Wine Talk

Snooth User: Mark Angelillo

Starting a Wine Bar?

Posted by Mark Angelillo, Jan 7, 2009.

Hi folks, I have a friend who is in the beginning stages of starting a wine bar. I have to admit, I don't know much about how this would work, but given its collection of wine and food professionals the Snooth community at large does, I reckon.

Does anyone have any suggestions here with respect to potential vendors, wine shows to go to, organizations to get involved with, people to contact -- anything that might be helpful? I believe this is in the NYC area, but general advice is certainly appreciated.



Reply by Philip James, Jan 7, 2009.

I've been thinking about my answer for a couple of minutes and I think my main piece of advice would be to pick a niche and go deep into it. I'm assuming this is Manhattan, if its somewhere not as urban then this advice should be reversed.

Manhattan has around 100 wine bars, unless its damned excellent, no one other than local walk in traffic will bother to frequent it. However, if you are the first Champagne wine bar, or the only wine bar in NYC focussed on wines from NY state only, or the only wine bar to be 100% biodynamic wines then you'll get some press and people will travel to visit your establishment. And as long as the niche isnt too kooky, then you'll also get the walk in traffic as well.

Reply by Rodolphe Boulanger, Jan 7, 2009.

Aren't there enough wine bars in NYC? In 2009, I expect them to start disappearing like Starbucks locations across the street from each other.

Although I agree with Philip, I think that a wine bar, like all retail establishments in NYC, is a real estate play. This means that if you don't get the right spot (good location yet cheap rent) then forget it... you will never break even no matter how much press you get.

The next challenge is to get a liquor license. It has always been difficult and time consuming (it can be up to a year) and is even more of a pain in the ass below 14th st right now. You can cut some corners by buying an existing or defunct establishment (although that brings up the old "market for lemons" problem... why are they selling?). Does your friend have any restaurant/bar experience besides liking wine and frequenting wine bars? It is an enormous amount of work (and long, awkward hours) to set up and run a wine bar. I suggest your friend look for a partner who has done at least some of this before.

As for vendors and suppliers, I have a lot of contacts that will be helpful in making the opening wine list and can share them via e-mail. However, let's not put the cart in front of the horse... the actual selection of wines is the last step!

Reply by MGadson, Jan 7, 2009.

Thanks for the feedback guys. I'm Mark's friend. I actually relocated to Maryland and that's where the Wine Bar/Lounge will be located. Preferably in Bethesda, MD or Upper Marlboro, MD. There are not many wine bars in the locations mention, and some are needed. I have not ran this type of business before and I'm open to partners. So if you know of any angel partners please inform. I'm currently in the beginning stage performing lots of due diligence. So all information will be very helpful.

Reply by MGadson, Jan 7, 2009.

Thanks Mark!

Reply by Adam Levin, Jan 7, 2009.

Running a bar is tough work. Lots of cash transactions and an inventory that is hard to track make for a lot of fuzzy math.

Reply by Philip James, Jan 7, 2009.

Adam - dont you mean "rounding errors" / "creative accounting"?

Reply by gmoore, May 8, 2009.

MGadson, good luck with everything. Wel always need more solid wine bars.

Reply by MReff, May 9, 2009.

is it going to be a 100% wine bar are do you intend on selling other spirits and beer??

Reply by Mitch123, Aug 31, 2010.

@Mark, I'm curious to know how far you got with your wine bar. I'm in the beginning stages of thinking about starting one and would appreciate some feedback... how did your research go and are you still planning/have you opened it?

Reply by hfatworld, Nov 11, 2010.

I live in Bethesda and we do have several really nice wine restaurants which have wine bars.  Grapeseed is my favorite and has an excellent sommelier, Ernie.  Part of their success recently is their happy hour wine tasting, in which Ernie provides an educational program on the different wines, regions, how to taste wine.  The success also comes from the unique pairing of wines in which you wouldn't think the wines would actually pair properly.. ie: Mixing reds with seafood... and of course the food is excellent. Grab a seat next to the kitchen and be delighted to see them in operation.  If Jeff is cooking he will of course offer you some free tasting of food... just because he wants to entertain you and have you experience his talents.

Oakville is also another wine bar, which provides a good selection of wines, however is more out of the downtown Bethesda region. 

Recently there is another restaurant called Food and WineCo. which just opened.  I haven't visited the bar, however the wine selection is excellent in the restaurant and is not overly priced.  We enjoyed 3 bottles of wine in our booth with dinner and afterwards too.

So the competition is keen in Bethesda. You have to be good at promoting the restaurant and have decent prices as well as good wine.

Of course there are other restaurants with good wine and excellent food like Persimmon too, which has specials on certain nights.

Redwood, has a good selection, however is over priced and the food is only decent and not outstanding.  It's more about being seen there and the convenience than anything else.

NestCafe... is a good local hangout, wines are limited, but the atmosphere is chatty.  If I remember properly, the wines were predominantly Chilean and Argentinian.  The quailty was more about inexpensive wines, however they were still marked up too much. Food is okay as well.  Nothing spectacular, however seems to be a good local hangout.

Hope this helps and I'd love to hear about how your plans went.

 I think there's also a wine bar, which serves wine and some appetizers, however I'm not sure the wine is up to par.  It just doesn't seem professional.  I'm not sure it's around anymore.









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