Stillwater's two wine bars share more than a hometown. Both Marx and Cesare's have perhaps the most essential attribute for a wine bar circa 2008:

They are the kind of places that women feel comfortable coming to by themselves, or in small groups.

On a recent weeknight, both spots had pockets of "girls night out" coteries amid their cosmopolitan clientele. That, as much as stellar wine lists and tasty victuals, makes them great draws in an area that's one of the Twin Cities' foremost destinations as the leaves change hues and cooler climes set in.

Both are worth the trek from anywhere in the Twin Towns.

Marx Wine Bar & Grill

The wines: 35 by the glass, one flight and five featured wines, plus 10 special cocktails and 21 beers.

The grub: Lots of starters, salads and pastas, plus intriguing entrees. The emphasis is on fusion, as embodied by a delicious crispy flatbread with habanero, chorizo, turnip greens and Parmesan.

The vibe: With muted natural light until dusk and vivid, boldly colored art, Marx has a fun and funky, relaxed aura. There's a neighborhood-hangout feel to the bar area and a chic ambience on the restaurant side.

The vitals: 241 S. Main St., Stillwater, open nightly starting at 5 p.m. and for lunch Mon.-Sat. starting at 11:30 a.m. 651-439-8333.

Cesare's Wine Bar

The wines: 16 by the glass and 10 half-bottles, plus an extensive bottle list that's especially strong in Italian imports (namesake Cesare Barbero, a friend of original owners Robert and Leslie Alexander, is winemaker at Pertinace in Italy's Piedmont region). For that special night out, there are lots of high-end and magnum -- or larger -- bottles.

The grub: The menu has fewer noshing options than in the past but plenty of Italian dishes and a welcome focus on locally sourced ingredients.

The vibe: There's aTuscan feel, with lots of wood and rustic colors on the walls. Cesare's warmth and coziness make it one of the area's best winter date destinations.

The vitals: 102 N. 2nd St., Stillwater, open 5-11 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 5 p.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat., 5-10 p.m. Sun., 651-439-1352.

Bill Ward • Read Ward on Wine at