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This is it. I'm in love.

Was on Fifth, heading across from where Jersey Mike's is coming, when I noticed the red glow of a canopy, and a pretty romantic patio. Said "The Wine Lover" (3968 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest, 619-294-9200) 'Course I knew this was gonna be way beyond what I had weighing down ye old wallet, but I went in anyways. Moth to the flame.

Inside's lined with bottles. Little bar has beautiful lady behind the counter and three customers. All Beautiful People. You could tell.

But here's the thing. As soon as I take a stool, guy on my left says "Hi. I'm Chaz, this is Trudy, and Bradley, and the beautiful lady behind the bar is Sara."

Just like that, Chaz sets things off on the right note. Soon, we're yakking like old friends. I mean it is that kind of intimate little space. Chaz says he's an "orthopedic storyteller" (translation: he sells knee joints for a medical company). Bradley is an "interaction designer" (designs websites). Trudy is a nurse (nurse). And Sara sells wines in her day job, but spent the last few years in Santa Fe, New Mexico, building a straw bale house.

My second lucky break is this is Happy Hour. Actually turns out they have Happy Hour all day. Which means things ain't McDonald's cheap, but they do give breaks on wine. So while Chaz is drinking an $8 Quereus Ribella Gialla, a red "with mineral, citrus notes" from Slovenia, they have, like five-buck chuck for the rest of us. I go for a Columbia Valley Merlot, the 1805 (its name, not its date), from Washington State.

"Is it good?" I ask Sara.

"Well it doesn't have the structure or the complexity of the Quereus," she says. "It's WYSIWYG. What you see is what you get. A good, uh, quaffing wine."

I dunno, tastes great, red, smooth. Light, yes, but I ain't heavy.

Foodwise, it's a choice of, like cheese plate or panini. Panini are $9. Not the cheapest. I'm in it neck-deep by now. There's a regular chicken one, or Sara's choice. "I'll just make something up from what I've got," she says.

Sounds intriguing. So she fires ahead, working away at stuff just below the counter. Bits of lettuce, cheese, grilled onions fly around.

And the honest truth is, when she delivers it, toasted and hot, I'm so busy hearing about Bradley's great-great, who was - wow! - Governor Bradford of Jamestown. THE Jmaestown...and arguing with Chaz, that he ought to promote us walking on all fours so we wouldn't have knee problems in the first place, that I only notice it's delicious, in a vinegary, salady way before the whole dang thang has disappeared.

I like it, them, the whole li'l experience, a lot. It's somehow different than doing this in a beer place. Warmer, more intimate, whatever. Definitely not cheaper, but I'm definitely gonna save up my pennies and come back.

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