BRUT, 118 S. Royal St.
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday; 3 p.m.-midnight Saturday; 1-6 p.m. Sunday.
Step into the new champagne and wine bar along the first block of South Royal Street and you’re liable to feel a sense of déjà vu. The location feels so familiar, but the name – BRUT – is new and ambiance has changed.
It’s a common occurrence, says owner Dustin Lara. After becoming a partner with Grape + Bean owners David Gwathmey and Sheera Rosenfeld, Lara changed the focus and vibe of the erstwhile Grape + Bean outpost, pivoting to a champagne bar with wine and small plates. In a move that is close enough to the original concept while striking out in a different direction, Lara says visitors often come in, look about, and feel they’ve been here before. That’s because they have, albeit under a different name and a different menu.
After working with Gwathmey and Rosenfeld for a decade – “since Day One,” Lara says – the team decided to make a move.
“We thought 10 years was a good time to talk about partnership,” he said. “I was really grateful, and David and Sheera have just been fantastic.”
BRUT has continued its predecessor’s tradition of being a neighborhood hangout; the vast majority of the bar’s customer base is local. Lara prides himself on continuing to be a go-to spot for food, drink and conversation — even when snow closes the government.
“We’re in a federal city … I have OPM (alerts) on my phone. When the fed’s closed, I know we’re going to be open,” he said.
Longtime Grape + Bean customers will notice a change, but nothing earth-shattering.
“They will experience a shift in our wine into champagne,” Lara said. “I wasn’t hesitant at all to think that it would go really well — it’s going very well, actually.”
Gone is the coffee bar; in its place, dozens of sparkling wine and champagne bottles have entered the scene (Lara aims to reach 100 different sparkling and champagne bottles in short order). And a renewed food menu rounds out the offerings.
One of the stars of the show: Raclette. Lara was introduced to the grilled-cheese delicacy while touring London and has brought the dish home to BRUT. He’s sourced his cheese from Spring Brook Farm in Reading, Pa., and is more than satisfied with the result.
“It just melts perfectly, it cuts perfectly, it scrapes perfectly,” he said.
Choose a meatless version with roasted potatoes, arugula and cornichons, or go all-in with salame, cappicollo and more.
And vegans won’t be left out, either: Cheesy raclette isn’t the only game in town. Lara aims to keep several menu items dairy-free at all times, including all of the soups. From butternut squash over the cooler months to white gazpacho for summertime, vegans will certainly have more than a head of lettuce to keep them occupied.
Up next: Some champagne and wine tastings as well as some wine classes, Lara says. And don’t expect much pretense with any of it.
“We love wine and we love champagne, and we don’t like the attitude that some people have with it. We enjoy it. And we don’t use that skill to make ourselves better than anyone else,” he said.
Hope Nelson owns and operates the Kitchen Recessionista blog, located at www.kitchenrecessionista.com. Email her any time at email@example.com.