GRETNA, La. (AP) — The wine selection is completely in your hands at Stained Glass Wine House, where a bank of self-serve wine dispensers forms the heart of the operation. You might skip from an Austrian riesling to a Portuguese rosé to a California cabernet.
However, it feels like no aspect of this new wine bar has been left to chance. That starts with its location.
Stained Glass Wine House is stylish, contemporary and found in downtown Gretna. That’s because its founders have West Bank roots, and they set out to create a social draw in their part of the community.
Much of the tight synchronicity of the place can be chalked up to military can-do.
The new business was created by Rick Davis, his wife, Tasha Davis, and their friends, Kyle Gregore and Gary Lipkos. All are master sergeants in the Louisiana Air National Guard, and their day jobs are working in military engineering squadrons.
They built their plan for the wine bar around identifying a need and devising ways to meet it with consistency and sustainability.
That blueprint might sound as dry as a Chianti. But in practice what they’ve created is a buzzy, fun, easygoing space to sample many different wines and kick back in a unique setting.
“We’re all enlisted — we’re the working class of the military,” Gregore said of his partner group. “We wanted to build a place where everyone feels welcome. Our goal here is upscale but not pretentious.”
A high level of nuanced detail is worked throughout the operation. But one striking element is on display all across the space — a collection of art by Josh Wingerter, who became a street art hero for his work in the first lockdowns of the pandemic.
Wingerter developed his gallery upriver a bit in Westwego, and having the West Bank connection through the art was key to the Stained Glass partners.
“Growing up on the West Bank, you always heard people putting it down. We want to change that to people saying ‘Have you seen what’s on the West Bank now?’” said Gregore.
Self-serve systems have been in use for years at some local spots, including the downtown wine bar W.I.N.O. and the tabletop beer taps at Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux locations.
To begin a visit at Stained Glass, you essentially open a tab at the counter and are given a card that tracks your purchases. It also tracks the amount you’ve consumed and cuts off after a certain number of ounces, which varies depending on the type of alcohol. This builds in a safety measure for responsible serving. If you hit the limit and want more, staff can assess and make the call, just like a bartender would.
The dispensers are lined with 24 different bottles of wine, and screens display information about the wine, the grape or the blend. Insert your card and pick your wine, ordering up a one-ounce, half-glass or full-glass pour.
“You can get this breadth of knowledge sampling around the range, without committing to a whole bottle or even a whole glass,” Tasha Davis said.
There is also more than wine. Across the room, there’s a bank of taps for beer, hard seltzer and a batched cocktail made with local Happy Raptor rum. Another dispenser pours four different high-end spirits. All are coordinated through the same card system.
On a recent Wednesday, people started filing in soon after the doors opened for the afternoon, arriving as couples and small groups of friends, including a young mom and dad who parked their baby in his stroller at an outside table as they took turns fetching more wine.
Without a central bar, the tables and sofas around the room become little hubs of activity. At the wine dispensers, people share tips from their past pours.
The partners are learning more about wine as they go too. But they knew they wanted distinctive wines from small producers, so they partnered with local distributor Bizou Wines for their selection.
This changing array runs from crisp Basque country txakolina to velvety Oregon pinot noir to bubbly Alsatian crémant (which, like all the other sparkling wines here, is served by the bottle rather than from the dispensers).
For snacks, there are premade charcuterie boards from local purveyor Tusks and dessert boxes from the bakery Magic Oven.
Davis jokes that these are their “Lunchables for grown-ups.”
There’s no kitchen, and anyway, the point is not to be a restaurant but to augment the neighborhood’s restaurant scene. It’s a place to come before or after dinner, or maybe for a football game.
Gregore points out that a divider wall for the non-wine taps was built low so that you can still keep an eye on the game when you get up to pour yourself another beer.
“There’s just something satisfying about pouring your own beer,” he said, while graciously showing how it’s done.