Chez Billy Sud fans will gain a more adequate spot to wait for a table when Bar à Vin opens on Feb. 29. The next-door bar offers mostly French wines to pass the time in a dark and brooding space that’s furnished with more antiques than an estate sale plus a working fireplace.
“We’re packed on a nightly basis in Chez Billy Sud—tables are pretty much full and there’s nowhere to wait,” says Ian Hilton, who co-owns both properties with his brother Eric Hilton. “We’d rather people get an experience we’re creating for them while they wait rather than somewhere down the street.”
Beverage Director Andrew Wooldridge’s wine list is about 150 lines deep. “Terroir is one of the driving themes of our wine list,” Wooldridge says. “It’s expressing a single place, in a single season, in a single glass of wine.” That's why you’ll find categories like Alpine whites and Mediterranean whites. That’s not to say the bar won’t play regional favorites—expect to see generous love for Burgundy and Champagne. Glasses are priced from $9 to $20 and bottles start in the $30 range.
“There are a lot of super high-end Burgundy wines out there that sell for four figures, but Burgundy is such an intimate, complex region that there are smaller, obscure regions that people don’t know about that are producing beautiful wines,” Wooldridge explains. “Producers in those super high-end vineyards also have plots of land scattered all over the countryside—all these cool little random vineyards, we’re looking for those.” This strategy aims to keep costs down. The same goes for Champagne. “We want to bring Champagne to the people,” he says.
One example is 2014 Domaine J.M. Boillot Montagny 1er Cru White Burgundy. Boillot is a highly regarded producer based in the village of Pommard where they make wines from well-known appellations like Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet that Wooldridge says would run $300 or $400 on his list. But, because Montagny is off-the-beaten-path, he can sell wine from Boillot for $70. “You get to taste the hand of the master at work in a much smaller vineyard site,” he says.
The wine list also includes selections from elsewhere in Europe, plus the United States. And like any good sibling, Bar à Vin shares. Anything you try by the glass can be enjoyed by the bottle at Chez Billy Sud. Cocktails and a handful of draft beers will also be available at Bar à Vin.
Chef Brendan L’Etoile, who runs the kitchen at Chez Billy Sud, will work what magic he can with a small preparation area next door. “You’re going to be eating dinner at Chez Billy Sud,” Ian Hilton says. “But you’ll have enough to keep you from expiring from consumption.” For example, L’Etoile is making a smoked sausage from the Franche-Comté region of France and a goat cheese dip from Provence with lavender honey.
The main room features a copper-top bar with 15 seats, high-top tables, and a communal table for eight, while a smaller room with the fireplace holds additional high-top tables. The Hiltons snatched up the property that had been vacant for 15 years. “The building had been leased to somebody that does boutique inns but as they started to build out the inn, the owner passed away and the property owner took the building back.” Your call if it’s haunted.
Bar à Vin is located at 1035 31st Street NW and will be open daily from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Photo by Laura Hayes