Back in May, I made a point to belittle Kent & Co. Wines. At the time, Frank Kent Motors was wrapping up construction of its new wine bar/service depot on West Magnolia Avenue, meaning that I was, in effect, reviewing a place I’d never even been to. As if the inherent unfairness of dumping on a place that hadn’t even opened yet weren’t tacky enough, I basically rooted my gripe in wishful thinking. For three years, I’d walked past the printer and fax machine repair store that used to operate on the Kent & Co. lot, and each time, I thought about how that building would make a pretty boss music venue, the kind of rock ’n’ roll dive that could be for Magnolia what the erstwhile Moon Bar once was for Berry Street. That a company with such deep pockets would invade my ’hood and establish yet another beachhead for what I assumed would be a posh and annoying clientele irked me to no end, so I made Kent & Co. into a punchline in a column singing the praises of Cru, the wine bar a couple of blocks west. For that, I owe Kent & Co. Wines an apology. My bad, guys. Your place is pretty great, even for a dude who doesn’t care that much about vino.
I’m not gonna lie: I still wish someone had bought the building and turned it into a cool venue. But now that I’ve actually been to Kent & Co., I will fully cop to being a superficial shithead. “Spared no expense” is how I’d describe what the Cadillac/Honda/Hyundai dealership has done. From its high-end espresso machine to the purple ’63 Caddy convertible near the front door, Kent & Co. is loaded with excellent taste, as well as about 150 wines available by the glass or bottle — at retail cost, no less.
For oenophiles, Kent & Co.’s retailer’s license is a huge deal, because the owners can buy pricey wines without the usual exorbitant restaurant markup. That alone is a major plus. But the space itself and its small but satisfying selection of local brews are great reasons to drop by. You might think that the atmosphere of a wine bar operated by a Cadillac dealership would be heavily themed around cars, but apart from the aforementioned vintage convertible, a brand-new Honda on a rack above, and a few automotive magazines scattered in the lounge area, Kent & Co.’s décor is decidedly classy. Overall, it’s kind of a contemporary mod design — stained wood walls, lots of natural light –– with a high ceiling that affords the wine storage room ample vertical space for its impressive, towering wooden bottle racks. It’s also comfortable. The cocktail seating is plentiful without feeling crowded, and the lounge area is full of low, comfy chairs.
Before visiting Kent & Co., I didn’t really understand what the car component of the business entailed –– when your main purpose is serving alcohol, selling major investments in the same space seemed sketchy to me. But what Kent & Co. does is provide a by-appointment repair service. Essentially, you schedule your maintenance, then drive your car to the wine bar/service depot. A Kent employee takes you back to your workplace, takes your Cadillac, Honda, or Hyundai to get repaired, and then picks you up in it after the job is done, thereby removing the unpleasant, waste-your-day-off aspect of having to take your car to the dealership to get it fixed.
I still harbor hope that some spot on Magnolia will turn into the 100 person-capacity rock club of my dreams, but at least the business that crushed them is a worthy replacement. Even better, now I can find out what a glass of Cakebread tastes like without the guilt associated with blowing a hole in my budget. –– Steve Steward
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