On a busy weekday during the soft opening of Goodtime Bar in downtown San Jose’s Fountain Alley, husband and wife co-owners Ann Le and Steven Huynh split time between day jobs, mom and dad duties and running one of the newest specialty bars in the South Bay.
Specializing in natural wine, Goodtime Bar boasts selections from all over the world. The location is currently open, with plans for a Grand Opening celebration later this month.
Huynh begins tasting wines at 10am, sipping varietals from across Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. The walls behind him are a combination painted brick and smooth, stone-like gray, the bar a bright butcherwood. Wines colored amber, rose and golden in glasses with the custom Goodtime Bar insignia contrast well against the lights in the room.
Huynh will taste dozens of wines a day looking for a particular palate. Lately he is hoping to find gems from Georgia, Slovenia and Slovakia.
Le, his wife and partner, is an oncology pharmacist by day, helping cancer patients with medications and treatments. After work, she helps her kids with school, gets maybe a moment to herself, and then jets off to the bar to start pouring drinks and delivering plates.
“We love natural wine just because that’s a very strong interest of ours. But for me really I think food and wine is a medium to get people together to have a human connection,” Le says. “And that makes life fulfilling.”
Roughly, natural wine is made from grapes grown without pesticides or other chemicals, then fermented using as few sulfites as possible. Huynh and Le first tried natural wine at Senhor Uve, a bar in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2019. They have been relentlessly hunting for more ever since.
Natural wines, especially in the last several years, spread in popularity around Northern California in hidey-holes such as the Apero Club in Santa Cruz, at Ruby Wine in San Francisco, and Slug Bar in Oakland.
Since 2022, Le and Huynh have been making home deliveries and hosting private events to get the word out about the wonders of natural wine. Since their soft opening in late March, they have attracted a crowd of surrounding industry workers and passersby, filling up the handful of tables and full bar with drinkers and explorers.
Wine reflects terroir, or the geography of where the grapes were grown, and various flavor palates from around the world find themselves in Goodtime Bar, paired with delicious offerings like chili shrimps, oysters, ricotta and anchovies.
Alex Whiteman, the solo chef in the kitchen, studied at the International Culinary Center in New York, followed by a stint with David Chang at the famous Momofuku, before finding his way back to his hometown of San Jose to cook with Goodtime Bar.
“We want people to sit down and eat cool stuff they don’t get to eat everyday,” Whiteman says. “It’s a challenge, but a good challenge.”
With a tight setup in the back of the house, Whiteman prepares a menu of oysters with mango and kumquat, cured meat plates, fennel salad with pistachio, fingerling potatoes with seaweed mayo and head-on prawns with miso butter and shiso. He says he pulls influences from Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese cuisines, highlighting bold flavors and sharp palates.
Bold is an understatement for the new and adventurous bar.
“No one is stupid enough to open a natty wine bar in the South Bay except us,” Huynh says. But the wine’s popularity speaks for itself. “Natural wine is for the people.”
A glass of wine across the board runs about $14 while the average bottle starts between $35 and $50 to drink in-house or take home. The more expensive wines are more creatively imported and sourced with older and rarer vintages. But the BTG (by the glass) price is the same across the board.
“How do you democratize wine?” Huynh said. “Wine is cool, but it’s about the community and the people of wine.”
Formerly an Apple employee, Huynh was part of the “Great Resignation” over the last few years. He said he was fed up with attending virtual meetings and left to pursue his own endeavors. Along the way he and his wife began martial arts training that Huynh said changed his life.
“Jiu-jitsu is what got me started on this,” Huynh says. “It taught me that we’re here for a short amount of time and we have to challenge ourselves all the time to do new things.”