Why: Leah Jackson figured that what Vancouver needed most was a wine bar. A place where folks could mingle, try a sip of something new and relax. Toss in a helping of art, and it’d be better still.
That got Jackson, the owner of Angst Gallery on Main Street, to thinking about crafting her own dream spot. She had a vision, but with her art gallery to tend, she figured it would stay in the ephemeral realm of pipe dreams. It’d be too difficult to toggle back and forth between her gallery and an up-and-coming wine bar.
Unless that wine bar happened to be, say, next door. And such a space was available for rent.
Which, more or less, is how the retail stars aligned when the shop next door to Angst came on the market last May and Jackson snatched it up. She remodeled the space and joined it to her gallery with French doors.
“I want (Niche) to be approachable, not intimidating,” Jackson said.
Atmosphere: Step into Niche and it feels like you’ve landed in a friend’s living room.
A black concrete bar invites at-the-bar banter. Or, if intimate conversation is on the agenda, a sofa and chairs beckon across the wooden floor.
Artwork dots the walls, which are coated in warm reds and yellows. A piano rests on the stage near the front door. Jackson said patrons have already given impromptu performances at the piano’s keys.
What I tried: My dining companion and I shared, trying two Alsatian Tarte Flambés, the Classic and the Wild Mushroom, followed by an eggplant hummus, a pair of Mystery Tastes and Cheesecake Shooters.
It feels refined and sophisticated to say “Alsatian Tarte Flambé,” but think of this dish as a personal pizza with a flaky pastry crust. It’s less intimidating that way.
Seated at the bar, we chatted with Jackson while she made our tarte flambés and baked them in a countertop oven.
The Classic, topped with crème fraiche, Gruyere and bacon, arrived warm and gooey, with a fusion of the cheeses and bacon over a crunch-in-your-mouth flaky crust.
Next came the Wild Mushroom, topped with sautéed in-season mushrooms, Gorgonzola cheese and caramelized onions.
When it comes to pizzas, I’m often a leave-the-crust kind of eater. Not so with these flaky slices.
Lynn Grundmeier, who works for Jackson and has a wine-pairing business, explained in a later interview that the French dish was originally cooked over an open flame. But at Niche, they opt for the countertop oven, sprinkling premade crusts with fresh toppings.
The eggplant hummus arrived in a dipping bowl, accompanied by bread wedges. I love just about anything dipped or dunked and this eggplant dip was no exception. The hummus varieties change daily and are always made fresh, Jackson said in a later interview.
Jackson was elusive about what we should expect from the Mystery Taste. We asked if we should order one or two.
“I wouldn’t want to share,” she said.
Order up two, please.
In moments, two wine glasses containing what looked like white wine arrived, accompanied by rosemary shortbread cookies. She watched, expectantly, and made us guess what we were trying when we sipped and nibbled, knitting our brows and savoring, but unable to nail the taste.
“Vermouth,” she finally said, ending our guessing game.
Paired with a savory cookie, it was a melding of unexpected flavors that seemed to pop.
Finishing off the evening, we ordered a trio of Sweet Asylum Bakery Cheesecake Shooters. These small desserts are like bonbons, only with chocolate dipped over cheesecake.
Other observations: With its welcoming vibe and cozy feel, this little wine bar seems destined to be part of the downtown culinary and art scene. It’s a must-stop after, say, a monthly art walk for a bite before calling it an evening.
Menu highlights beyond what I tried: The Trio of Crostini sounds intriguing. The menu describes it as an Oregon tuna purée with lemon, capers, parsley, Gorgonzola and toasted hazelnuts with pear, ricotta, roasted tomatoes and basil. They had me at tuna.
Cost: Figure $10 for an Alsatian Tarte Flambee and $3 to $6 for other menu nibbles. A glass of wine runs $5 to $10.
Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Where: 1013 Main St., Vancouver.
Health score: Niche Wine & Art received a score of 10 on Oct. 20. Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.