Grafton’s Glass Palette makes a toast to the social side of going out
Owners Bill and Kris Barger shy away from labels, but it would be fair to characterize Grafton’s Glass Palette as the antithesis of a sports bar.
“We don’t have any TVs and there are no beer signs in our windows. We want people to be able to come here and just talk,” Bill Barger noted.
What the wine and spirits bar does have is plenty of ambiance and a cozy setting that is designed to encourage casual, social gatherings.
“When we were first talking about starting the business, the thought was to call it a wine social — kind of a coffee shop atmosphere with a choice selection of wines and spirits you won’t find anywhere else,” Barger said.
The wine bar is located on the north end of the 150-year-old Grafton Arts Mill, 1300 14th Ave., just south of the refurbished dam.
Counting the patio which overlooks the Milwaukee River, there is seating for about 60 people.
The bar is a collaboration between the Bargers and their friends, Chris and Bobbi Soyke.
During the work week, Barger manages a Dallas-based customer call center from his home in Bayside. His wife works at the Grafton branch of First Bank Financial.
“I had the idea of starting the wine bar, not so much as a hobby but as a weekend business, and it wasn’t really going anywhere. Then we contacted Chris and Bobbi, and they said they thought it was a great idea and helped
get it going,” he said.
For now, the bar is only open on Friday and Saturday evenings, generally from 5 to 11 p.m.
“The nice thing about being the boss, if there is nobody here at 11 o’clock I can decide to close, but we have had times where were open until 1:30 a.m.,” Barger said.
Wine is sold by the bottle and the glass, with prices ranging from $5 to $10 for five ounce pours. Bottle prices range from $24 to $48.
“We carry 32 different wines and work with five or six distributors, so it is kind of a juggling act to decide what we will offer on any given day,” Barger said.
The wine list is evenly divided between reds and whites, with some sparkling wines and after-dinner dessert wines.
He said the drinks of choice seem to vary with the season, with reds more popular in the winter and white preferred in the warmer months.
“I really don’t like the term ‘wine snob,’ but our goal is to expose people to different wines they may have never tasted. The only measure of what the ‘best’ wine is would be the one you like,” Barger said.
“If you know what you have liked in the past, we can help you try something new but similar or something completely different.”
Wine flights offer three two-ounce samples for $10.
Topping the current selections are a 2010 Canoe Ridge Reserve Cabernet and a Cutrer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.
Barger said he has developed a fondness for the Highflyer Centerline Blend, a California red which melds the flavors of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Grenache.
“Then we realized not everyone likes wine, so we decided to offer beer and spirits as well,” Barger said.
The beer list features only Wisconsin brewers, but the selection of whiskey, Scotch, bourbon, vodka and gin is far more eclectic.
The top-end pours are Ferrand Ambre cognac, Chieftains 1997 Glen Grant single-malt Scotch and Bookers bourbon.
Custom flights of one-ounce samples are available for $15.
Barger said patrons are encouraged to bring in their own food, or have carry-out meals delivered to the bar.
“We have hosted catered wedding showers and there’s been a lot of pizzas delivered,” he said.
During the week, the space is made available to groups looking for a casual setting. Book clubs have gathered there, as have corporate meetings.
Barger said the wine bar is quickly becoming a community fixture.
“We want people to feel like this is their place and it seems to be working. We have been open since December, and I would say on any given night about 50% of our customers are regulars and 50% are new,” Barger said.
“I don’t see the business growing so much that it will be our only source of income, but it has been a great way for us to spend our weekends.”
Barger spends most of the nights behind the bar.
“I think tending bar has been pretty much what I expected, but the rest of the work involved in running the business has been a lot more than I expected.”
He said business will certainly pick up when beverage service is requested in the third-floor reception room at the mill.
Image information: CO-OWNERS KRIS AND BILL BARGER shared a toast at The Glass Palette, a gathering spot which introduces patrons to new wines and spirits. The wine bar is only open on Friday and Saturday nights, in the 150-year-old Grafton Arts Mill. Photo by Mark Jaeger