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What to Expect When City Winery Finally Opens This Month

The gigantic restaurant, concert venue, and winery housed in the former Love warehouse will open in stages 

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City Winery CEO Michael Dorf on the roof of his emerging Ivy City facility.
Tierney Plumb/Eater DC
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

D.C.’s debut City Winery is such a huge undertaking — 42,000 square feet of entertainment space spread across four floors — it’s now opening in two phases this spring, though the exact dates are still TBA.

The highly anticipated drinking den (1350 Okie Street NE), which is projected to include a working winery, intimate concert venue, private event space, and 175-seat restaurant, previously announced that its first show was happening on Sunday, April 29.

That inaugural performance (with folk artist Suzanne Vega) is scheduled to be complete with food, wine and a full bar, CEO Michael Dorf tells Eater.

“We plan to get our temporary occupancy permit for the restaurant and venue early next week,” says Dorf. “[We] hope the Department of Health as well continues to cooperate in getting us legal for our first shows.”

The restaurant component — still under wraps and in the works, menu and chef wise — will be accented by tanks, barrels, and banquettes.

“It will be a cozier restaurant, which I kind of like,” he says.

The third floor and rooftops will open in mid-May, Dorf says, in preparation for a grand opening of the entire venue slated for later in the month. Upon entry, guests get a snapshot of the main event that’s about to greet them up the stairs: a lineup of wine barrels.

One big hang-up has been installing elevator service from the base all the way up to the top, which didn’t exist until now. Another reason for some setbacks: “there’s a ton of cleaning to do,” says Dorf, whose team has slowly been transforming the venue from its former life as nightclub Love.

“There were 27 bars in this place — we’ve reduced it down a bit,” he says, explaining some bars have been converted into private dining rooms.

D.C.’s location is Dorf’s biggest project to date; most City Winery locations feature two levels but this is its first with four.

A dramatic bottle wall, a stylish detail found at all its locations, will line the stairs up to the live music space that features cabaret-style seating for tableside dining (though there are no drink or food minimums, he notes).

City Winery is still slated to welcome its first scheduled acts next week. The buildout included removing columns to promote prime sight lines and lots of soundproofing.

“Wherever you are, you are still intimate with the artist,” he says. “If you’re at our bar or in the corner you can still see their eyes.” A ramp headed to the stage contains a nook for a piano, while a high-tech, low-energy LED system is lighting up the music venue.

“We can get the full spectrum of color in a single bulb,” he says.

Performers will have an opportunity to drink and smoke in their dressing room area, thanks to a bar and balcony staying in place. “Weird and neat chandeliers” and pool tables from Love days are also staying put in some areas, he says. Some elements that aren’t? Bank-style tubes that used to funnel cash between floors during Love’s run.

The top floors, which will play host to weddings, a rooftop bar, another live music space, and private events, will be entirely whitewashed and feature a light and bright vibe via porthole-shaped windows. The outdoor arched patio areas will be blanketed with green vines.

The menu and executive chef have yet to be revealed, though Dorf’s hoping to promote local flavors in the dishes (like D.C.’s beloved mumbo sauce) and seafood will be sourced from neighboring Ivy City Smokehouse. An upstairs kitchen is also being built out to further handle food service at the multi-purpose venue.

“We want each of our chefs to be able to express themselves. We aren’t creating a homogenous Olive Garden,” he says.

As far as future sites, he thinks North America could accommodate 25 City Winery sites in total, and 25 internationally. The next domestic one is in the works for Philadelphia, shooting for a spring 2019 opening.

“That should keep me busy,” says Dorf, who founded NYC legendary music spot Knitting Factory in the 1980s.

There are 35 vineyards under contract with City Winery, and the wine list stretches over 20 pages long (see below). Making wine on site is still a few months away, with the first grapes slated to arrive for this fall’s harvest. Navy Yard’s District Winery just nabbed the title of the first winemaker in D.C., getting ready to release a rosé next week.

City Winery’s list ranges from accessible (plenty of by-the-glass options starting at $8) to table-hogging, baller options like a 2005 six-liter Chateau cos D’Estournal (more than $2,000).

Note: Photos were taken earlier this month.

A fireplace is adding a cozy vibe to one private area.
Tierney Plumb/Eater DC
Reclaimed wine barrels (mostly from California) were sliced up to serve as bar decor.
Tierney Plumb/Eater DC
The first weddings at City Winery D.C., slated for the fall, will take place upstairs.
Tierney Plumb/Eater DC
One of many “fun remnants” City Winery CEO Michael Dorf uncovered were bank tubes that used to funnel cash between floors during its Love days.
Tierney Plumb/Eater DC