With an English teaching and construction background, how does a gal from Crossett, Arkansas end up owning a wine bar in Clear Lake? With vision and hard work, says Suzanne Streetman, who has been serving up quality wine and premium drinks along with a delectable bar food menu since 2008.
Yet the most impressive thing about Allegria Wine & Cocktail Lounge is the atmosphere — but don’t let the strip center facade fool you. Rich terra cotta walls, cozy corner nooks, sofas and an assortment of dining tables and chairs — akin to your best friend’s living room — the dim lighting, carpeted floors and low sound-blocked ceilings are a far cry from today’s polished concrete and exposed duct work that produce a high noise level.
The good sounds you will hear at Allegria are when Cindy Thomas is at the keyboard or Ronnie Stallworth is making magic on his saxophones. Bistro tables are available in front of the entrance where even Fido is welcome (pet-friendly outside).
Streetman’s vision was not spontaneous. She loved to cook and entertain, but was not certain what to do with those talents. After a chance outing to a popular wine bar in Houston a few years ago, she thought, “this is it.” But it didn’t stop there. Streetman visited a multitude of wine bars and studied every aspect of decor, design, noise level, ambiance, menus, and wine selections. “I had been developing an education in wine over the years through my many travels,” says Streetman who also took wine classes between trips to Bordeaux, Tuscany, Napa and other wine-growing regions across the globe.
“Every week, I do wine tastings with my wine reps,” says Streetman, who even gets visits from wine makers. Saying she is not “Napa-heavy,” she keeps about 60 wines in stock — from international to organic to kosher. Premium liquors available at Allegria are the basics: scotch, rum, gin, bourbon, vodka, tequila; also cognac, port and Irish Creme. Specialty martinis include: dark chocolate, French vanilla and the Allegria 357 (their version of the Cosmo) and a killer Negroni (Campari, sweet vermouth and gin).
Allegria offers a wine tasting class every Tuesday evening (please RSVP). The classes are always different and the wine tips educational (what wine goes best with bar-b-que — or even crawfish). The cost is $20. Smoked salmon pate is on the food menu these days along with Italian flatbread pizza (order the “skinny” version if you are counting calories), cheese and antipasto platters. Saying that she changes the appetizers around often, Streetman will soon be offering a crudites plate with a creamy tarragon dip.
With a clientele base that includes vegans and those allergic to gluten, she aims to accommodate all dietary needs.
Wednesday and Saturday are Bistro nights (reservations only) with a chalkboard fare (maybe osso buco or a French cassoulet). Private parties by appointment, luncheons, bridal/baby showers, corporate events, murder mystery wine dinners — even crawfish boils are held at Allegria. Friday is BYO steak night (or chicken, etc.). You grill; Streetman provides the side dishes. She also does catering.
With her customer base ranging in age from their late 20s to 70s, Streetman is happy that wine bars are a growing trend. Sports bars have their niche but seemingly wine enthusiasts are establishing their own clique that is spreading rapidly. With house music by the likes of Sinatra and a retro ambiance straight out of the 1950s and ’60s, the only thing missing is the smoke (permitted outside only).
Allegria (Spanish and Italian for “happiness”) consumes most of Streetman’s time, but this fall, she is self-prescribing her own dose of happiness when she takes off for a long overdue trip to Paris. She will rise before the crack of dawn to peruse Les Halles de Paris, the traditional French marketplace where she will devour delicate pastries, drink strong coffee laced with cognac, buy fresh herbs and wave to the fish mongers. What could top that? Spain, she says. “That’s next on my list.”
Put some happiness in your life and drop by for a glass of vino, have a beer or cocktail of your choice. Once inside you may just want to order a classic gin martini as you soak up the retro vibe and feel the magic of Allegria. Here’s looking at you, kid.