Food

Europe’s Swanky Private Wine Club Opens Its First US Location in DC

WineLair, a members-only club with a bar and wine storage lockers, opens September 8 in West End.

WineLair, a European private wine club, opens its first US location in DC (pictured: the members lounge in Foggy Bottom). Photograph by Jennifer Hughes

If you’ve been wondering where to safely stash your collection of rare Bordeaux and Burgundy—outside your home cave, of course—there’s an even fancier place. Meet WineLair, a private European oenophile’s club that’s about to open its first US location in DC. Part members-only lounge and wine bar, part temperature-controlled storage facility, the chic den abutting the Ritz-Carlton in West End is set to debut on Tuesday, September 8. 

The concept is a spinoff of WineBank, a German company founded in 2008 by Christian Ress, co-owner of Germany’s long-established (think 1870) Balthasar Ress winery. Locations include Basel, Vienna, Frankfurt, and beyond. Unlike the European model, designed to operate 24-7 with self-service, the American version boasts more of an elevated, clubby feel. Servers will pour your Chateau de Pommard Burgundy as you sit on a tufted green leather sofa in front of the fireplace, and there’s a food menu from veteran chef and Ris neighbor Ris Lacoste. Individual memberships start at $300 a month with a $5,000 initiation fee, and escalate to $700 a month for a “corporate black membership” with a $10,000 fee. The latter includes more perks like guest and corporate passes and access to “Black Level-only events”—say, a trip to Champagne, France.

The WineBank storage facility in Frankfurt—a version of which is open to members in DC. Photograph courtesy of WineBank

All memberships include one of 358 personal storage lockers—set at a cool 55 degrees with 60-percent humidity for preserving up to 52 bottles—entry to a bar and lounge stocked with fine spirits and wines (French Burgundy, grower Champagnes), valet parking, and access to the company’s extensive wine selection for purchase. Guest and corporate passes allow members to invite others in to share in their wine collections or the offerings of new and Old World wines in the lounge. Once travel and gathering restrictions are lifted, general manager Stéphane Norbert says he plans to offer winemaker dinners with notable industry names and tasting trips to France. 

WineLair in DC. Photograph by Jennifer Hughes.

Is the middle of a pandemic and an economic crisis the right time to open a pricey, exclusive wine club?

“To be perfectly frank, I feel like a lot of our clientele is fairly insulated from the current situation. I don’t think anything would change in terms of how they’re buying or collecting wine,” says Norbert. And, given the specialty nature of the private club, he’s not anticipating any problems with social distancing. “WineLair allows a private, safe, and discreet space to indulge a bit and connect over something members appreciate and love—wine.”

Tours and membership applications are currently being scheduled.

WineLair. 1120 22nd St., NW

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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.