WineLair, the American branch of the German-based WineBank, plans to unveil its first location outside of Europe next April (1120 22nd Street NW), complete with climate-control capabilities and insurance for members. The 5,000-square-foot vacant space, formerly occupied by an art gallery, is undergoing a complete gut renovation next to the Ritz-Carlton.
Along with a private members cellar and personal lockers for safekeeping members’ rare and pricey bottles, the wine cave will also house a fancy bar and lounge areas for 199 guests at a time.
Along with outside wines available by the glass and the bottle, the menu is expected to feature espresso drinks, charcuterie, cheeses, breads, olives, and an a la carte menu provided by Ris. The WineLair team is especially fond of her crab cakes, which will likely make an appearance on the in-the-works menu from Ris.
WineBank started over decade ago by Christian Ress, the owner of Germany’s Balthasar Ress vineyards founded in 1870. After D.C., WineLair’s next U.S. location is expected to open in Austin.
Along with invites to private tastings and events, U.S. club members are automatically granted access to the brand’s 10 opulent locations across Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
“We see this as a destination where people will start their evenings and share wine with friends and then go out to a wonderful dinner and retreat back here at the end of the night,” says co-founder Brian Karlisch.
While its clubs in Europe are open 24/7, they don’t offer a full-service model and menu augmented by an outside restaurant. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.
A former Streetsense designer, whose resume includes Tysons Galleria’s Isabella Eatery, is manning the look.
“It’s a beautiful lounge space done to the nines,” says Karlisch.
Members typically don’t fill all 52 slots, but rather use the lockers as a “a little altar or shrine” for greatest hits plucked from their personal collections, says Karlisch.
Tiered membership pricing is dictated by the size and location of the vaults inside. A 35-bottle vault in Frankfurt, for instance, runs 99€ monthly ($112).
“For people into wine and travel this will be a fun way to showcase that versus it being tucked away in their basement somewhere or a private locker,” says Karlisch.
A wine by-the-glass system will pour unique, high-end wines by the sip — think $20 to $25 for a sample of “super vintage” Bourdeaux or grand cru, says Karlisch.
“In Europe people love to do that kind of thing. They get this taste of a magnificent wine that would cost hundreds of thousands of euros to buy [by the bottle],” says Ress.
Ris has already hosted two wine dinners to introduce potential members to WineLair. Lacoste, a 1789 alum and James Beard Award finalist, reveals she’s also renovating her 10-year-old restaurant a block away to stay relevant.
“I want to become new again to compete with the new restaurant explosion in the District while maintaining our personality and warmth and protecting our amazing clientele,” she tells Eater.
Ris recently welcomed one high-profile guest this fall. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg reportedly booked a hush-hush dinner with senators in the back private dining area that features its own entrance. She reveals the table “loved” her chicken Milanese, paired with pours of St. Helena, California’s Failla chardonnay.
The extensive Ris refresh calls for adding a new bar and lounge, along with modern colors, lighting, and furniture throughout. The Tuscan-styled eatery currently sports lots of cream, red, and gold tones, offset by dark wood seating areas. She also plans to redo her menu with an array of in-the-works additions.
“We want to be the heart of the West End. We want to be packed when we open the doors, like the days of old,” she says.
She started a Go Fund Me grassroots campaign this summer to help fundraise $115,000 needed to complete the project. About $65,000 has been raised to date, she reports.
“Watching the political scene and how many campaigns are funded, I think people are happy to be a part of something they already love and respect while ... helping to keep a small locally-owned business alive,” she says.