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Taste Testing All the Wines at Starbucks' New Boozey Evenings Program

At 5 p.m. in the North Seventh Street Starbucks in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, people at wooden tables sip lattes and focus on their laptop screens. Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” plays on the sound system, and I face 10 glasses of wine.

The giant coffee company rolled out its new “Starbucks Evenings” program of serving wine, craft beer, and small plates last month in 70 U.S. locations. I stopped by the first spot to open in New York to put their selections to a taste test.

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First take: The Williamsburg location is, thankfully, a Starbucks where you can actually imagine sipping a glass of wine. It’s more New York hipster loft than the typical soulless venue that offers you a morning jolt of caffeine. Think exposed brick walls, mural by a tattoo artist, mod shelving with coffee trees growing in pots, and large tables made from slabs of recycled wood. In one corner comfy chairs invite you to settle in, glass in hand.

Starbucks first experimented with the “Evenings” idea in Seattle several years ago and plans to expand it to 2,000 U.S. locations by 2020, hoping to add a billion in revenues.

Second take: When I arrive, none of the 40-odd customers is drinking wine, though alcohol and food are served from 4 p.m. to closing. A chalkboard behind the bar announces the day’s featured wine and food pairing—Malbec with truffle mac and cheese (which, I discover, is a terrible combo).

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The jazzy foldout menu offers tasting notes for each wine, mostly accurate: "aromatic and crisp with melon and passion fruit notes" for a Villa Maria white; "dark fruit and brown spice with hints of clove and pepper" for that Alamos Malbec (although quite optimistic, rather than completely accurate in this instance). Unlike any other wine bar that I’ve been to there's also calorie counts for each—140 to 150 calories—as per NYC law for chain restaurants.

I order five plates, two beers, and all 10...


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