by Nancy Stiles
The Dark Room (615 North Grand Boulevard; 314-531-3416), a wine bar cum gallery, opened at Grand Center on March 14 of last year in collaboration with the Kranzberg Arts Center and the International Hall of Fame. Now, after almost a year, managing partner Chris Hansen has been able to add a full-time certified sommelier behind the bar.
I like that quality over quantity aspect -- the ability to sit and discuss the wine with people," says wine specialist and educator Denise Mueller, who joined December 30. "I like that it's a culture-driven market, and that they might be coming there for the art and the wine, hand in hand."
Hansen says the Dark Room began by hiring an equal amount of artists and industry professionals, with exhibitions curated in conjunction with the International Photography Hall of Fame and a wine list by Pinnacle's Bill Kniep. After developing the program a bit more, Hansen felt they could bring someone like Mueller in to elevate the experience.
"What you're going to see is a different tableside mannersim. There's going to be a lot more conversation about the wine and why the wine works at this time of year," Hansen says. "[There will also be] an expanded menu and more programming on a weekly basis around wine and wine events, so she's gonna not only bring the education side, but bring an audience that wants to take advantage of our jobs program and our photography exhibits."
The events and the new menu will roll out the week of January 9. Curator Kniep says Mueller is an advantage to the Dark Room because despite his knowledge of the wines, there's only so much he can write on the menu. He also says the wine list will change a little bit with Mueller's input.
"Having Denise in house to be able to communicate and expand upon the two sentences that I'm able to put down on paper is a real game changer for us," Kniep says. "These are not industrial wines -- these are really remarkable, handcrafted, artisanal things, and I can be as verbal on the menu as I want to be but a lot of people don't necessarily want to read that. Having an engaging personality in place who has the know to educate and expand people's horizons is going to be a lot of fun."
The Dark Room will also be expanding its selections of champagnes, specifically grower champagnes. Many brands buy the champagne grapes and put their own label on the bottle, but grower champagnes grow the grapes themselves and produce the sparkling wines. As for Mueller, she's excited to cultivate palates as she gets to know customers.
"I've seen people over four years become completely different diners and drinkers based on them trusting you once and coming back to hear your words and try your wines again," she says. "What I'm most excited about is this ever-evolving menu, whether it's every other month, quarterly or features, it's a reason to come back over and over."
The Dark Room has new hours this year: it will be open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to midnight or later. Sundays are seasonal only and hours vary.
Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. E-mail the author at Nancy.Stiles@RiverfrontTimes.com.
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