One of the retail units behind the Grand Hotel at the end of our road fell empty last year, when Sam Sharp vacated, which was a shame as we liked her homewares, and in fact bought our two large Orla Keily standard lampshades there in a sale. The shop stayed empty for a while and then we saw it was going to be a ‘bottle shop’, which in my mind sounds like something you might find in the Australian outback, but which turned out to be part specialist wine shop, part wine bar.
‘Levels’ appeared to open before Christmas, but then every time we passed it was closed, and hard to see in. On the door, the sign said they were open (sometimes) for coffee & cake. I was basically a bit confused as to what it was. Plus I was hoping for a least a flyer through the letterbox inviting the locals round to try it out, or some sort of opening event.
Then the other evening we were on our way to the pub, and noticed it was open… our chance to try it!
It was a chilly evening but as soon as we got inside I was impressed by how warm it was, and knew I could stay there for a while very comfortably – dangerous! – we even took the booth in the bay window. It’s not a huge place, but the range of wine on sale is serious and certainly different – not your standard off-licence fare. Being a superficial sort of person (!) I was excited by the self-service tasting machine, which you fuel by card which you load at the till. Owner and wine expert Alistair Coulthurst was on hand to tell us all about the wines on offer. Or, if you know what you want, buy a bottle and either drink it there or take it home. They charge £10 corkage which (for the more expensive wines in particular) is much better value than paying the markup on a premium wine in a restaurant.
Levels doesn’t have a kitchen so food is limited to cheese & meat platters, but we certainly motored through ours. That and the ‘tasting card’ system meant we ended up spending fifty quid rather quickly. So a bit more of a special evening out than a pint and a bag of crisps. Then again, we didn’t want dinner after that!
I like the concept, and the decor/ambiance is nicely on-trend (vinyl, beards, Emerson lamps, Farrow & Ball-style colour scheme, Ocean Colour Scene playing in the background etc). I wasn’t surprised to discover that Alistair’s business partner is the owner of Cru, a wine bar in central Eastbourne that we’ve enjoyed many times. My only quibble is with aspects of the marketing. I don’t think the ‘Levels’ logo and signage is right. And as I mentioned, I would have thought it was worth making more of the opening. I take the point that this kind of place is a ‘destination’, and that the immediate locale may not render up a huge loyal clientele. However, I think it’s missing a trick not to make a splash locally, if only to alert people such as us who are into wine and cool places to eat & drink. We’re not all geriatric in Meads!
However: bottom line is we left happy, we’ll be back, and I’m writing about it here.
Levels Bottle Shop, 14 Grand Hotel Buildings, Compton Street, Eastbourne, BN21 4EJ