The kids are all right — especially the kids in Ocean Beach. Ed Moore certainly thinks so. His revamped 3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro "wouldn't have succeeded the way it has if it hadn't been for the kids." At Thee Bungalow, the restaurant across the street that Moore recently sold, "I saw some OB people. But I think that OB in general was afraid of that restaurant. That's where you took your parents when they came to town."
But open a bistro serving smaller meals that top out at $14 and the option to buy a bottle of wine and drink it onsite for just $5 over retail, and things change. That's at least partly because the kids themselves have changed. "I still distinctly remember a conversation I had in our first week. This kid — he couldn't have been much older than 22, 23, blond, surfer — started asking me about a couple of wines. I started talking to him, and I said, 'What do you do?' 'Professional surfer.' And the more we talked, the more I realized he really knew something about wine. I asked, 'Where did you learn all this?' 'Well, you know, I travel all over the world. South Africa, Australia, all these places, and they all have wine. Somebody turned me on to it when I was 18. I like beer, but I'm a surfer, and I've got to stay in pretty good shape.' We started talking about Pinotage and Shiraz and Semillion, and I thought, 'This isn't what I would have considered a typical surfer.'"
The grown-ups still come in, of course, and Moore is happy to see them. Early- to mid-evening traffic tends to be older, and on Friday afternoons, the sitting room is a haven for teachers recovering from the week's travails. But it's the late-night push that has taken 3rd Corner over the top. Right away, says Moore, "We started catching some restaurant traffic." Restaurant staffers who sold wine to diners "started bringing their buddies in after work. Three of them could grab a $12 bottle of wine, sit down, and finish it off. I can tell you on a nightly basis how business was around town by how much they're willing to spend here. If they have no money, they're ordering the $6 bottle of whatever. If tips were good that night, they would split a $40-$50 bottle. They were finding $50 wines here that were on their own lists for $120."
Moore and company were quick to accommodate. "When we first opened up, we were open until 11 o'clock Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. On Friday and Saturday, we were trying to do midnight, 1 o'clock. Within the first two weeks, my general manager Alex and I looked at each other and said, 'We should be open until two.' After 11, except for Friday and Saturday, we have no corkage. That's how we appeal to that group."
Moore's liquor license carries a 50/50 condition, which means he has to sell "a dollar's worth of food for a dollar's worth of booze" consumed onsite. He has a full bar, and he carries a few wines by the glass, but, he says, "We don't want the image of a wine bar. I'm suspicious of giant by-the-glass lists. 'How old is that bottle?'"The 3rd Corner is a restaurant, one that caters to all comers but seems especially amenable to the sort of diner who picks a bottle of wine and then thinks about what dish he'd like to go with it. Talking about his late-night restaurant crowd, Moore says, "After they relax with a glass of wine or so, they invariably order something to eat."
The possibility of duck confit after midnight makes the place something of a rarity in San Diego. In many parts of town, late-night dining means fast food or an all-night diner. (Not to say that either of these is an unpleasant option, just that they're all that's out there, and if you're in the mood for Pinot, you may want something a little more gussied-up.) Says Moore, "I'm flabbergasted that in the Gaslamp, it turns over 100 percent to the nightclub scene, that there isn't something beyond the basic taco shop that stays open late. There have got to be night owls there who don't want to go to the clubs. Once they find we're here, they love it."
And in the course of serving youth, Moore has found success with youthful servers — or at least, the less experienced. "Our initial hires weren't really wine savvy. We found that the wine savvier they were, the less friendly they were. The people we hired were people who made us feel comfortable in the interview. We figured, 'If they make us feel comfortable, they're bound to make the customer feel comfortable. We can teach them the wine.' They all drank wine — every one of them will buy at least a couple of bottles a week and take them home. And we give the wine to them at our cost. We just kept hiring them on that principle and training them and training them."
Even the management is relatively fresh-faced. "They're young and energetic. The ones who started with us and want to grow with us will get a chance to do that. My whole idea is that it doesn't need me — it's the idea that works or doesn't work. I have managed to phase myself out here. I'm not as young as I once was. I can spend a little time at home, spend some time doing things I may have missed over the last 20, 30 years."
Moore doesn't even do the buying; he leaves that to GM Alex Lindsay and wine manager Chris Delaney. Alex was a waiter at Thee Bungalow; Chris is late of the Wine Lover, where he worked as an assistant manager. "They kind of work in tandem, so we always have two palates. Chris tends to be a little more wine-geekish. Alex, I've taught my way of tasting. I don't care about flavors of scorched earth or wet stones. 'What does it taste like, and is it worth the price point?' That's all you've got to ask yourself." Well, almost all. "Obviously, there's a little bit more to it than that: 'Does it have a long finish?' That's usually an indicator that a wine has got something good in it. Do I care about the nose? Yes and no. I don't want it to smell like crap. But by the same token, if it's got no nose, I don't really care. We're not going to smell this wine all night long; we're going to drink it. Alex understands how I taste and what I'm looking for. Between them, it makes a great tag team — otherwise, we might have wines that are a little too esoteric, a little too much in the Sylvaner realm."