Starting this week, the pioneering D.C. wine bar will bring up gems from its cavernous cellar to showcase on its “To-Go Wall” — a feature that entered the fold this summer. That includes bottles of small-production, terroir-driven varietals that Flight has become known for over the years, and now, offered at a discount until the end.
Flight Wine Bar’s final day of service will be Thursday, December 21; following the Christmas holiday, the store will remain open from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for to-go wines and food from Tuesday, December 26 to Saturday, December 30. Wines to taste and by the glass will remain available for those who stop by to shop. On December 30, Flight will shut its doors entirely — just two weeks shy of its 10-year anniversary at 777 6th Street NW.
Swati Bose and Kabir Amir, the co-owners and operators of the intimate wine haven since day one, are as hands on as they come. On most nights, the married couple can be spotted moving from table to table, checking in on how one guest prefers their karaage-like fried chicken, and offering pairing recommendations from its 800-bottle wine list.
Part of Flight’s edict is to expand their guests’ palettes, offering unique natural sparkling wines (or pét nats) like Georgiev Milkov’s Funky Mavrud from Bulgaria, and orange skin-contact wines Ferdinand ‘Brutus’ Rebula from Slovenia. And by year six, much of that education had paid off. In 2020, Flight scored its first James Beard semifinalist nod for Outstanding Wine Program (an honor the restaurant received again in 2023).
“It felt like people were finally seeking us out instead of stumbling upon us,” says Amir.
The victory of its first James Beard nomination, however, was short-lived; almost immediately after the announcement came the COVID-19 shutdown. “We were on and off closed for several months,” says Bose. “Business was just so incredibly unpredictable.”
Flight’s Chinatown neighborhood has been one of the more pronounced victims of the pandemic, with restaurant recovery proving to be slower than other areas of D.C. Given its 9-to-5 location, Flight’s business was largely dependent on happy hour traffic. But that crowd thinned out with the onset of a new work-from-home reality.
Flight is one of the few remaining commercial tenants in its building that faces the backside of Capital One Arena. Even on busy nights around games and concerts, Amir says Flight only does about half of the covers it saw prior to the pandemic. And the fall — normally the restaurant’s best season — has fallen woefully short of expectations, with rising crime rates only compounding the problem of empty offices.
“We hear from our regulars that they’re no longer comfortable in the area,” says Amir. “That’s not something that any amount of good wine or food can fix.”
When Amir and Bose first opened Flight, it was nothing short of a leap of faith. Neither began their careers in hospitality; Bose planned on using her JD for bankruptcy law, while Amir worked in investment banking after graduating with his MBA. But as Bose began battling chronic migraines toward the end of law school, it became readily apparent that a traditional office job just wasn’t in the cards. So Bose went back to school, this time, to the French Culinary Institute.
As part of its curriculum, FCI selects a handful of students each year to pitch a culinary venture to a panel of judges. In 2008, Bose was one of them.
“I’d been reading about what people with chronic pain did to cope, and so many of them referenced running their own venture,” she says. “I ended up pitching what became the business plan for Flight — a natural wine bar focused on introducing folks to unfamiliar regions and varietals in a cozy atmosphere.”
A few years later, Bose and Amir were ready to make that business plan a reality.
“It wasn’t just that I was burned out in banking,” says Amir, referencing 18-hour workdays that never seemed to abate. “It was more that we wanted to build something of our own that hadn’t been corporatized.”
But starting a restaurant from scratch proved to be no small feat for the novice hospitality duo.
“We were total outsiders and first time everything — first time business owners, first time restaurant owners,” says Bose. “We thought there was more opportunity for a wine bar in D.C., but we were turned down by what felt like every single landlord.”
Over two years after the search began, Flight finally found its ideal home.
“The first six months were an absolute blur. We were basically learning on the job,” says Amir. “Staffing is always an issue in hospitality, and we had to figure out the right mix of front of house and back of house, which was much more difficult than we anticipated.”
By year three, Flight finally started to hit its stride — particularly on the wine front.
“It took a while to learn how to take feedback from customers, because at first, I took everything so personally,” says Bose. “It took me years to figure out how to make compromises and figure out what guests liked, what they didn’t like, and what they would be open to exploring.”
Amir is no stranger to hard jobs. When he first emigrated to the U.S. as a refugee, he worked as a taxi driver and a gas station cashier. He says those roles, as well as that in investment banking, left him unfulfilled.
“But in hospitality and at Flight, there’s something intangible that makes the good times really, really good — not necessarily from a monetary perspective, but in the way that you’re able to make people feel,” he says.