Palm Springs Spotlight: Dead or Alive Bar
Get to Know the Owner: Christine Soto
By Barbara Beckley
Okay. Anyone who names a bar “Dead or Alive;” – and doesn’t put up any signage, so you don’t know where it is until you meet someone who’s been there – has to have a good reason, right?
It’s all for the love of wine, says Dead or Alive owner Christine Soto. As a Level 1 Sommelier, she’s on a mission to educate everyone about wine – and her choice of her wine bar name, and the lack of signage, is all part of her plan. “A name is not important. My bar is all about the experience; to give people the opportunity to make a discovery. I like to make it a surprise,” she told me, as she filled my glass with her “from the tank” house Chardonnay inside her cozy establishment.
Christine’s a local girl. She grew up in Palm Springs, graduated from Palm Springs High School, and then went off to UCLA and the business world of LA. She’s loved wine all her adult life. And when she studied abroad – in Chile, one of the world’s top wine regions – she was smitten. “I knew I wanted to make wine my career.”
Returning to Palm Springs five years ago, she quickly noticed there were plenty of restaurant bars, and bars with entertainment, but no low-key “chill” bars. “I knew I wanted to open a bar, so a wine bar seemed the natural choice. I envisioned a place where you could get a nice glass of wine and meet friends.” She opened Dead or Alive in December 2015, and has been happily pouring her hand-picked whites, reds, sparkling wines, and small batch beers ever since.
It’s a hide-away space. “Dark and sexy,” in her words. A huge orb glows at the far end of the bar, representing the setting sun reflecting on a river (the sleek dark bar) and a serene waterfall (a terraced bit of the bar). Friends are meeting and chatting at the bar and in the simple booths along one wall. It’s a place you come for a drink before, or after dinner.
Christine’s behind the bar most evenings, chatting with new customers and regulars like stylish-to-the-stars Salvador Camarena, Ross Mathews’ (of Ross the Intern fame) partner. You’ll notice she really likes the phrase “dead or alive.” It’s tattooed on her arm. But her take isn’t the Wild West. It’s the game where you name a celebrity and try to remember if they’re alive or deceased. “The game isn’t as easy as you think. And neither is choosing wine,” she pointed out.
“I want my customers to be more curious about wines. To get outside their comfort zone and order something different. Dead or Alive is a safe place to do that, because I work really hard to have the best possible wines from around the world. I’m always curious, always seeking out new and different vintages and varietals,” she explained. None of her wines are mass produced or are brand wines. “I pour real wines by real people.”
Her “from the tank” Chardonnay was a perfect example. I’m not a Chardonnay fan. But this was delicious – and my wine-writer drinking companion said it was the “best Chardonnay I’ve ever tasted.” Not at all what we commonly think a Chardonnay tastes like. Plus, it’s French! From the lesser known Languedoc Roussillon region of southern France. As the house wine, it’s also the cheapest. “Wine doesn’t have to be expensive to be good,” Christine enthused. In Europe, many of the vineyards have been in the same family for generations, so their overhead cost is low to make really great wine, she explained.
The wine list changes weekly. “I get bored quickly, so I switch it up,” she admitted. All the better. This gives us a weekly opportunities to enjoy truly different and interesting wines – and to meet the woman who discovers them.
The Dead or Alive Bar is hidden in plain sight – along the East Palm Canyon Drive curve, next to El Mirasol Cocina Mexicana restaurant. It’s open daily from 4 or 5 p.m., depending on the day. In addition to fine wines and crafts beers, Christine serves snacks from El Mirasol.