Restaurant in Reverse
Your favorite little wine bar is back and better than ever
By Anne Wolf Postic
In March of 2020, Tim Gardner had no idea he would close his popular wine bar, Lula Drake on Main Street, for more than a year. No one knew, really. After a short time, he channeled his boundless energy to found Safe Dining SC to educate himself and other foodservice professionals. The group had access to scientists all over the world, some of whom were willing to review uploaded floor plans and assess them for safety. Although his regulars eagerly bought up the wine he had in stock, Gardner determined that opening the restaurant, which is only twelve feet wide, wasn’t an option if he wanted to keep his customers and staff safe from COVID 19.
“It was a hard decision. We could stay open a little longer, but we’d risk causing more pain to more people if we couldn’t do it safely,” he explains.
Thankfully, after a 16-month shutdown, the wine bar is back and better than ever, according to grateful customers. Gardner is thankful for the effusive praise and for the fact that he’s been able to employ many of his former staff people, as well as a few new ones. Rachael Harrison is heading up the team in the kitchen, who previously worked under Lula Drake kitchen managers Pierce Bowers and Rosalind Graverson. While Lula Drake was closed, Harrison went to work in the kitchen at smallSUGAR, another local favorite, so she comes with a wealth of experience and understanding of the bar’s culinary needs.
Lula Drake began as a simple, European-style wine bar, a place for Gardner to showcase his favorite wines, many of them organic and biodynamic. For the uninitiated, biodynamic practices go a step beyond organic, which refers to the absence of chemicals. Grapes for biodynamic wine are grown without chemicals as well, using only local, sustainable, organic materials for fertilizing and soil preparation. Biodynamic farmers may also take lunar cycles into account when planting and harvesting their crops. In short? It’s all delicious. Sustainable farming practices mean more wine, something everyone can embrace.
Gardner’s interest in wine was sparked at UCLA, where he attended graduate school. He later trained as a certified sommelier and has a diploma from the International Sommelier Guild. He spent several years blending Spanish wines for a US import company. His experience and passion for the grape shines on the menu, which includes wines from all over, including North and South America, Eastern and Western Europe, and, well, everywhere else. This is the perfect place to try something new and learn a little bit in the process. (Or just sip and enjoy. The staff will accommodate whichever you prefer!) The list changes regularly, based on what Gardner discovers and wants to share.
“We’re kind of a restaurant in reverse,” explains Gardner, in reference to his original plan to open a simple wine bar.
The menu is designed to complement Lula’s many grape options so that guests can enjoy the carefully curated wine list to the fullest extent. At the moment, culinary offerings include several Basque-inspired dishes, like the conserva plate, with slow-cooked mushrooms seasoned with paprika, garlic, and other herbs served with tomato conserva and sliced baguette. Another nod to the Basque region is the ever-present Iberico ham, which can be served thinly sliced on its own, or as an addition to other dishes, like handmade ricotta gnudi served cacio e pepe style (that’s Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh cracked black pepper, and it is heavenly).
Behind the bar, head bartender Jessica Williams offers a few interesting beers and a small but mighty cocktail selection. For a summer treat, try a splash of Spanish BCN gin on the rocks with Fevertree tonic garnished with lemon, rosemary, and caperberry. The menu thankfully includes several sparkling sodas and other alcohol-free options, for when you crave something good to eat — how about Yangnyeom KFC (Korean fried chicken? — but prefer an accompaniment “sans risque,” as one Parisian café refers to such beverages.
Lula Drake is an intimate spot on Main Street, the perfect place to go after work, before a movie, or really any time whatsoever. The menu never fails to delight, and the knowledgeable and friendly staff will make you feel right at home. They’re a great source of information about wine and pairings, so don’t hesitate to ask. After all, learning should be fun!
1635 Main Street #2817
Columbia, SC 29201