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At first blush; The Wine Thief offers a seemingly endless selection of wines

There are bars and then there are wine bars.

And there is a difference -- and not just the wine part of it.

Buffalo is clearly known for the former, however, the city proper has few of the latter. And when one thinks of a wine bar, it could be easy to imagine snooty people sipping glasses of a Napa Valley cabernet between serious and in-depth conversations on all things intellectual.

But again this is Buffalo. What other city in America could you find a wine bar where a large flat-screen television showed a Sabres game with the crowd and staff cheering a bare-knuckled brawl between two players on a recent Friday night?

That wine bar would be the Wine Thief Bar and Bistro, which opened its doors in the fall of '08, becoming a popular destination for those in search of a good glass -- or bottle -- of vino in an upscale setting.

On several visits to the vinous-inclined bar, I have taken note of how well-versed the staff is in the art of oenology (the study of wine and winemaking). And while very knowledgeable on such a high-brow distillation, the only attitude I came across was a good one.

The decor of the Wine Thief is stylish and sleek. And with what seems like an endless selection of wines to choose from, it's a wine taster's destination. A good glass of Pinot Grigio ($6.50) is my standard wine choice when going to the Thief, however the establishment offers dozens of varieties that can be ordered by the glass or an entire bottle. Some bottles top $100 -- perhaps a bit steep, but it is a wine bar.

Smooth cool jazz often fills the air while people come and go, making small talk with friends or with the bartender.

In the summer, the Wine Thief offers outdoor seating; at this time of year, a warm and inviting fire offers a certain relaxing ambience.

It's a place to make friends; it's a place to meet friends. A friend and I stopped by recently. I went for a subtle yet tasty glass of Pinot Grigio, while my friend ordered an imported beer called Imperial Costa Rican for $4.50. (I've been accused of the same indiscretion at the Elmwood Avenue establishment, which actually has a good selection of beers in case wine isn't the choice of one's imbibing.)

Often the crowd is in its 30s, but like the weather in Buffalo, that can change in 10 minutes. This past summer, I ended up chatting up a very young twentysomething. When she saw that I was drinking a Murphy's Irish Stout, she asked, "Why are you drinking a beer in a wine bar?" My response: "Because I can." Of course that ended our conversation, but such is life in a wine bar.

Other times I've ended up talking to people 10 to 20 years my senior, who also took to the bar and what it had to offer. People were well dressed regardless of age -- and only on one occasion can I remember seeing someone sporting a baseball cap.

The Wine Thief isn't for everyone. It's upscale, yet unpretentious. It may not fit the bill for everyone, however it does offer a nice change-up. For those people looking for something a little different, perhaps something a bit more sophisticated, then the Wine Thief makes a great getaway.


The Wine Thief Wine Bar & Bistro

431 Elmwood Ave. 332-2929,

Scene: Generally an over-30, upscale crowd. Bonus points as baseball hats are seldom seen.

Dress: Most men were in khakis; women wore nice outfits and dressed to impress.

Music: Easy jazz -- generally background music.

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