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🍷A Guide: The Dalston (Natural) Wine Mile
Dalston is the neighbourhood with the most wine bars per square meter. Here is how to crawl them in one tipsy guide - with a map.
If you’ve lived in London long enough and had the unlucky experience of having to do small talk with someone you only share living in London, you will have heard the phrase: “London’s like different towns put together”.
In the case of Dalston, (an area going back to the 13th century, named Derleston) consists of four separate villages: Kingsland, Shacklewell, Newington and Dalston. Modern day Dalston is not actually an official administrative unit. It’s our fictional understanding of the area to the west and east of Kingsland Road, surrounded by Highbury, Shoreditch (Hoxton), Clapton, London Fields and Stoke Newington.
I’ve been calling this fictional territory my home for a bit more than a year. I’m part of the transformative gentrification Dalston is undergoing. Immigrant communities and early adopter artists being replaced by “creatives” and yuppies, formerly populating London Fields and Shoreditch.
But within all this chaotic mosaic, the aspect that I’m happy with is the amount of wine bars, all walking distance from each other. It may not be exactly a wine mile (as they are not aligned in a line), the wine bars sprinkled across Dalston make for one extremely tipsy crawl.
Here are the seven wine bars / shops / taprooms where you can go for a glass and some nibbles. With my recommendation on how to crawl them, if you were to do so for some reason.
Hector’s is one of the newcomers to the scene but it took lower Dalston (you could call it DeBeauvoir even) by storm. It’s a small, sleek space with limited bar seating, a few mini tables with stools and some tables outside. During colder days of seasons where it makes sense, there is outside-heaters available.
Hector’s boasts a wine menu heavy on the Italians and French, with the added bonus of a vermouth tangent. The snacks are categorically approachable yet name-wise elevated (essentially niche charcuterie). You shouldn’t go here for a meal.
Ideal occasion: Perfect for a first date to casually impress or for a special weeknight date with your partner. It’s good-looking, has a wine and drinks list where you don’t get lost among the options. Pick the bar counter or outside seats. The only caveat is that on a busy night, it can get loud inside - and it tends to be busy.
What: Wine and cold cuts aside, the Americano vermouth is excellent.
When: Better for weeknights, no reservations.
A French bistro-like wine bar pushing the boundary to a small menu restaurant, Cadet shakes things up a bit with heartier dishes courtesy of ex-P Franco Jamie Smart. Think of rilettes, sauced white fish dishes, brothy beans, plum tarts, and so on. They have limited wines by the glass, but asking if they have anything else can provide more options.
These are served with an emphasis on the aesthetics of what’s on the table. I’m hoping vintage ceramic plates and thin, cornered wine glasses don’t go our of trend for a while. In short, things look good here.
Ideal occasion: A Sunday boozy lunch with a small group or sous quatre yeux. The food at Cadet does not necessarily make a big meal, but there are great quintessentially French but slightly elevated bistro dishes on the menu that pair well with an uneventful Sunday.
What: Try the brains if it’s on the menu.
When: Weekend days or afternoons. No reservations.
dan’s holds a special place in my heart for its simplicity. It’s one big room, with one big dinner table and a couple smaller one here and there, candles melting on top of empty wine bottles and an approachable wine menu. It’s all you’d like for a neighbourhood wine bar. The blackboard menu does not abide by the archaic formula of name / region / year. It tells you ‘spritzy white’, ‘easy red’, ‘funky skinsy’, ‘advanced natty’ etc. It gives you a sense of the wine you are about to order.
Ideal occasion: A casual date where you don’t want to have a pint interview. The easygoing menu allows for people new to wine to not regret their order, and doesn’t make you look like a wine snob. The atmosphere is casual but the candle lights and shabby antiques add a dash of romanticism.
When: Weeknights. On weekends it’s a bit more packed, you can find a space or sit outside but the feeling is not the same.
My favourite spot in Dalston. Weino Bib has been around for five years and is a natural wine taproom / deli. The founder Kirsty Tinkler (I recently interviewed her for Soli, she is a gem of a person) founded Weino Bib to promote sustainable formats in wine drinking, namely boxes and pouches. Overcome your associations of glass with quality and taste their wide range of natural wines.
Weino Bib has a decent menu, ranging from charcuterie from its deli to hot food items. This place is special in terms of the range of wines by the glass they have. Perhaps not surprising as they also have wine on the tap, for those who come with reusable bottles that are filled and capped.
What: WB’s own Bianco Puglia, great easy natty white for “sliding into the evening” as Kirsty puts it.
Ideal occasion: Any! A cheeky dinner and wine, get together with friends or a super casual date, maybe as pre-cinema.
When: Reservations available. I’d prefer on the weekends.
Despite having a terrace where you can sit, stand, smoke, Yield N16 still gives a heavy deli vibe. The wine store focuses on natural wine and charcuterie but also carries independent beer brands and well-branded food paraphernalia (think Perelló olives).
Ideal occasion: After work drink and nibble.
Newcomer Wines, by virtue of being right across Dalston Junction Station and because I knocked over a glass of wine and was given a mean look by the bartender my first time there, is not my favourite wine bar in Dalston.
It lacks the je ne sais quoi of local bars that make them a part of the neighbourhood. The feeling I get is that it was made for people from West London to come and enjoy wihtout walking too far away from the station and calling Dalston ‘quaint’ in a sort of internally orientalist way.
Still, give the devil their due, it is one of the cooler caves in the neighbourhood with a decent wine menu, nibbles and well-designed lighting in the back. It’s not unlikely to see a B-rank celebrity here, or at least someone who definitely knows Harry Styles. Last I was there I encountered Daniel Portman, the squire in the streets, freak in the sheets of Game of Thrones.
Ideal occasion: Mid-sized groups, better weather.
When: Weekends. A bit too quiet on the weekdays.
I’m not sure if this is the case but I think People’s Wine is the undiscovered gem of the neighbourhood. As it sits by the roundabout overlooking the car park behind the mall, it’s away from the usual Dalston pedestrian’s walkpath.
Ideal occasion: A friend group get together for the weekends, involving some nibbles. Or a calm and quiet date during the week.
When: Have it to yourself on a weekday evening, it’s really not the busiest place. And easier to find a spot on the weekends. Open everyday of the week, weekdays starting at 4pm. No reservations.
Dalston Wine Mile
What’s tricky with wine bars in the East is that they are often full and do not take reservations.
My recommended route is (for a Saturday, starting around 4pm):
1 - Lunch at Cadet
2 - Another glass at Yield N16
3 - Walk down to Hector’s for more wine
4 - Move to dan’s for a change of atmosphere
5 - Then to Weino Bib for dinner (reserve this one)
6 - People’s Wine for some more natural wine
7 - Newcomer Wines to end the evening (closes 11pm)
I suggest going to Hector as soon as possible as they tend to get full early on. For inner you can reserve and guarantee your spot at Weino Bib, they have a bigger menu than the others on this list. End your night at Newcomer Wines as they have a large garden area that can host groups and go on until 11pm. And then take off to Dalston clubs, if you have it in you.
Click on the map to open it on your Google Maps app.
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Next up, Dalston’s taco guide.
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