Postino WineCafe: A Tucson Favorite

Kevin Cassell
April 12, 2022

It’s 4:30 PM on a Thursday afternoon. Am I done with work for the day? Nope! I have several emails to write, a technical manual that needs editing, and other items to check off my To-Do list. Shall I set up my laptop at the table on my porch? No – still too hot and, worse, quiet. I want to immerse myself in an environment that emanates enough energy to motivate me but is also low-key enough so I can concentrate. There are several haunts I can go to, but today I end up at (drumroll, please) Postino WineCafe – locally known as Postino Grant — on the corner of Tucson and Grant.

If you’ve been to Postino then you’re probably saying to yourself: What? He goes there to work?

Yep, sometimes. Why? Because I actually like working (and accomplish more) in a place where I can be distracted by yummy snacks, great people, and fun music that isn’t blaring. I get that at Postino where I’ve been a regular since that day I dropped by during the Covid-19 pandemic after noticing open-air patios filled with folks who, like me, weren’t willing to let the pandemic confine them to home.

In the Beginning…

… I walked into Postino that day in late 2020, backpack slung across my shoulder, and was greeted by a friendly hostess whose smile refused to be constrained by her mask. I told her I’d like to do something that customers usually don’t do in restaurants – set up my laptop and work online while also enjoying a bite to eat and a glass of wine.

Her response — “Absolutely!” – immediately endeared me to the place. She then picked up a menu and asked if I’d prefer to sit inside or outside.

I took me a moment to distinguish between the two since the walls (or are they windows?) are retractable and were wide open. The north-facing side of the long bar was “inside” while the south-facing was “outside.” The east- and west-facing walls – I mean, windows – were wide open, flooding the space that I finally determined was inside with sunlight and late-summer breeze. People just a few paces away from me — one with a companion dog — were seated under bright yellow umbrellas, therefore outside.

I took the crap shoot and chose inside. Then came the next tough question: What kind of seating would I prefer? Bar stool, high-top table, squared booth, rounded booth, or perhaps the couch or comfy chair that are currently available?

Decisions, decisions!

Since I was feeling a little sunshine-averse that day and needed more table-space to set up my mobile “office,” I chose a rounded booth in a section that the Assistant General Manager, Chloe Harper, recently told me is called “the Cove.” When you enter Postino, the Cove is the darker, den-like room on the right of “The Bottle Collection.”  Most of Tucson’s Apollonian light-seekers steer left toward the bar and patio, but we evening-dwelling Dionysians are happy to head right into the cavelike Cove.

After all, that’s where the art is. In addition to some framed wall-hangings by local artists, there’s a colorful “letter wall” featuring upcycled neon letters from iconic signs of Tucson businesses past and present. All Postino locations have an “art wall,” Chloe told me, which honors the history of the local community. Probably the most recognizable letter on this wall is the red “e” from a former Eegee’s. Superimposed on this wall is a neon yellow sign that reads Wish you were here, which amused Jackie Tran at Tucson Foodie as “tongue-in-cheek.”

And what about the grub?

Being a creature of habit, I tend to order the same tried-and-true menu items at the places I patronize. My go-to order at Postino for a long time was the Pub Board, which has since been retired and replaced by “Nick’s Board.” Both versions feature a big chewy pretzel like the kind my grandfather used to buy me at the Rochester Fair when I was a kid in New Hampshire. Sliced into bite-sized pieces and accompanied by a saucer of mustard, the now-retired Pub Board was served on an oblong charcuterie board surrounded by chorizo, aged cheddar cheese cubes, Peruvian corn nuts, cornichons and Tony Packo pickles. “Nick’s Board” has retained the pretzel (thank God!) but surrounds it with Italian sausage, Spanish pork link, and sweet drop peppers.

Sometimes, though, I dare to be different. On my most recent visit, I ordered an appetizer — or what Postino’s menu lists as “Snacky Things” – called, simply, “Olives.” I don’t know much about olives. My only direct experience with them comes with the occasional martini. But this savory little dish delighted my palate in ways their toothpick-pierced third cousins seldom do. The olives in this cosmopolitan dish have origins from all over the world: alfonsos derive from Chile, picholines from France, arbequinas from Spain, and the gaetas, castelvetranos, and red cerignolas generally take root in Italy. Each type had a distinct texture and taste: tender and briny, firm and tart, thick and tangy.

olives in a dish next to a pub board next to a picture of Kevin eating his pretsel

On a few occasions, I have abandoned my beloved Pub Board for paninis. I remember a Tuscan Tuna on ciabatta and a Vegetarian on focaccia, both of which were excellent. I have not yet tried the panini that Chloe describes as a “crowd favorite” – the Nine Iron – with smoked bacon, roasted chicken, Stracciatella cheese, and dijonnaise. I’ll likely try that next time I decide to deviate from my soft pretzel fetish.

And, um, the beverages?

There are basically three types: wine, beer, and a few of what I’ll call non-beer others.

If you’re a wine enthusiast, you’ve hit a jackpot. Wine is Postino’s thang. Bottles line the wood shelves along the interior like books in a private library. I counted 27 wines on the menu. Domestics tend to be regional, coming from Arizona, Colorado, and California; the more cosmopolitan imports are from Chile, Argentina, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Italy, France, and Germany.

Upon entering, customers encounter two wine racks labeled “The Bottle Connection.” These feature, according to Chloe, an “elevated version” of the wine list that Postino’s Advanced Sommelier, Brent Karlicek (“adoringly known as BK”) carefully selects based on location and other elements. If you’d like a more inside scoop than I offer here, you may want to consider applying for membership in Postino’s Wine Cult, which apparently takes the in-house experience to higher levels.

The ten beers on tap are mostly regional (Arizona, Colorado, and California) while the canned or bottled beers come from various locations both domestic and abroad. The non-beer others listed on the beer menu include a few ciders, kombucha, and one sparking CBD water. With my Pub Board, I often order a Samuel Smith Porter, a dark brew with a mild sweet flavor that provides a flavorful contrast with the sourish pickles and tangy olives.

I admit that matching beverages with food is not something I’m adept at. I tend to go for kneejerk contrast over well-considered complementarity. Chloe, though, seems to have it down. She recommends a glass of Perfekt (an Upward Projects German Riesling) with the “Crispy Cauliflower” (her favorite dish), which is served with Romesco and sultana-based vinaigrette that provides “a beautiful balance of salt and spice.” (FYI, according to a subreddit (r/wine) discussion I came across while writing this article, this wine is only sold at Postino locations in Arizona.)

Tell me more, tell me more …!

All I have left to say is that Postino’s waitstaff are top-notch professionals. By that I mean that once you’ve been seated you’re never off their radar  – even if you’re a introverted Dionysian boothed in the farthest corner of the Cove. They are upbeat, personable, friendly. One of my regular servers, Kristi — who’s pictured above — told me that she “loves” working at Postino because of the “chill vibe” and “great happy hour.” She added that she also loves seeing the familiar faces of her “loyal customers and ‘regulars’ who come in time and time again, and making them feel welcome.”

So all this is really why I go to Postino. It’s not just “to work”; that’s the excuse. It’s the affable people who bring me my pretzels and olives and Sam Smiths, and the overall “chill vibe” that makes this airy restaurant always a pleasant experience.


Kevin Cassell administers Takes on Tucson. He is a senior lecturer in the Writing Program at the University of Arizona where he has taught since 2017.