A New “Urban Winery” Is Opening in DC—Here’s How It’s Different from the Other Urban Winery

City Winery will open in Ivy City with a concert hall, Mediterranean restaurant, and winemaking facility.
A New “Urban Winery” Is Opening in DC—Here’s How It’s Different from the Other Urban Winery
City Winery is coming to Ivy City (pictured: the New York venue, which will have a similar setup to DC). Photograph courtesy of City Winery

It’s easy to confuse the newly-opened District Winery in Navy Yard and the forthcoming City Winery in Ivy City. They’re both from New York. They’re both pioneering the “urban winery” trend in DC by importing grapes from the West Coast to make their wines. Also, you know, the name thing.

Despite the similarities, DC’s two urban wineries are pretty different. For starters, there’s the size; the team behind District Winery operates one other business (the flagship Brooklyn Winery), whereas City Winery has opened a string of similar locations from Nashville to Boston. Here’s what to expect when they debut their sixth branch early next year.

It’s as much as a wine-fueled concert venue as it is a winery. 

Owner Michael Dorf came to wine from the music world, having founded and operated lower Manhattan’s storied Knitting Factory. Dorf says he could never sell the Factory’s hard rock crowd on wine, so instead he took the reverse approach at City Winery, programming acts like David Crosby and Gregg Allman that could draw a “sophisticated” wine-drinking crowd.The DC venue will have a 320-seat concert hall and plans for around 300 pop, rock, and jazz shows per year—plus the occasional comedy act and private events.

They’ll make wine, but won’t bottle it.

The original City Winery opened in Soho as a different kind of operation—a place where above-average Joes could work with winemakers to produce their own personal barrels. Then Wall Street took a turn, and the first batch of grapes arrived the same week Lehman Brothers crashed. “No one was buying $12,000 barrels and flaunting their money,” says Dorf.

He then decided to launch City Winery as a barrel-to-glass operation, with a focus on entertainment and keg wine service. Like at the other branches, head winemaker David Lecomte works with vineyards in well-known regions of California and Oregon to grow grapes, which he imports to make Napa Valley cabs, pinot noir from Willamette Valley, and more. All City Winery vino is then served on tap.

The wine list spans the globe.

While District Winery exclusively bottles and serves wines from its production facilities in New York and (soon) DC, City Winery stocks a cellar of around 400 bottles from around the world. The wines—as well as beers and cocktails—are served throughout the venue, including the concert hall and 175-seat Mediterranean restaurant.

“We just can’t make a 1989 Petrus from Bordeaux,” says Dorf. “If someone wants to buy that $5,000 bottle, please, its our pleasure.”

The building has a past. 

City Winery takes over the multi-story building formerly occupied by Love Nightclub. Dorf and his team are fully renovating much of the building, including a huge terrace that will eventually be home to a garden and some decorative grape vines. So will anything of the Love days remain? Dorf says no.

“At a minimum I hope there’s a lot of love for the space, and the historic stains that are on the wall give a positive vibe to the juice we’ll be making.”

City Winery. 1350 Okie St., NE.

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Anna Spiegel
Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.