LOCATION LOCATION Sara Quider shows off her recent $1.475 million purchase on North St., which will become a tasting room and vacation rental, both rare opportunities in Healdsburg. (Photo by Christian Kallen)

There’s only one block between the popular corner restaurants on Center and North to the residential district that begins at East Street. But soon pedestrians will realize that the transition block is part of the Downtown Commercial zone after all.

A new wine bar and tasting room that will specialize in Champagne and other sparkling wines was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission last week. It will open in a former office space tacked on to a 1900-era residence, at 134 North St. 

The building was purchased in March of this year for $1.475 million by Sara Quider. She immediately applied for and received a vacation rental permit for the residential portion of the property. The vacation rental could open in a matter of months—a two-bedroom flat with dining area and small kitchen, already furnished. 

The timeline is a bit longer for the tasting room: It requires significant remodeling, including ADA-compliant bathrooms, which are now up a narrow flight of stairs. 

Promising a diverse selection of sparkling wines, including some affordable quaffs for the casual imbiber, applicant Quider made her pitch to the commission for the Healdsburg Bubble Bar. 

“I want it to be a special place for Healdsburg, for residents and tourists to come in and to celebrate,” she told the commission. “Weddings, retirement, a new job, a Wednesday, whatever they would like to come and just celebrate.”

She clarified she was not asking for any event allowance for the business, just anticipating the sort of “event” when people like to drink Champagne.

CHAMPAGNE DREAMS Sara Quider imagines the French bistro-style, ADA-compliant, celebration-friendly Healdsburg Bubble Bar, to open early next year on North St. (Photo by Christian Kallen)

Quider has been in the wine business for 28 years, and was for many years a winemaker for Ferrari-Carano under previous owners Don and Rhonda Carano. She now serves as VP of winemaking for the tri-state portfolio of its new owners, Foley Family Wines. 

But she affirms that in her enthusiasm for sparkling wine, and in her long-standing interest in opening a room to feature its effervescent qualities, she acts alone without Foley’s support. (Ferrai-Carano has no sparklers in its cellars.)

She told the commission she envisions a “French bistro” styling for the otherwise neutral street-side space, most previously occupied by Licoco’s offices, whose tasting room remains on Matheson. 

According to the application, the bar will be open six days per week, from 11am to 6pm (closed on Tuesdays). Interior improvements within the building will include a new bar with four seats, a lounge area with 10 seats and an outdoor patio with six seats.

The concrete landing outside the front door will be remodeled and fenced, to allow for extra outdoor socializing.

The Healdsburg Bubble Bar will showcase and serve sparkling wines from around the world (Champagne, crémant, cava, prosecco, etc.). The shop will also offer tasting flights, beer sales and retail sales of bottles of the wines served at the bar, as well as non-alcoholic sparklers such as kombucha. 

But for Tom Rackerby, the opening of a Champagne bar across the street from his business could be a problem. A CPA who has long had an office at 133 North St., he expressed his concern that yet another alcohol establishment in town is not conducive to the neighborhood.

“This project is encroaching on our neighborhoods. It’s encroaching on established businesses, and it’s going to be nothing but a big party time in downtown,” he said. He also questioned the impact on parking in the area, already severely limited by Valette’s parklet dining addition.

Another potential problem was discussed by cautious commissioners themselves, who brought up the 2017 “dispersion” component of downtown zoning that allows only one tasting room (or wine bar) per block face, meaning each side of the street.

The policy was initiated in 2017 to put the brakes on runaway wine commerce of the Downtown Commercial and Plaza District zones. According to its terms, the goal of the ordinance is to “maintain a mix of retail services and uses within the downtown area to encourage economic diversity and services for residents and visitors.”

Fisher estimated that prior to the 2017 dispersion policy, about 30% of the Planning and Building Department’s applications related to tasting rooms; that number has now dropped to one or two a month, planning director Scott Duiven said.

But restaurants are not included in the dispersion allowance, assistant planner Jeff Fisher said. Neither Valette nor SingleThread across the street, both restaurants that serve alcohol, counts against the Bubble Bar’s plan.

Fisher also pointed out there are now very few block faces remaining in downtown Healdsburg that are available for a tasting room, likely making this location one of the last to be added. 

It’s also notable that most tasting rooms get a conditional use permit that “runs with the land,” meaning it’s transferable not only to another leasee, but another property owner as well. Quider confirmed that if her Bubble Bar idea doesn’t pan out, she can lease the already-licensed tasting room to another tenant.

Following the discussion, and lacking any real reason to deny the application, the commission voted unanimously to approve it. Next stops for Quider will be to get a building permit for the interior improvements, a signage permit, a city business license and a Type 42 (bar, tavern) license from the ABC, Alcohol Beverage Control.

“I’m very, very thrilled to have the support of the commission,” said Quider. “It’ll be a nice addition to the town of Healdsburg.”

When the meeting was adjourned and Quider’s plans assured, she turned to the half-dozen friends who joined her at the meeting and said, “Let’s go have some Champagne!”

The meeting also saw the re-election of Phil Luks as the commission’s chair and the election of Conor McKay as the co-chair for the coming year.

Luks himself had nominated Tom Gerlach as the new chair, given that vice-chair Vesna Breznikar declined to take over the seat. Gerlach returned the favor, saying while he would be happy to serve at some point, he would rather see Luks continue in the role for the coming year.

With the vote, Luks turned his attention to the agenda, saying, “We’re off and running for another year.”

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


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