Wine Bars and Bowen’s Wharf
With a population of only 25,000 permanent residents, Newport, Rhode Island is a small city. The number of annual visitors, however, exceeds 400,000. The month of July alone sees over 50,000 tourists. Sailing, of course, is a huge draw. Other attractions include the city’s rich colonial history, the harbor area and of course the mansions.
Newport is considered by many to be America’s first vacation resort. The “Gilded Age” mansions, built by American millionaires during the late 19th and 20th century, were used primarily as summer homes during each year’s social season. Today those mansions serve as the major tourist attraction. Nearly everyone knows of Newport’s “Cliff Walk,” which simultaneously offers the best view of these stately, ornate old manors and a beautiful stroll along the top of the cliffs overlooking Easton Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Under most circumstances, one might be hard pressed to find a good wine bar in a city of 25,000, but tourism of course changes that equation. The restaurant scene is completely out of proportion to the official population. This makes it feel like one of the largest little cities you are likely to encounter. Newport is literally teeming with restaurants and wine bars. An impressive cluster of eateries on Bowens Wharf is where you will find two of its best.
Proprietors Jeff and Geremie Callaghan returned to Newport to be closer to family. Jeff spent the previous seventeen years selling wine and the couple wanted to turn that experience into a business opportunity. They opened Fluke with an eye toward serving “relaxed modern American cuisine.” According to Geremie, they “wanted people to come right off their boats, in flipflops, and sit down to a great meal.” Toward that end, Fluke is an excellent, but slightly informal establishment serving small, tapas-sized portions and slightly larger entrees using local seafood and other local-sourced produce. These, of course, are paired with offerings from the wine list.
I must say that Fluke has an impressive collection of spirits, but you will need to discover that on your own. The wine list is less extensive, but well constructed. There are plans to expand the two-page list, but one cannot help but be impressed with the collection of American and European wines. Other wine regions were deliberately left out, in an effort to give the list a more specialized focus. In fairness, there are wines that are often overlooked, like Spanish Verdejo or French Malbec from Cahors. There is even a Riesling from nearby Newport Vineyards, which I might add is an excellent wine. The restricted selection compels customers to choose something different and it seems to work. The establishment was packed with a nice mix of locals and tourists. I spoke with a couple that comes in multiple times weekly for the wine and the specials. If I lived nearby, I too would be a regular at Fluke.
If you are in search of something a little bit more upscale, 22 Bowen is what you are looking for. Assistant General Manager Dan Fischer describes it as “Newports only steak-minded restaurant,” but points out that the concept has grown into “more composed dishes and more shared plates, being accentuated by the wine list.” It is definitely what dining by the sea should be and seems to be designed to cater to what today’s diner is looking for in a higher-end eatery.
The wine list is extensive and contains offerings from nearly every part of the wine world. Shawn Westhoven, the Corporate Beverage Director with Newport Restaurant Group, was part of the opening team at 22 Bowen and designed the current list. It is well thought out and organized. There are obviously many big wines that will go well with steak. Of course steak is no longer the single focus, so the menu also contains a number of shellfish, lobster and other seafoods and there are many wines that will pair well with those entrees. I was able to sample several small plates paired with a wide range of wines. So I can tell you first hand that 22 Bowen’s sommeliers and wait staff are equipped to help you find the right wine and the right pairing.
There are certainly more than two restaurants in Newport serving wine, but two of the best establishments are right down on the waterfront. Whether you are looking for local and laid back or upscale, fine dining, you will find both on Bowens Wharf.