Wine
November 4, 2013
by James J. Jefferies
Wine is one of those things everyone knows something about, but for most people, that knowledge is usually confined to decision trees involving bottled or boxed, or red or white. Frank Lietzau is on a mission to change that, without all the buttoned-down stuffiness often associated with the world of distant vineyards and sommeliers. You needn’t look further than the Hofsbrau Münchausen T-shirt he wore on a packed Friday afternoon at his brand new wine bar, Unplugged, the entrance to which is flanked by two very large oak barrels.
His knowledge on the subject ran deep. He dished out detailed anecdotes with each successive bottle he poured to a group of giddy bar patrons eager to learn more about the fantastic wines they were sampling. More importantly, he is refreshingly unpretentious about his very misunderstood trade. “One has to be honest,” said Lietzau. “If you want to learn about the world of wine, you simply have to go out and taste things, and if you don’t like them, be honest!”
The menu at Unplugged is designed in a way to be extremely accessible to patrons making their first foray into wines. One can order a Flight for $12, which will consist of a specific array of wines, such as Red, White, Obscure, or Rieslings, and you’ll get three glasses poured with 1.5 ounces for you to sample.
As you down your first glass, you’ll begin to feel the warm, relaxing, but convivial atmosphere of the bar take hold. The bar and table surfaces are thick wood, buffeted by gray metal fixtures and warm, soft lighting provided by votives and a few understated industrial lamps. The glowing light wall behind the bottles changes color according to what Lietzau deems appropriate given the day’s crowd and playlist.
In this sense, Lietzau’s venture is very much in line with the driving forces and overall vibe behind the explosive development in Downtown Tucson; he’s offering a terrific, difficult-to-find variety of small-winery products from across Europe that he is truly passionate about, but going about it in an incredibly welcoming manner that perfectly merges stylish and casual.
“This is my second time here,” said Terri Callarez, as she enjoyed a flight of Obscures. “It’s a really mellow place to abandon your workday.” She also referred to a choice she made on her first outing, another unusual offering called the John Lee Hooker, which is one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer.
“Tucson doesn’t have anything like this,” said Lietzau, referring to his ability to bring in wines that are very seldom seen in this part of the world. It’s this mixture of high quality and openness that exemplifies the spirit of the new movement energizing the city’s heart, as Lietzau honors the skilled beer and winemaking excellence of the Old World, bringing it right into our own community’s historical epicenter.
And if you simply want to relax in this atmosphere, but you’re not so into wine, or want a buffer to all of that rich fermented grape, Unplugged still has you covered with an array of craft beers – one called Gaffer Kolsch, which as Lietzau explains, “has been brewed near my hometown in Germany for more than 500 years” – along with other offerings that come from right here in the Old Pueblo such as Dragoon Brewing Company’s Monsooner, all at a very reasonable $5.50.
Unplugged also offers a rotating variety of delightful small eats, from bruschetta to bratwurst and the customary cheese and fruit plates to accompany your journey into something new and wickedly wonderful. As is fast becoming the rule these days, this wine bar seems to be yet another compelling destination for Downtown adventurers craving bold new flavors firmly steeped in culinary tradition.
Unplugged is at 118 E. Congress St., just west of the historic Chicago Store. For more information, visit their Facebook page.