by Kathleen Reynolds
The richly paneled walls, subtle lighting and soft music work in harmony with the bright copper behind the bar at Napa’s newest lounge, The Fink. It’s an unusual name for the refined surroundings. Isn’t “fink” a tattletale or informant?
“No, it was what my friends in college called me,” says The Fink proprietor, Judd Finkelstein. “My last name was just too long. They’d say, “Let’s have a drink with Fink.”’
If Judd’s name sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because you’re a fan of his namesake winery off Silverado Trail, Judd’s Hill Winery and MicroCrush. Founded by his parents, Bunnie and the late Art Finkelstein in 1989, the winery is now overseen by two generations of the family, Judd with his wife, Holly, and Bunnie.
Judd hasn’t stepped away from the winery to run The Fink.
“I’m absolutely involved in the winery, just not on site as much as before. I’m thankful for the winery’s dedicated staff. Even before opening the bar, I was in awe of them. These are people who step up to do their jobs. I’ve made myself practically obsolete by hiring well.”
The jump from wine to cocktails took a circuitous route.
“I enjoy being creative,” he says. “I’ve liked bringing a story to a visual medium since I was nine years old. I thought television and the film industry was what I wanted to do. But after a few Hollywood and film projects, I did some soul searching and realized I wasn’t feeling fulfilled.”
“During a solo trip around the globe, I was thrust into unusual foreign experiences which gave me perspective. It sounds corny, but I realized what I was good at. What I wanted to do for a living was make people happy. I enjoy a social setting.”
Since he says he practically grew up in the Whitehall Winery barn where his father worked, he tried wine sales. He first started in a position with Whole Foods Market in Southern California.
“I enjoyed wine sales, but in 1998, I thought I might as well do it for family. After taking wine classes at Napa Valley College and one-off viticulture courses at UC Davis, it turned out that I liked and was best at the hospitality side of wine.”
“The cocktail lounge idea came about because I wanted to create what I like, not someone else’s experience. That’s how I saw The Fink. There’s a bar for people who want to be in the heart of the action, there are high-top tables in the middle, semi-private booths and, for those who would rather be alone, a back lounge area that’s more private. Our permit allows minors on the premises, so it’s good for families.”
“Many people who know me are surprised The Fink is not a tiki bar, because they know my love of all things tiki. While there are a few elements of tiki in the décor and we use original Trader Vic’s cocktail recipes, the atmosphere is more subdued. It was a historic boathouse for the Napa Mill. The Napa River connected us to the rest of the world. So, maritime items decorate the space. Like a travel experience, the flavor, sights and sounds are international.”
Live music will make its way back into the space. Mike Greensill’s piano is still there from the Silo days and Judd says they’ve had it checked and tuned by Mike’s favorite piano technician, with the expectation that Mike will return. Judd plays a mean ukelele and may appear with his tiki band, Maikai Gents, when everything settles into a routine at the lounge.
“I’m ready to have that music vibe.”
Judd says he became interested in mixing cocktails in college. He founded FOAM (Friends of Ardent Mixology) in 2004 and had a local bartender, Andrew Salazar, speak to the group several times. His excellent reputation in the valley earned him the moniker of Mr. Salazar. He’s worked at Terra, The Thomas and Miminashi.
“Andrew was first working in Tra Vigne when they happened to need a daytime bartender and he stepped up for the job. At the time, the popularity of craft cocktails here was low, but he made a study of them. The first drink I remember him making for me was a Negroni; it was great. There was a particular drink called a ‘Lambretta Rosa’ that Mr. Salazar had invented with seven ingredients. It seemed like it should have been a mess, but it was wonderful; textured, layered, balanced. Andrew is an academic when it comes to cocktails; he takes it seriously. Other bartenders in the valley call him ‘professor.’ I decided to be one of his followers.”
“On day one with our bartenders and servers, he gave everyone a notebook. He explained his philosophy and menu derivations before they make drinks. His reputation is respected in the valley. It’s like he’s got the wisdom of Obi-Wan Kenobi.”
Even though Judd had a vision for The Fink, the process from thought to finish was arduous. Chef Greg Cole, founder and former owner of Cole’s Chop House and Celadon, suggested the former Silos site. Talks with the landlord progressed well and Judd was on the verge of signing a contract for the space in March of 2020. Then COVID hit.
“It was the time of lockdown,” says Judd. “I must credit the Napa Mill folks. They were phenomenal and held the space for us even though the lease was not yet signed. When we finally got building permits, there were construction delays, supply chain issues and the builders couldn’t get their normal workers.”
The bar opened in July this year.
“Before I started on this journey, I talked to people all over California and the Napa Valley for input until all systems were a go,” Judd says and chuckles. “Before securing the current location, I spoke to a prominent Napa landlord. He told me that because he was my friend, he wanted to talk me out of it. Too many out-of-town landlords tried to start lounges and couldn’t make it work; the ownership didn’t know the locals. That’s not the case with us.”
“I want people to know that The Fink is a fun place. We’ve gotten nice comments that it’s a classy but not snooty joint. It’s great for cocktail artistry and a casual place to hang. We’re friendly and here for the community. I call it a neighborhood bar for the world traveler.”
The Fink is located at 730 Main Street, under the blue awning in the Napa River Inn Complex, and serves cocktails, wine, beer and light bites. The hours are Sunday-Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. and Friday-Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight (which Judd calls a late-night oasis!).