The more Manitou Springs distinguishes itself as a city truly separate from Colorado Springs, the more would-be entrepreneurs realize just how many niches are waiting to be tapped there. As generic tourist shops have closed, upscale epicurean businesses, in particular, have moved in: a kitchen store, a spice store, a gourmet oil shop ...
Sharon and Andrew Palmer found their niche in May 2008, when they opened Manitou's first earnest wine stop, Swirl Wine Emporium. Just like that, Manitoids could forsake their drive into Old Colorado City's boundaries to a walk down the street.
Now, the Palmers have opened Swirl Wine Bar. Adhering to the fuzzy laws that always suck half the fun out of high-spirited liquor-related endeavors (puns intended), the wine bar is technically its own business, though it connects to the wine store through a cozy parlor room with high-back seats and art-decked walls.
Much as 15C introduced downtown Springs drinkers to the novelty of alley entry, Swirl invites guests to enter down a tight corridor lit with colored bulbs during and after shop hours. Hanging a right at the end, you find a dark, high-ceilinged room with chic, vintage-feel bench seats and a handful of bar stools set in front of a tiny drink rack.
Continue through a gate instead and you enter what's sure to soon be regarded as the coolest patio space around. A high stone retaining wall creates a dramatic backdrop for a handful of mismatched tables under overhanging light strings. Above that, a fire escape and footbridge for overhead residences lend an industrial vibe.
Befitting the small space, Swirl offers a simple, focused menu of drink-friendly eats purveyed by Colorado-based Cheese Importers. Look for international salami ($5.50) and cheese ($4.50) slices as well as a pork and chicken pâté with truffles ($8.15); olives ($4); and fig jelly ($3.25). There also are Manitou-made candied almonds ($1.75). Items are of uniform good quality, largely a nod to their places of origin, but also a credit to the Palmers' discernment.
The drink list, particularly the wine, changes almost every other week. Sharon, 32, is a second-level sommelier who spent seven years at nearby Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant; she procures only small-batch, family estate, boutique wines not found elsewhere in the area.
"If I go to another store and they have it, I get rid of it," she says.
Andrew, 31, who still works part-time at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in addition to his five nights a week at Swirl, generally handles the unique house spirits and beers.
One visit, I try a creative and damn satisfying 22-ounce MateVeza IPA brewed with Yerba Mate (a stupefying $16.50; MateVeza Black Lager is only $5.25 in the adjacent store). On another, I sip on a stunning Chatoe Rogue Oregon Single Malt Whiskey ($9.75), made by the popular Dead Guy Ale folks and ocean-aged — as in sailed and sloshed around for three months in oak barrels.
Whether you, like me, opt for triple crème brie, drunken goat cheese and organic prosciutto, or Pecorino sheep and English stilton cheeses with Spanish Crespone salami, you're almost sure to be pleased. With no cooking to botch and a solid drink list, Swirl has grounded itself in failsafe, gourmet go-tos. The concept is simple, smart and a welcome addition to lovable la-la land.