Starbucks to Bring Booze to Thousands of Stores

Alex Van Buren
Food Features Editor

GIF credit: Cindy Suen, Tumblr

"Hey, baby, wanna go down to Starbucks for a glass of Riesling and some truffled mac ‘n cheese?"

Soon, this low-effort date idea is something people across America will be able to propose. Starbucks announced on Thursday its decision to expand its booze-and-small-bites evening menu beyond a small 40-spot sample market to thousands of cafes nationwide. 

So if you solely associate Starbucks with standing in line, waiting impatiently for your Grande Skinny Cappuccino, brace yourself: Over the next few years, as this rollout begins, you might find yourself there drinking Napa Valley Cab Sauv and munching on Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Skewers with Honey-Dijon Sauce. Or maybe you’ll spend Friday nights with co-workers, trash-talking the boss over Artichoke and Goat Cheese Flatbread and a bottle of Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay. 

It’s a power move that makes fiscal sense; there’s a ton of money to be made in liquor sales. Just look at the pricing: A Starbucks rep emailed us to say that food prices for the “Evening” menu will be “$3 – $7 and wine/beer from $4 -$15.”

Another spokesperson told us on the phone that although the publicly posted menus don’t reflect this fact, the food options at the cafés will be “very localized,” including a Seattle outpost that will feature local restaurateur Tom Douglas's tomato soup. (UPDATE: This rep has recanted her statement, and another rep has emailed that “the food menu for Evenings is not locally sourced or “localized.”)

The menus do reflect an attentiveness to location in terms of the wine lists. Los Angeles stores will sell a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon; Portland and Seattle shops will feature one from nearby Columbia Crest winery. And although the wine list is dotted with super-cheap options (we’d avoid that $8 Malbec), there were some refined choices on there, too, such as the Markham Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley that Chicagoans will be enjoying. It costs $33, and the 2011 vintage earned 88 points from Wine Spectator.  

All of this has been determined by the wine sommelier, about whom the rep was tight-lipped. But guys, Starbucks has a sommelier!

(Whether beer-lovers can hope for a master cicerone overseeing their brew choices remains to be seen;  the menu only suggests that you “ask your barista about the current beer selection.”)

But there are other questions to be asked here: Can Starbucks pull off romantic? How long will people linger now that they can get their coffee, do their work, and then hang out drinking booze from dawn to dusk—and beyond?