Before she opened Mo’s Wine Bar earlier this month, Maura Passanisi grew up in Alameda and was aware of the previous bar’s origin story. The Pop Inn bar, located at 1515 Park Street, operated from 1937 to 2007. It was followed by the Churchward Pub, which closed during the pandemic in 2020.
“There was a long history of the Alameda naval base,” Passanisi said. “Many of the bars here catered to the Navy and tended to be open from 6am to 2am.” Mo’s will close at midnight—a much more civilized hour, comparatively.
Passanisi felt very lucky to land on Park Street. After two unsuccessful attempts at opening a wine bar, her timing in 2021 was spot on.
“One of the things I found when we were remodeling was a lightbox sign that used to hang outside,” Passanisi said. “It says, ‘Open 6am.’ I plan on displaying it on my bar.”
Once she signed a lease, it took a little over two years to arrive at Mo’s grand opening on Dec. 16. Passanisi tried for nine months to secure a loan.
“I am a single woman, and even though I have a family with resources, no bank wanted to take a chance on a first-time owner of a bar,” she said. It didn’t help that so many bars and restaurants closed coming out of the pandemic.
After she received a loan through the Small Business Administration, permit approval ate up another year—even though she didn’t make significant changes to the interior.
“I’ve come to realize that not everyone wants to have that responsibility—paying for other people, and all the work that goes into it,” Passanisi said. “I guess I have an entrepreneurial spirit because I just always wanted to do it.”
Growing up, Passanisi’s father was interested in wine.
“It was always around and something we talked about,” she said. After college, she returned to Alameda and, after talking with the owner of a wine bar, she accepted a job offer. “I love talking to people about food and wine and asking someone what they’re looking for and pouring them a splash they can taste.”
She also takes pleasure from introducing customers to new wines they haven’t tried before.
“I know a little more about California and domestic wine, and a little more about French and Italian wine,” she said. “But there’s still so much out there I don’t know.”
Wine classes and publications abound, but Passanisi believes that a lot of information is passed down by word of mouth.
“You work in restaurants and bars, and you get to try a lot of stuff and talk to people about it. And you gain a lot of knowledge that way,” she said.
Now that she’s been in the industry for over a decade, Passanisi understands more about both what it means to live in a prized grape-growing region and which wine growers produce the best products.
Mo’s Wine Bar will begin serving flights of wine in 2024.
“There are some local wines that I carry and am a big supporter of,” Passanisi said. To highlight some of them, Mo’s will host “Winemaker Wednesday” events. In December, one of the winemakers, Kristie Tacey from Tessier Winery in Berkeley, will come in to pour her wine for the guests.
As a purveyor of wines, Passanisi will offer a wide variety of both classic and natural wines, “to suit everybody who comes in,” she said. “I really like the philosophy of natural wine. It’s a very open-ended term and can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.”
The presence of sulfites, however, doesn’t seem to bother her as much as it does some prominent natural-wine bar owners in the East Bay.
“Sulfites are a preservative. They’re naturally present in every fruit,” Passanisi said. “If you put sulfites in wine, the fruit flavor lasts longer. It’s a more stable product, which is a benefit for a wine bar serving wine by the glass where the bottles have to be open for a few days.”
Passanisi confirmed that Mo’s will be open on New Year’s Eve.
“We’re planning on throwing a party,” she said.
Mo’s Wine Bar, open Wed-Fri, 4pm-midnight; and Sat-Sun, noon-midnight. Located at 1515 Park St., Alameda. 510.263.8177. moswinebar.com.