Shhh, Austin’s newest wine bar, The Red Room Lounge, quietly opens downtown

“No, no, no! Do not write about this place! We don’t want people to know about it. This is the place where you bring a date and really impress her because you are ‘in the know.’ Don’t tell anyone about this f@%&ing place!” Customer, Zack Fuentes emphatically discouraged me from spreading the word about the newly opened The Red Room Lounge. He wants it to stay unknown and exclusive.

He’s right that the wine lounge is so far only frequented by wine aficionados who are in the know. There’s no sign out front, there was no media blitz or even a press release announcing its opening and it isn’t even listed on Citysearch yet.

Here’s your insider tip: the Red Room Lounge is located at 306 E 3rd St. in downtown, Austin, just down the street from the Convention Center and two doors east of the Vince Young Steakhouse.  You don’t have to have a password to get in. Yet.

One reason the wine crowd is drawn to The Red Room Lounge is because its owner, Alex Andrawes, has created a chill, speakeasy-like atmosphere for people to enjoy a few glasses of great wine. The red velvet draped entrance gives it an elegant, hushed feel. There are nicely arranged conversation areas and dark nooks for lovers to steal a kiss or two. Another reason is this is a place where both wine experts and novices can learn something new. Not only is Andrawes  a wine expert, but he hired Texas’ Best Sommelier 2011, Bill Elsey, who brings incredible wine knowledge and a deft touch for sharing that insight without making people feel stupid.

The lounge grew out of Andrawes’ other wine businesses, Personal Wine, started in 2000, and Wines.com, started in 2008. He explained the origins of the lounge, “I was tasting wine with Bill Elsey and a group of sommeliers and wine drinkers in the lounge. Everyone thought it was a great space and suggested we should open it up to provide by-the-bottle or glass service. It’s cozy, a great place to be private and feel special. It’s almost like your personal cellar away from home… That’s why we call it a lounge rather than a bar. Our focus is wine, great conversation and great company.”

Judging by the feedback from guests, they hit the mark. Amelia Castilla said, “It’s secretive. It’s private. It’s like you have to have a secret handshake to get in.” Baubak Askari likes the individual attention saying, “The service is very personal. It’s so cozy it feels like I’m drinking wine at home, but I’m out.”

The Red Room Lounge stocks a wide selection of wines by the bottle including some private label and boutique wines that Andrawes sourced on trips to the wine country. Guests can choose to buy a bottle with a selection of more than 500 labels and more than 3,000 bottles, and take home anything they don’t drink in the lounge. They also offer eight to 10 wines by the glass with a menu that changes regularly. Currently they have interesting pours like Spätburgunder, Oxidized Rioja Blanc, and 1989 Chateau Lynch-Bages.

There are a bucket of wine bars downtown to choose from, so it’s damn important to have an interesting selection of wines that appeal to a broad audience.Andrawes said, “That’s the greatest thing about getting Texas’ Best Sommelier Bill Elsey in as the leader of the pack. I let Bill manage the wine selection in the front room. I’m responsible for maintaining the vintage cellar so I select rarities with wines we believe in. Wines must deliver quality first, price second.”

Elsey described his approach to wine buying, “I taste often and make it a priority to build relationships with the wine rep’s who work with me. I take tasting with my distributors very seriously. Those whom I buy the most wine from understand my palate and what I am looking for, which are wines that over-deliver for their price point and taste of the place they are from. In the Lounge, if you are spending $90 on a Châteauneuf-du-Pape you know it is an awesome bottle for what you paid. The same can be said for the $29 bottle of dry Riesling. I also like to have a diverse selection of wines from traditional, as well as esoteric grapes and regions.”

They have some pretty amazing wine in the cellar. Andrawes gave me a tour and pulled out bottle after bottle of rare and collectable wine like Screaming Eagle, 1982 Chateau Haut Brion, 1955 Taylor’s Vintage Port and the mack-daddy 1989 magnum of Petrus. He grabbed a bottle of 2005 Gargiulo Vineyards Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon for me to try. I needed a moment.

While the wine selection is large, that’s all you can expect. They do not serve beer, cocktails or anything else. They don’t prepare food on premise, but have service agreements with restaurants within a two block radius that will bring you cheese plates, hors d’oeuvres and light eats. The Red Room will host private parties and arrange for catering.

The lounge was starting to fill up with guests by the time we came out of the cellar. Elsey poured a selection of wines by the glass at the bar unobtrusively tucked in a back corner, while Andrawes circulated around the lounge tempting guests with prime selections from the cellar. Edward Morgan liked that touch saying, “They have a great portfolio of wine. Things you won’t get anywhere else.”

Nash Garrison was visiting for the first time and was happy to discover a new place near his home. “I love it. Being in the neighborhood, I want to go somewhere to chill out and have a drink. Going to a lounge underground is cool.” It is literally cool in there — around 65 degrees — which will be especially nice when its 100 degrees outside.

Return visitor Adi Pavlovic likes the unhurried pace. “The last time we were here we bought two bottles, sat on the couch and didn’t get up for hours. You can’t do that any other place in town.”

I got caught up in the easy pace too. It was one of those nights where I knew I was tempting a hangover to carve a jagged gash in my morning skull, but I didn’t care and ordered one more glass of Champagne. The crowd was relaxed, conversations were flowing as easily as the wine and the couch sucked me in.

Nagging thoughts about an early morning at work eventually pulled me off the couch. As I was finally leaving Elsey got a call from a group planning to drop in and kick off their late night revelry at the Red Room.  He had a gleam in his eye anticipating a flock of wine aficionados encamping in his den until the wee hours. There is nothing better than long conversations with friends over wine. What a dream job.

Visiting The Red Room Lounge

  • Website
  • Hours: Tuesday-Friday 2PM to 12AM and Saturday 3PM to 1AM
  • Prices: Wines by the glass range from $6 to $25
  • Payment options: Cash, American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

A version of this story first ran on The Digital Texan.

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Wine Down at SXSW

Alex Andrawes chats up the crowd at Wines.com Red Room

Alex Andrawes, owner of local wine bar and retail shop Wines.com, hosted a series of “wine downs” in Austin during SXSW to relax between events. The events were co-hosted by wine social media guru, Rick Bakas, who is the founder and principal at Bakas Media. Bakas and Andrawes charmed the crowd of wine aficionados, writers and bloggers, while sommelier extraordinaire, Bill Elsey, poured wine.

Tasting great wine is one thing, but the wine downs also offered a chance at personalized bottles with your own label. You can get your personalized bottle by tweeting a photo with the hash tag #personalwine and have their photo immediately printed on the bottle label. Its a pretty cool way to commemorate SXSW.

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