Join the Club

When you consider the career path of eight-time world freediving champion Yasemin Dalkilic, it's not surprising that she and her trainer/husband, Rudi Castineyra, chose ungentrified downtown Miami as the appropriate neighborhood for their very gentrified wine bar. The pair is used to taking big risks and winning.

Often referred to as the original extreme sport, freediving — which basically involves holding your breath for several minutes at a time while plunging hundreds of feet underwater (with no oxygen beyond what's in your own lungs) — is athletically demanding, even with guidelines and balloons to aid one's descent and ascent. But while most novices start their careers with relatively easier dives, in 1999 Dalkilic won her first world record in what's considered the sport's most challenging category, kicking down to 223 feet, in 2:27 minutes, unassisted by anything except fins.

Downtown's greasy spoon circuit may prove a tougher playing field than the depths of the ocean, if the near-emptiness of Premier's expansive, loftlike space during three visits is an indicator. Surrounded by a sea of scuzz — and "soon to come!" signs that have been promising exciting 24/7 urban amenities for far too long — the ultrastylish, sophisticated, comfortable, pioneer wine bar does seem almost like a hallucination. The ten-month-old place has yet to be widely discovered by either the evening cocktail crowd or downtown daytimers who have been bemoaning the lack of such a suitable business lunch spot since the last century.


Premier Wine Club

145 S Miami Ave, Miami; 305-416-5187. Open for Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and for dinner 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. (Friday to 11:00 p.m.)

But this charmingly eccentric hangout deserves to be more than an insider secret, most notably because of its large, thoughtful, and mind-bogglingly well-priced wine selection. A good two-thirds of one long side wall is all wine rack, and a sizable amount of the largely boutique and otherwise unusual stock — like a lovely, subtly peachy Nora albarino — is in the $15 bins. Hell, the $10 bin has some intriguing plonk. And a $6.54 corkage fee — waived on Mondays — allows patrons to enjoy their own bottles in-house. (The odd pricing of all items here is gauged to add up, with tax, to even numbers, like seven bucks.)

Food — cooked by Castineyra, served by Dalkilic — is more minimalist: a few soups, entrees, and desserts, plus a small but imaginative selection of sandwiches and salads for lunch. At night, tapaslike plates substitute for the sandwiches and salads. But while the solid fare isn't as impressive as the liquid libations, it's elegantly presented and, for the most part, tasty.

Especially good was the Mother Nature salad, honey Dijon mustard-dressed greens generously garnished with a nice sweet-sour-savory balance of dried cranberries, sliced almonds, feta cheese, and apple chunks. The El Matador panino (filled with Cantimpalo-style hard chorizo, very mild manchego cheese, roasted red pepper slices, fresh basil leaves, and disappointingly bland black olive rings) was also appealing, thanks to a dose of flavorful sun-dried tomato dressing that soaked into the sandwich's substantially textured (if not substantially sized) ciabatta roll.

At night, an entree of crab crêpes sounded a whole lot better than it tasted. The crabmeat in the stuffing may indeed have been "sweet and tender," but an enormous overdose of herbs obliterated all of the crustacean's natural flavor. Additionally too much melted cream cheese rendered the filling's sauce gloppy enough to thoroughly soak through the crêpes, turning the delicate wraps to mush.

Tapas-style dishes were much better, particularly the humbly named ham and cheese platter — chorizo, Genoa salami, and prosciutto with nonaged Manchego, gorgonzola, and brie; a balsamic reduction drizzle transformed the platter from pleasant but pedestrian to luscious. An order of Greek olives, marinated in a "secret herb dip," was much too briny for both me and my dining companion. The hummus we'd meant to complement the olives, however, was zesty enough, thanks to sun-dried tomato pesto, to stand on its own.

Potential patrons worried about downtown's problematic parking need only consult Premier's Website for a map of nearby secure lots, two of which are free at night (and during the day as well with a minimum $20 purchase at the restaurant). Meters right out front are also free after 6:00 p.m. And those worried about the "club" part of Premier's name needn't be. The place is open to all. Memberships, ranging from $10 to $100 per person, allow one to earn free bottles of wine, discounted admission to special tastings, and other fun perks. But no one needs to join this nonclub Club to enjoy it.

145 S Miami Ave, Miami; 305-416-5187. Open for Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and for dinner 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. (Friday to 11:00 p.m.)


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