Smile Politely

Wine Bar Wars: part one

Three standalone wine store + wine bar combos strategically outline the Champaign-Urbana area:

  • Sun Singer Wine & Spirits in southwest Champaign
  • Wines at the Pines in southeast Urbana
  • Buvons (attached to Corkscrew) near downtown Urbana. 

I wondered what, besides geography, makes each bar unique, and whether our twin cities really drink enough wine to support three wine bars. So I set out to answer my questions in this three-part series. It turns out that each bar fills a slightly different niche to keep return customers treading through their doors.

Randomly selected off the list of three, Sun Singer Wine & Spirits was the first stop for me and my dining companion as we compared the wine, food, ambiance, and various other features of the bars.

We were greeted immediately and cheerfully by the wine salesperson at the checkout counter as we entered, and he showed us to the wine bar where we seated ourselves. The crowd that night reflected the kind of atmosphere the owners of Sun Singer like to welcome: a comfortable family one. To my right, a table of women passed around a baby (probably about seven months), to my left sat a seven-year old with her mother, and behind me a retired couple, maybe in their seventies, relaxed over their food and wine. No worries, the children weren’t drinking alcohol.

A regular customer and a staff member noted that the significant majority of wine bar customers are women, as was the case the night I dined there. Men, if you’re trying to pick ladies up at the Brass Rail, and you’re wondering where they are, they’re all down at Sun Singer…but maybe that’s not the kind of woman you’re looking for anyway.

Although anyone can see the wine bar from the outside, the wine bar isn’t immediately visible due to a half wall on your left upon entering the doors. But it’s a small local joint and not a megamart, so if you wander for a moment, the floor plan becomes clear. From the door, the wine bar, cheese case, and deli lie to your left; the wines are straight ahead; and the beers, spirits, accessories, and gifts sit to your right. Because the wine bar was not the initial focus of the store, the owners later added seating to the right (in the spirits and gifts section) and also outdoor seating for nicer weather.

Menu and Tastings
We chose a two-cheese plate and a couple of sandwiches typical of the menu, and I asked the bartender to recommend a wine. He was knowledgeable about the wines he offered me, helping me find one that pleased my palate. Since Sun Singer is primarily a wine bar, they seem to pride themselves more on this, perhaps, than on pairing the wine with the food we ordered. Wines are available in 2 and 5 ounce pours, or by the bottle, and the 5 ounce glasses range from $5.50 to $12.25 per glass.

One-third of the wine list in the wine bar rotates every two weeks, excluding house wines and sweeter Moscatos and Rieslings, so every six weeks, you can expect a completely different wine list. The food menu rotates much less frequently, reflecting seasonal changes, with fall/winter and spring/summer dishes. Some items, like the grilled cheese, stay on the menu year round. The menu is available online, but you will find salad and sandwich prices ranging between $8-11 and cheese plates between $11-$16.

If you want to try new wines more frequently than the menu rotates, drop in for one of the weekly complimentary “Sensational Saturday” tasting from noon-4 p.m., often themed. (Last weekend was Italian wines.) Aside from the wine tastings, Sun Singer also hosts periodic spirit tastings. The next one on December 6 is a Cognac tasting limited to 20 guests. To reserve a spot, call Sun Singer at 217-351-1115.

Store History
Owners Mark and Jackie Yarbrough began Sun Singer about 14 years ago, when they were looking for a business they could work in together. According to Mark, after visiting a vineyard in Africa and recognizing the passion and work that winemakers put into every bottle, they decided that they wanted to sell wine together.

They purchased a former bar in Monticello and renamed the store after Allerton Park’s Sun Singer, the 82-year-old bronze sculpture created by Swedish sculptor Carl Milles.

The Yarbrough’s found that most of their wine customers traveled from Decatur or Champaign, so nine years ago, they decided to make the move to Galen and Windsor in Champaign. Jackie used to live very near the location they selected, and her parents still reside within a few blocks of the store, so they feel very comfortable with the neighborhood and clientele.

Store Features
Sun Singer makes a nice one-stop shop for people on the way home from work, with the deli and extensive cheese case. Also, they feature a gluten-free menu, a carry out menu, and a catering menu. Sun Singer focuses on a comfortable welcoming environment where a group of ladies can gather for lunch or drinks after work, or a couple from the neighborhood can stop by to leisurely enjoy dinner and a bottle of wine. Another unique feature of the store is the accessory and gift area, where you can get everything from a gift basket of wines to slate cheese boards.

Sun Singer is located at 1115 W. Windsor Road, Champaign, IL 61821. Find them on the web (, Facebook (, or Twitter (!/sun_singer).


Mon – Thu 10:00 am-11:00 pm, Fri – Sat 10:00 am-12:00 am, Sun 11:00 am-8:00 pm. Food service runs until 9:45 on weekdays and 10:45 on weekends.

Thirsty Around Town explores alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages found in different venues around the Champaign-Urbana area. If you have a favorite obscure drink, email me. I want to try it!

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