Steve Brunoli | Sonoma Valley Sun
In the recent weeks a new, or perhaps hardly-new-at-all-only-different-than-before, presence has made itself known along Sonoma’s historic central Plaza. In place of the old Historic Plaza Liquors has risen an interesting new take on the liquor store, Proof’d. The cheap, 40-ounce bottles of beer are gone and have been replaced by high-end scotch whiskey; the dusty beef jerky wrappers have given way to a serving area that boasts six draft beers on any given day and a myriad of wines for tasting or by the glass.
Christian Chotkowski, who has owned the business since March 2010, had good reason for shaking things up:
“I literally hated coming to work the old way,” he said. “I never wanted to work at a 7-11, and, the way it was before, the store felt like a run-down 7-11. It was very uninviting.”
Now, everything has changed. The interior has been remodeled to reflect an Old West vibe, and the store is split in two by a small wooden wall that runs the length of the room. To the right of the wall lives familiar territory: a well-stocked liquor store with a wide range of mid-to-high end liquors, beers and wines for sale. It is what sits along the other side, however, that gives Proof’d its edge.
A small break in the wall provides an entrance to the serving area, where visitors can relax with a cold beer on one of two leather couches or converse over a glass of wine atop vintage refrigeration doors that have been reconstituted as tables. The friendly (and easy on the eyes) staff seems always ready to strike up a conversation, whether it concerns the intricacies of a single-malt scotch or simply the day’s news.
Despite all the changes, Chotkowski hasn’t betrayed the historical legacy of the building. Photographs donated from the Depot Museum adorn the wall of the serving area, showcasing a simpler, turn-of-the-century Sonoma. Amongst the images of famous local figures of the past, such as Jack London, visitors can spy upon a group of butchers that stood in the very same room nearly 100 years earlier, when spirits were relegated to the local bars and meat came to you fresh off the hands of your local butcher.
“I wanted it to become a warm and inviting place that people could go to escape the world,” Chotkowski said, referring to the ambience created by the simple, wood-paneled décor of Proof’d. The early 20th century theme is accented by the fact that there is not a single television or radio to be found in the room.
“TVs make you a drone,” he said. “When a TV is on, you sit and watch it, regardless of whether you want to or not. I want people to talk to the person next to them and try new things.”
And, boy, is there a lot to talk about: the store boasts a selection of over 250 different liquors, wines and beers, 90 percent of which Chotkowski has tried and hand-selected. Tough job, but it had to be done. Now Chotkowski is a treasure trove of information on high-quality hooch, and isn’t shy about sharing share his knowledge.