Eclectic. Industrial. Mysterious, Sexy. Comfortable.
You could use any (or all) of those words to describe the interior of 2A Wine Merchants, the retail wine shop and tasting room which opens its doors today at 577 E. Erie St. in the Historic Third Ward.
But “personal” might be a more apt term for the venue, which represents a “second act” (2A) for industry veterans Rob Levin and Tony Bisciglia, both of whom left roles in the restaurant industry to pursue their passions for wine, which will be served up with a generous side of hospitality.
“The 2A mantra is centered on living the life we want to lead alongside people who feel the same way.” says Levin. “And the creation of this space is an example of that. It’s a reflection of us and the community we are building through the space.”
To bring their vision to life, Levin and Bisciglia looked to the folks from Three-Sixty, a design and build firm that’s built a reputation for creating unique well-crafted spaces for bars and restaurants throughout the city; and RevPop Inc., a creative agency known for unique branding and design.
“This shop is an expression of who we are,” echoes Bisciglia. “As we finalized our plans, we looked at every element and we asked: Is this us? Because our goal was to create a space and an experience that reflected exactly who we are.”
Take a seat at the bar
Levin and Bisciglia approached the design of 2A Wine Merchants much as they would have a restaurant, knitting together a space that’s not only aesthetically pleasing, but both functional and comfortable for guests. Ultimately, that has resulted in a space that’s as varied and beautiful as the wines that occupy the shop’s retail shelves.
“It really was all about the details,” says Levin. “How is that going to feel? Does it match? Before anyone even thinks about buying a bottle of wine, we wanted them to have an experience. We wanted to create a mood.”
Take a seat at the well-appointed wine bar, and you’ll find leather and metal bar stools, chosen not only because they’re aesthetically beautiful, but because they’re comfortable. Those same stools also provide a resting place from which you can explore the other design elements that make the shop as unique as its owners.
“I wanted it to be so that when you sat down and looked around, there were always little details that you notice,” says Levin, as he looks around the room, pointing to a lone lighting fixture above the sink at the end of the wine bar that was chosen expressly to complement the artful tile that stretches across the expanse of the back bar.
Wine barrels grace the upper quadrant of the bar to the East, while eye-catching rusty burgundy wallpaper made from cork is swathed from end to end.
At the bar, guests are welcome to order any number of the shop’s wines to enjoy by the bottle. But, glass pours will also be available from a list of featured wines posted on the back bar. A rotating menu will feature both old and new world wines with four selections from each area (two reds and two whites). Wines are available as 6-ounce pours as well as flights (four 3-ounce pours), allowing the exploration of styles, varietals or regions.
Meanwhile, the cases adjacent to the bar hold a wide variety of beverages, from chilled wines to sparkling water, plus shelves of select local cheeses, charcuterie, crackers, chocolate and accompaniments.
Take a closer look at the bar’s wine case, and you’ll find 2A Wine Merchant brand elements built into a series of drawings (designed by the creative minds at RevPop) depicting skeletons wearing Prada-style boots and engaging in various aspects of the wine-making process, from trimming grapevines to tasting the fruits of their labor.
Be sure to explore the hallway behind the bar, which is strewn with magnificently cheerful (and accessible) artwork drawn by master sommelier Fernando Beteta depicting wine regions, grape varietals and shortcuts for memorizing the Crus Beaujolais.
And yes – because summer is beautiful, but brief here in Milwaukee – you may also want to check out the wine bar's small intimate patio.
From there, it’s time to explore the wine library.
The wine library
Walk past the green curtain hanging in the doorway, and the energy immediately changes. First, a hush of reverence. Then a flutter of excitement at the prospect of perusing the already impressive collection of victuals displayed throughout the space.
Handsome solid wood wine bins and metal shelving display varietals by region with selections ranging from Napa Valley Cabernets and Rhone Valley Syrah to equally spectacular selections from Germany, Greece and Austria at price points that range from $10-15 to $60+.
One could spend a good deal of time leisurely perusing; but for those in need of more immediate recommendations for a special meal, or who might simply like to try something new, Levin says they hope customers will engage in a conversation about what they like and what they’re looking for.
“We want those interactions,” he says. “We want to get to know people and share in great conversations about wine. It’s similar to developing relationships with guests in a restaurant. It all starts with a dialog. We need to feel one another out and build a relationship.”
To further the education of both staff and guests, the library is outfitted with a tasting table which mimics the look and feel of the wine bar. It will function as a seating area for groups, but also a gathering place for wine education, tastings and pairing events.
And it’s no accident that the table is surrounded by shelves of wine and positioned beneath branded artwork that depicts a Madonna-esque corkscrew; after all, it’s an homage to the venerable tool that makes the enjoyment of wine possible.
Pops of color define areas in the shop with purple hues, geometric wallpaper and unique wall fixtures setting off a seating area made cozier by slatted black beams that give the area a more intimate feel, much like an outdoor pergola.
One corner offers a cozy environs with library-like bookshelves strewn with books, records and memorabilia. Artwork offers a nod to the partners’ time working for Levy Restaurants at the Harley Davidson Museum.
Meanwhile, two turntables and an eclectic collection of vinyl hearken back to Bisciglia’s past as a DJ, as well as both partners’ love for music, an element that will also play a role in the feel and mood of the shop.
And while 2A Wine Merchants is a partnership between two long standing friends and colleagues, the shop also reflects the work of a community of creatives and supporters who assisted in making the dream a reality.
“Three-Sixty has been just an immaculate partner,” says Levin. “Their work combined with RevPop’s branding gave us everything we envisioned. In fact, over all, our partnerships have been amazing. Everyone we’ve worked with – from Earth Care Windows to Reaction Graphics, the City, the Third Ward Association, all of our distributors – has made this what it is. I feel so blessed that this is what we chose to do.”
“We’re so grateful to be part of this community,” Bisciglia. “And we’re excited to bring what we’ve been doing at restaurants for years into a retail space.”
Beginning today, hours for 2A Wine Merchants are Tuesday through Friday from noon to 8 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. You can give them a follow on Instagram at @2Awine.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.