We're in the home stretch of the holiday season, but we've still got one more big blow-out before the post-festivity depression sets in: that epic drink-fest that is New Year's Eve. We fully acknowledge that by the time we ring in the new year, we'll be too, um, happy to taste the difference between growers champagne and Cooks, but on one of the biggest party nights of the year, we like to pick up something special to kick things off right.
For the bulk alcohol buy, we'll no doubt head to spots like Argonaut, Applejack's and Total Beverage, all of which boast knowledgeable staffs and massive selections. But when we're looking for that something rare or special or unfamiliar, there are a few small shops in town that feature an impeccable collection of options -- and employees that have tasted every single item on the shelves, thereby making them able to answer even the most obscure questions.
Here are our favorite neighborhood liquor stores, and the places we'll head to be ensured our party gets started right:
Mondo Vino Cross the threshold into Duey Kratzer's Highland shop and you'll find a room full of people engaged in conversation. In one corner, a sales person is helping someone pick out a perfect pairing for a dinner party. In another, a different employee is enumerating the differences between two different vintages of the same beer. And Kratzer himself is likely taking care of someone, revealing a bottle from his stash he knows will be perfect for that particular person. Mondo Vino knows its customers, and it knows its booze. And if you're looking for something particularly rare, this should be your only stop -- because Kratzer usually knows how to get it.
Joy Wine and Spirits We're not totally sure how they do it, but Joy manages to pack a lot of diversity into the small space it has in Capitol Hill, which means they offer one of the best selections of wine and beer in the city. The staff is eager to turn patrons on to new things, too, and so asking for help might lead you to your new favorite bottle, as an employee walks you through exactly what you like about wine. In that spirit, the shop hosts frequent tastings that pull a modest crowd and create a sense of community. And an additional perk: Joy has a water tank that can cool whites on the spot, which means you can bring any white on the shelf to a party.
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Mayfair Liquors We dig Mayfair's wine and spirits selection -- and the tastings that they host, too -- but we especially seek this place out when we're after beer. That's what this Mayfair neighborhood store is particularly good at, pulling in a vast selection that includes a lot of local, craft brews as well as rare one-offs from all over the place. The shop boasts an exceptionally knowledgeable staff that's just as enthusiastic about the products on the shelves as we are, and they'll talk brewing for hours if you get them started. So if you're looking for ale to celebrate 2012, this is your place. Boulder Wine Merchant If you're heading to the Peoples' Republic for a night of partying, you may want to stop in to Boulder Wine Merchant just for the novelty of it. The place is owned by Master Sommelier Brett Zimmerman, who took over from Sally Mohr and Wayne Belding, the two Master Sommeliers who ran the place for decades, last year. The shop has amassed an impressive collection of cellar showpieces, without doubt, so if you're looking for Grand Cru Burgundy or old Barolo or first growth Bordeaux, you'll likely be able to find it. But BWM also stocks a range of products that rivals a lot of the bigger shops -- and since it's all selected by a Master Sommelier, you better believe he's picking up the best of every price range on the market -- be it $6 or $600.
Toast! Wine and Spirits We'll go out of our way to head to Toast, a sliver of a shop located just blocks from Sloan's Lake. Every selection on the shelf is chosen with immense care, and the place brings in some quirky rarities in lieu of mass-market swill. But best of all, the owner is almost always manning the counter, so he's on a first-name basis with anyone who's been to the shop more than twice. He knows his beer, wine and spirits, and he's never pointed us to a bad bottle, be it a spendy gift tequila or a $9 table wine. And in the one instance we went in looking for something specific that he didn't have, he called the brand's sales rep to find out where we could get it. In exchange for that kind of care, we almost always start our search for anything at his store.