Some people harbor a healthy suspicion when it comes to a beautifully designed bar or restaurant. These cynics fear that the aesthetic is distraction from what is being served, that it might be subpar or suffer in contrast to the well-appointed surroundings. And though Echo Park’s brand new wine bar, Tilda, is lovely enough to arouse this kind of skepticism, somehow the wine, bread, and other snacks offered therein are even more delicious than the space is enchanting.
The team behind Tilda include Jason Goldman and Christian Stayner of Stayner Architects — hence the soaring, polished wood beams — and Carrie Funk, formerly of Ostrich Farm and Bar Calo, hence the superly curated wine list and extraordinary food. Tilda, which is both wine bar and wine shop, boasts a list of predominantly young, female, and queer winemakers who live in California. All of them make natural wine, many of them are under the age of 35, and began making wine before they turned 30.
“We wanted the winemakers to represent our clientele and our neighborhood,” Funk told me when I swung by the newly-opened shop on a recent packed weeknight. “A lot of them are friends with our staff, so they kind of fit right into our community in that way. Many of them live here in LA and about 30% of the wine is undistributed — so we’re buying it directly from the winemakers.”
Funk and Goldman describe their decision to stock all natural wine as a little bit political, a little ethos-based, and largely based on taste. “The physical act of drinking it is super great and pleasurable,” Goldman said. “But all of the political and environmental things that come along with it are so fantastic. Why would you return to conventional wine?”
Before you ask, yes, the bar’s namesake is none other than Tilda Swinton herself, a figure that Goldman and Funk describe as “their patron saint” due to her qualities as a chameleon who is amorphous, fluid, and independent. Both locals of not only Echo Park, but the same stretch of the street, the business partnership came together when Funk ran into Goldman’s partner, Christian Stayner, who were both on their way elsewhere.
“She lives around the corner, my partner and I live around the other corner,” Goldman explained. “One day he was out in front of the building and Carrie struck up a conversation about the space. She followed up very professionally and we just stayed in touch.”Funk, who has fifteen-plus years of experience in the service industry, will handle a multitude of roles at Tilda, and though she’s overseeing the current menu and food program, clarifies that it’s not in a proper day-to-day chef role.
That’s partially because Tilda is only a small part of the group’s plans for the massive build out, which will soon include a much larger, formal restaurant, Etti, a sit-down spot that will serve Roman-focused cuisine, and a neighborhood co-working space, The Parrot House. “It’s like moving from your office, to your living room, to your dining room,” Funk laughed, of the future symbiotic relationship. “I think the audience will sort crossover between all three businesses, but each will have its own distinct identity.”
With Tilda up and running, they gain also garner intel from the early customer base, gleaning “market research” on how those living in the neighborhood themselves might want the separate hubs to function. “We picture Tilda as the place where you go for a drink before dinner, or after dinner, or for a lighter feeling meal that’s just standing at the bar,” Goldman added.
Goldman previously worked in academia, completing a Ph. D in Art History at USC, but was increasingly unhappy in that field. When he finally decided to leave, it was spurred by a desire to pursue his growing interest in hospitality. “Eventually, everything started to fall into space,” he remembered. “Really, what we started with was the idea for a restaurant, and when we had more space than just the restaurant needed, these other two pieces kind of evolved out of that.”
Yesterday, after a particularly demanding hot yoga class, I left my mat with a strong desire for a glass of natural wine (it says a lot about me that my first thought upon finishing savasana is wine, but there it is). Heading back to Tilda to experience the menu for myself, I was pleasantly surprised by a more low-key night than the jam-packed crowd I’d experienced the previous week. While I was there perusing the menu and settling on bread with salty butter ($5) as a perfect pre-dinner snack, one customer even rolled through joking that her exclamations were too loud for “lo-fi Tilda.”
But, it was nice to know the space gets loud and busy but isn’t always overly crowded, and even on the quiet night, all the tables were full and the bar was bustling. Settling on a glass of skin contact wine ($11), I quietly slurped the clean-tasting, slightly fuzzy orange wine while the bartenders made small talk, letting me know the floury, crisp-crusted bread comes fresh every morning from Bread Lounge – a bakery in the Arts District founded by Ran Zimon in 2010 — and dutifully checking in that I was enjoying my glass. I was.
Yoga brain, and then slight-buzz-brain means I forgot to note the name of the winemaker, yet at the same time, I have a feeling that leaving it off won’t matter much — that’s how consistent the curation is. Tilda is the place you go when you know what you like, but not necessarily who makes it or what is trendy. I know I like orange wine, natural wine, local wine, and California wine — they’ve got those. On my first visit, a glass of a light red was tart with cranberry and wispy-silk like cobwebs. Two is perhaps a small sample to gauge the quality of a wine bar, but when they’re both as superb as these were, that’s an 100% percent success rate.
As far as the shop portion of the space, Funk says the prices average around $25 for a bottle of natural California wine — which is, frankly, a steal — and that they strive to keep the bottles they stock priced within ranges they themselves feel comfortable paying. The first section of the shelf is always reserved for $20 and under, making fresh, local wine affordable for even the broke freelancers of the world.