Opening a business under normal circumstances can be a daunting venture, but doing so during Covid is a challenge unlike any other. Despite the obstacles, a pandemic was not going to keep Frederick Uku and Peyton Sherwood from opening their dream wine bar: St. Vincent Wine.
Located in the District’s Park View neighborhood, St. Vincent Wine opened its doors in late November, offering patrons the chance to enjoy their wine in a variety of Covid-conscious ways. Guests who want to take their wine to-go can order online at their website and will receive 25% off as a bonus.
Locals who choose to visit can make reservations online and will be seated outside at St. Vincent’s sizable backyard patio or on their deck, with mood lighting and heaters included. What’s more, a tall fence surrounds the outdoor space to keep the setting somewhat private and cozy, a place for people to kick back, relax and forget there’s a bustling city a few blocks away.
Uku and Sherwood actually got the idea for St. Vincent from a similar experience. On a trip to New Orleans three years ago, a friend encouraged them to visit a local wine spot called Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits. What seemed like an unassuming brick building from the outside proved to be a unique wine shop where guests could pick out bottles and charcuterie to enjoy in their large outdoor space.
“We walked through a door that leads out to the back, and then all of a sudden, this little walkway opened up into this big backyard,” Sherwood says.
A band was playing on a stage in the back, he continues, with Christmas lights all around and a massive tree anchored in the center of the festivities.
“There was so much soul, and the vibe there was so relaxed,” he adds. “Being in the restaurant industry for so long, we were like, ‘We can do this.’ We wanted to bring it back to D.C. because it was such an incredible experience that it had to be shared.”
The co-owners strive to have a similar atmosphere in their own wine bar, especially since D.C. is a city filled with people always on the go. They even have a sign over the garden entrance that says, “Slow down.”
“It’s not about seeing and being seen,” Uku says. “It’s not about how much money you can spend or how showy you can be. It’s about reconnecting. Get off your phone. There are no TVs in here. Show up with some friends, drink some good wine, listen to some good music and just relax.”
While St. Vincent was inspired by Bacchanal, it’s still uniquely its own. The wine bar’s name is drawn from Saint Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of wine, and the décor relies heavily on brick, wood and Edison bulbs to give the space a warm glow. The building dates back to the 1930s or 1940s, according to the owners, and they were able to repurpose some of the old materials into the railings leading to the second floor. Old books, typewriters and phones are also incorporated throughout to give the bar a long-established feel.
“We wanted this place to feel like it’s always been here,” Sherwood says.
As for wine offerings, there’s a little something for everyone, including a growing list of about 189 labels that range from $20 bottles to a few “splurge” items, as Uku puts it. He adds there will also be a few Easter eggs, which are wines that can be found at St. Vincent for a uniquely low price.
Not a wine drinker? Not a problem. St. Vincent’s drink offerings also include hard cider, mead, hard seltzer and over 20 different beers. Eventually, they will also add a cocktail bar upstairs.
As for food, their menu mainly consists of cheese and charcuterie boards. When Covid restrictions lift, Uku and Sherwood say they will finally be able to open up the kitchen and expand their dinner menu, adding that some of the wine and food offerings will likely change with the seasons.
Like most businesses, St. Vincent has had its fair share of quarantine difficulties. Originally on track to open its doors this spring, they pushed back their start date to late fall. According to Uku, what normally takes a day to get a certificate of occupancy took them a month-and-a-half. They also hoped St. Vincent would be a place where strangers could mingle, share tables and relax as long as they like. For the time being, that has been put on hold. Despite these difficulties, they are confident that eventually, they will get back to their original vision for the wine bar. Until then, they say their current system is working.
“I’ve never been part of a restaurant opening that just worked,” Sherwood says with a laugh. “It’s a testament to our 50 years of restaurant experience between the two of us, plus the other people who are involved here. We’re doing what we want to do, and we just want to get better at it.”
St. Vincent Wine: 3212 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; 202-413-9763; www.stvincentwine.com
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