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The Savvy Traveler

Wine Country After Dark

Part Deux: Sonoma

Who knew that Sonoma County, long prized for its wines and produce but never its nightlife, was so hip? Surprise, surprise: it turns out that Napa’s wine country cousin has plenty to offer in terms of après-tasting festivities, just so long as travelers know where to find them. Speaking of which, get ready for some diversity: the following list of eclectic hot spots spans everything from haute cuisine havens to dive bars, karaoke joints and hip hotels. Leave it to a region known for marching to its own beat to produce such a progressive menu of night spots du jour.

Registered California landmark The Swiss Hotel boasts just five guest rooms and a modest restaurant, but it’s big on charm. The quaint 19th century adobe, located just off the plaza in the center of town, is one of the most popular nightlife destinations in wine country, due in no small part to its generous cocktails and well edited list of Scotch, Cognac and Port. Those in the know will tell you it’s best to go early to avoid the crowds, which can make things a bit congested around the bar later in the evening. Instead, savvy Sonoma bar hoppers make this their first stop, lingering over happy hour drinks before heading out to their next after hours destination.
The Swiss Hotel, 18 W. Spain Street, Sonoma (707) 938-2884

With an evocative name like The Girl & the Fig this place was destined to be hip. Chef-owner Sondra Bernstein’s outrageously popular restaurant pays homage to Cal-French cooking with wine country warmth thrown in for good measure, and the combination strikes a fabulous balance between avant-garde and homey. The food is delicious (proof: the spot’s even got its own namesake cookbook), and, like Bouchon in Napa, The Girl & the Fig makes an ideal destination for lively diners looking for a culinary oasis with a little hipster scene thrown in for good measure. Hint: the patio’s where the action is.
The Girl & the Fig, 110 W. Spain Street, Sonoma (707) 938-3634

Hankering for a little more action after your meal at The Girl & the Fig? Then head back over to the Plaza for a nightcap at local institution Steiner’s Tavern. You might call Steiner’s the melting pot of Sonoma nightlife, which is quite possibly why it’s also the most lively bar scene in town. A merry band of bikers, locals, tourists and misfits share barstools and stiff cocktails at this spot that’s part sports bar, part pool hall and pure Sonoma. For serious nightlife seekers only.
Steiner's Tavern, 465 1st Street W. Ste 100, Sonoma (707) 996-3812

Besides its cutting edge haute cuisine reputed to rival that of Napa’s French Laundry, Cyrus Restaurant’s gourmet cocktails are drawing sophisticated nightlife seekers interested in gorgeous drinks in a beautiful setting. The striking Michelin two-star, tucked inside Healdsburg's luxe-boutique Les Mars Hotel, has been drawing rave reviews for its bar cocktails crafted by affable mixologist Scott Beattie. Cocktails take their cue from seasonal ingredients and make a fantastic upscale alternative to wine, particularly if you’ve been hitting the tasting rooms all day. Twenty bar seats.
Cyrus, 29 North Street, Healdsburg (707) 433-3311

This campy north county locals’ joint serves up Texas-style BBQ and a raucous Thursday night karaoke party attracting an international crowd of wine interns around harvest time. Housed in one of the oldest standing buildings in Geyserville, the Smokehouse boasts a vintage bar, exposed brick walls and an affordable home cooking-inspired menu.
Geyserville Smokehouse Restaurant, 21021 Geyserville Avenue, Geyserville (707) 857-4600

This four-year-old restaurant features California- and tapas-inspired bistro fare alongside a lively bar scene that might, if you blinked, lead you to believe you’re back in the city. Stylish locals linger at the attractive nickel-plated bar and flirt over a smart wine list and good-quality imported spirits. The burger and a nice selection of oysters are solid bets if you get the urge to nosh while knocking a few back.
PS: In case you’re wondering, the town of Graton can be found in the heart of the Russian River district of Sonoma just west of Santa Rosa.
Underwood Bar and Bistro, 9113 Graton Road, Graton (707) 823-7023