Wine and more

Temple Bar fills artsy niche

Stacee Sledge

Mar 27, 2003 Nestled between Mount Bakery and the fabulous new Black Drop coffee shop on downtown's West Champion Street, the Temple Bar is a delightful find. Open for business since last September, this dimly lit wine bar is ideal for an after-work drink, light meal or late-night date spot.

I was initially drawn to the Temple Bar because of its name. Owner Liz Dean chose the moniker in homage to the lively Temple Bar area of Dublin, Ireland, a place I've visited and love.

But don't mistake Bellingham's version of Temple Bar for a traditional Irish pub; the name was chosen because of the artsy feeling Dublin's Temple Bar evoked for Dean on her two visits to Ireland.

The first time I tucked into the Temple Bar was for a Friday-night after-work drink with my husband and our friend Kris. Since the wine bar had only been open for a short time, we were curious to see what it was all about.

The décor is my idea of eatery nirvana. Mismatched chairs mosey around a hodgepodge of heavy battered wood tables of different sizes, while soaring moss-green walls are lined with black bead-board wainscoting. Decorative touches include gilded mirrors and lush, red velvet curtains. Candles flicker on each table, and an organized jumble of wine bottles clutter a counter that separates the preparation area from the seating space.

Temple Bar

306 W. Champion St.

Phone: 676-8660

Hours: 4 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday through Saturday

Serving: An impressive array of wines, cheeses, salads and light entrées served in an artsy, comfortable atmosphere.

Menu items sampled: Cheese and fruit plate $7
Prosciutto and provolone crostini $6 
Mediterranean crostini $5 
Balsamic dip $4.50 
Caprese salad $5.50 
Cold-smoked salmon salad $6.50 
Pistachio bowl $2.50 
Zinfandel/Carignan/Sangiovese "ZCS" $6 
Seven Peaks Shiraz $6.50 
Hot chocolate $2.50 San 
Pelligrino Aranciata $2.50

Dean definitely knows her wines, and she offers an impressive selection. When we asked for wine suggestions, she knew the lingo and effortlessly answered our questions about a variety of vino on the list, from the 2000 Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio to a 1999 Seven Peaks Shiraz.

We enjoyed delightful drinks and ordered a fruit plate. Although the cheese selection was impressive, the overall portion was paltry. We counted four slices of cheese, a couple of apple and orange slices, a few grapes and three wedges of crusty French bread.

The sublime cheeses included Chaource, chevre d'affinois, tomme de chevre and Rochebaron. Daily cheeses are listed in a flourish of cursive writing on a black board propped up on the counter. If, like me, you aren't sure what they are, there's a handy book on French cheeses available for thumbing through.

If it had been served on a smaller plate, we might not have noticed how small the serving was, but on the full-sized china plate, the empty space overwhelmed.

In the end, we laughed it off and knew it wouldn't deter us from returning. The ambience and wine selection were both more than enough to make me look forward to my next visit.

I returned with my friend Julie a week or so later and had an all-around satisfying experience. We both ordered open-face, toasted crostini sandwiches and picked away at a bowl of warm pistachios while we sipped wine and waited for our entrées.

Julie enjoyed a prosciutto and provolone crostini with mayonnaise and tomato, while I went with the Mediterranean crostini, each toasted round layered with olive tapenade, fresh mozzarella and tomato, then dusted with bits of fresh flat-leaf parsley. Both crostini were simple, tasty affairs.

For an additional $2, I added mixed greens tossed with a tangy vinaigrette, resulting in a filling feast.

As seems true with everything on the Temple Bar's menu, our sandwiches paired with our wine and would have been fitting with any of the port, sherry or beer you'll also find at the Temple Bar.

By now I was a fast fan of the Temple Bar and had spread the word among my friends and colleagues. It didn't take much convincing to get my friend Susan to join me for a mid-week drink, dinner and conversation.

Even on a Wednesday night, the place was nearly full, with an interesting array of patrons ranging from a solo laptop user in the front window, an older couple enjoying glasses of port and two large groups of boisterous twentysomethings and thirtysomethings clearly enjoying after-work drinks.

One thing I'd noted on previous visits: The Temple Bar can be a bit noisy. Blame it on the tall ceilings or the music sometimes turned up just a notch too loud; some might find it occasionally difficult to hold a conversation. The decibel level, like so many things at Temple Bar, reminded me all the more of my Dublin experiences, and I didn't find it distracting.

Susan and I ordered a handful of things to try, including balsamic dip, caprese salad and cold-smoked salmon salad.

Susan settled on a glass of Zinfandel/Carignan/Sangiovese, while I ordered San Pellegrino Aranciata not because I don't like wine, but because I've been on a kick lately; an Italian deli near my office sells the sparkling orange beverage, and I've become addicted.

The balsamic dip arrived first, four thick, bias-cut slices of French bread encircling a shallow bowl of olive oil finished with a generous dollop of balsamic vinegar settled in the bottom. Two gigantic Medjool dates sat on the rim of the china plate, divided with a sprig of curled parsley, alongside a small silver serving bowl of mixed olives.

Our salads were just as fantastic as the balsamic dip. Susan declared the caprese the best she's had in Bellingham, its circle of small Roma tomato slices and fresh mozzarella accompanied plentiful baby greens and a thick balsamic-based dressing served on the side.

My salad also starred those fabulous baby greens, topped with substantial slabs of cold-smoked salmon, two thick rings of sweet red pepper, heaps of capers, a couple of olives and tangy vinaigrette in an utterly delightful mingling of flavors.

Before it was time to go, I ordered a hot chocolate, as it seemed appropriate for that rainy day. Dean served it with the caveat that she doesn't generally make hot chocolate very sweet and I was to let her know immediately if I wasn't satisfied. Au contraire, it was a cheering cup of cocoa, complete with frothy whipped cream floating on top. She checked in again a couple minutes later, and I let her know I was pleased.

Regular readers of this column may recall my ravings about Mount Bakery desserts last year. Yet another reason to go to Temple Bar is its dessert offerings, brought over daily by Mount Bakery owner Olivier Vrambout. Chocolate torte, crème brûlée, éclairs anything made by Vrambout is guaranteed to satisfy.

Dean chose Temple Bar's locale with the Pickford Cinema in mind, knowing that the movie house will eventually move to new Bay Street digs just steps away. I can't think of a better place to end an evening for a drink and discussing the latest foreign film or art flick.

The Fine Print: I dine on my own dime. The opinions herein are mine alone, not The Bellingham Herald's. Agree? Disagree? Please drop me a line at


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