by Carrie Scozzaro & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he former rough 'n' tumble logging town of Sandpoint is changing its image, from the swill and swagger of the past to the vacations and viticulture of glossy travel magazines -- and it's exactly that kind of paradoxical nature that lends Sandpoint its unique charm.

"Sandpoint's always had a reputation for good restaurants," says Jim Lippi of Ivano's Ristorante, "so it's a natural progression that as people get interested in food, they get more interested in wine."

The panhandle town is raising the bar for wine enthusiasts with not one, not two, but three new wine bars ranging in style from urban-lodge to family-festive to affordable elegance.

Lippi's restaurant at First and Pine is celebrating 20-plus years in Sandpoint with Enoteca La Stanza wine bar in the refurbished Caff & eacute;. High- and low-top tables draped with white linen and white-paneled windows give it the feel of a friendly local eatery. The copper-topped wine bar has a gazebo-like glass rack, threaded with soft tube lighting, where you can sit and watch Cindi make signature martinis like the Fallen Angel: Gold tequila, lime sour, cranberry and Grand Marnier. Foreign and domestic wines are available by taste, glass, bottle or flight, and include vintages from nearby award-winning Pend Oreille Winery. "Small plate" delights like portobello baked with Cambozola cheese (a cross between gorgonzola and camembert); fennel salami pizze, Sicilian eggplant panini, or insalate for two runs $7 to $8. Next door, Lippi (grandson of namesake Ivano Lippi) and co-owner Rich Ballard will tempt you with mouthwatering Tuscan delights in the main restaurant.

The Wine Bar at Coldwater Creek (yes, the former catalog-only retail clothier) is a casually chic retreat dominated by a suspended fireplace with rough slate and leather cushions snuggled around the perimeter. The space feels welcoming: light woods -- the curvilinear bar and flooring -- comfortably clustered earth-tone seating, Navajo rugs, rough-hewn tables, and abundant natural light from tall windows that look out on busy First Avenue below. A floor-to-ceiling wine rack houses more than 50 varieties, 70 percent of which are unavailable in stores. Dining varies hourly. Morning crowds enjoy coffee and fresh-baked treats while lunch means soup-of-the-day. Appetizers include flavorful paninis ($6) and assorted breads 'n' spreads ($9-$12). The hummus plate was a meal for two, accompanied by glasses of port. The Wine Bar hosts live music Friday and Saturday nights, and you're welcome to spin your own groove via their vinyl collection and happily low-tech turntable.

Across from Ivano's is Sand Creek Grill, the product of owner Gloria Waterhouse's vision six years ago. Daughter Jennings championed the exquisite transformation of an adjacent space to create Dulce, a romantic escape with sumptuous silk-cushioned seating, exposed brick walls, subdued lighting, and jeweled accents reflected by ever-present candlelight. The front room features a fireplace, intimate groupings of chairs, and the entrance to a subterranean wine cellar, still in development. The back room features a marble-topped bar and the soothing whisper of a vast copper and river-pebble wall fountain. More than 200 wines are listed, including decadent ports (my fave), with generously poured flights at a reasonable three for $12. Partially due to Spokane chef Ian Wingate, the menu is Asian-French, heavy on seafood -- Hawaiian Poke ($10), assorted sushi like Feisty Geisha (kali roll, sliced cherries, spicy peanut sauce) at $9 to $12 -- and sweets to tempt the Devil herself, like chocolate lava cake ($8). If your appetite isn't sated on Sand Creek's small-plate menu, move next door to the main restaurant and dine on Autumn-spiced Duck or Prawn Mojo Diajo. Consider booking a room at the upstairs B & amp;B, with three well-appointed suites overlooking the inlet.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & s if these three wine bars weren't enough, Three Glasses plans to open in late spring. Owners Robert and Leslie Alexander were recently in Coldwater's wine bar, and they credited Coldwater Creek with making such a significant investment in the community. They were excited about what Lippi called the Old Lantern District, a consortium of local restaurateurs working together to promote Sandpoint's reputation as a dining destination.

The growth in wine interest is not news to veteran retailers in the area. Pend Oreille Winery, the original Sandpoint wine bar and only resident winery, offers traditionally crafted reds, whites and the popular Huckleberry Blush. "I agree it is a bit unusual to have so many wine bars in such a small town," says Stephen Meyer, who started the winery more than 10 years ago with wife Julie. "However, Sandpoint's concentration of restaurants and wine bars generates a synergy effect where the quality improves across the board."

Around the corner and across from Coldwater Creek's wine bar is Wine Sellers, opened six years ago by Jack Eaves. Drawing on more than 30 years in the restaurant business, Eaves provides a range of wines and beverages (including local brew Laughing Dog) and is frequently host to ArtWalk artists. He also doubles as the force behind, an online reseller, and the pre-Festival "Taste of the Stars" event every August.

So if at first blush you wouldn't think of Sandpoint as a wine-worthy locale, think again. It's easily holding its own as a dining destination, and with five -- soon to be six -- wine bars amidst a dynamic and diverse dining scene, Sandpoint continues to raise the bar.

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