Wine bar trends have gone through many cycles, from fancy and old world to local and natural. Now the team behind LeDroit Park cocktail cafe Royal are trying something different: Lulu’s Wine Garden, a bottle-centric, group-friendly, beer garden-inspired spin on the concept. The lush indoor bar, bookended by two large patios, takes over owner Paul Carlson’s Vinoteca space, which closed in November after 12 years. Lulu’s, named for baby daughter Lucilla, is now open with limited hours (full opening is Friday, February 28).
Carlson partnered with wife and restaurant publicist Brittany Carlson and Royal chef Cable Smith for the new venture. (Full disclosure: the Carlsons are friends.) Like many industry vets, they say their place is modeled after the kind of spot where they want to hang out—with friends, kids, and patio pups in tow.
“Wine bars are often created for the couple, either because the seating isn’t conducive for groups or they can get very pricey,” says Paul Carlson. “With this concept we want to create an option for people who really enjoy wine, but scrap the pretentiousness and have a good time.”
The team transformed Vinoteca’s dining room into a warm-toned, veranda-esque lounge filled with live greenery, dried Guatemalan flowers, and long wooden tables outfitted with built-in ice buckets. Keeping with the group-friendly theme, bottles will play a prominent role on the menu versus the ten-odd wines by the glass. Carlson curated 40-plus bottles from small producers and lesser seen regions like Baja, Mexico. All are priced at $49—moderate by industry markup standards. The collection takes a something-for-everyone approach, spanning Mexican whites, chilled reds, rosés, classic California Cabs, offbeat Pinot Grigios, and true French Champagne.
“We were one of those wine programs, back in the day [at Vinoteca] that would tout we had 60 wines by the glass,” says Carlson. “There’s a great place for that, but there’s a lot of waste associated with it and there’s a lot more value buying by the bottle. We want people to make choices based on [flavor] profile or region versus price.”
In addition to the under-$50 bottles, the bar will have a smaller “minis and mags” list that includes half-bottles, cans, and party-time magnums. Carlson is also working on a splurge-worthy selection of interesting and limited-edition finds. Cocktails from the full bar, zero-proof options, and beers are also available for non-wine drinkers.
Chef Smith, who’s behind Royal’s arepas and all-day fare, is eschewing the typical cheese and charcuterie boards for patio party-inspired eats. Many of the dishes nod to the southern and coastal climes where many of the wines are from, as well as Smith’s New Mexican roots and years spent cooking in Austin. Shareable dishes include white queso with locally made tortillas, crab and charred grapefruit tostadas, crispy chicken sandwiches smothered in chili sauce, avocado Caesars, and smoked pastrami-style pork belly on Texas toast. Brunch dishes will launch on weekend days down the line. Similar to several beer gardens in the area, large groups will be able to reserve space via Resy without fees or minimums of traditional private rooms.
Service is also going the casual route. Customers can order food and drink at the indoor or rear outdoor bar (opening this spring), from roving servers, or using GoTab. The latter allows patrons to order and pay on their phones by scanning a code, no apps required—handy if you’re sitting on the patio and want to summon a bottle of rosé.
Lulu’s Wine Garden. 1940 11th St., NW.