Thousands of people walk down the 200 block of Central Avenue every day. Passing by Caddy’s and Mandarin Hide, then by The Oyster Bar and Central Cigars. Yet I’m willing to bet that most of you have never ventured down the dimly lit corridor and up a set of stairs nestled between Five Bucks Drinkery and Del Mar Gastro Lounge. Maybe you’ve walked by it hundreds of times without even noticing it was there.
Currently the narrow passage leads to the St. Pete Tattoo Company and a recently shuttered wine bar. However, in a few months, you’ll have a reason to never pass that little alley ever again.
Chris Ciarcia, the former manager of Annata on Beach Drive, will debut Sauvignon: Wine Locker and American Trattoria, an all-new concept he has developed just for Downtown St. Pete, in a spot previously occupied by A Taste For Wine at 241 Central Avenue.
The restaurant and wine bar is on the second floor of the Jannus Block (or First Block) and includes a beautiful New Orleans-style balcony that’ll be great for people watching, especially during First Friday, the city’s free monthly block party that draws thousands from all over the Bay area.
“I didn’t even notice this place existed until I was sitting downstairs at Del Mar Gastro Lounge one night with Brandy Stube and Chris Stockwell,” says Ciarcia. “They told me the wine bar upstairs was for sale and as soon as I saw the place I fell in love with it. I wasn’t even planning on opening a restaurant until I saw it.”
Sauvignon will be equal parts restaurant and wine bar where everyone can enjoy a glass of wine, a pint of beer, really great desserts, and contemporary American food with an Italian twist that’s not going to break the bank.
Having grown up in Connecticut and coming from a large Italian family, Ciarcia’s vision for the interior of Sauvignon has been heavily influenced by Italy. “It’ll look like an Italian villa,” he says. “We’ll have pictures on the wall of different wineries and castles out of Italy.” The restaurant will accommodate 65 diners, in addition to a private dining room that will seat 12-14 people.
The space is getting a major facelift as well. Sauvignon will have a new and extended butcher block bar top, a lot more coolers, and many additions to the kitchen, including a hood system, stoves, gas grills, and ovens.
Ciarcia has landed a big fish for his Executive Chef — Chris Stockwell. Most recently, Stockwell was Sous Chef at Locale Market. He’s also spent time at Parkshore Grill on Beach Drive and Mise en Place in Tampa.
“I’m giving him complete control of the food menu,” says Ciarcia. “Actually, I did ask for a mac and cheese. That is one of my musts. But other than that, I’m giving the chef free rein,” laughs Ciarcia.
Sauvignon’s food menu will feature homemade pastas, steaks, salads, cheese, charcuterie, and homemade desserts. The menu will have a few staples, however Ciarcia also wants to rotate menu items based on what’s available from local producers.
“For example, we will have a fresh salad locally sourced from the growers in the area,” says Ciarcia. “I told our chef to just get high-quality fresh ingredients, and let the ingredients speak for themselves.”
And although Sauvignon will have a fine dining style, the eatery won’t charge Beach Drive prices. “I don’t think you should ever have to pay $20 for a dish of pasta,” says Ciarcia. “If people want to just come upstairs for a little snack, I want them to be able to do that.”
The same goes for the wine. Glasses of wine will start at $7, not to mention a happy hour where prices drop to $5 a glass. That being said, “You should always have a balanced menu,” says Ciarcia, who is a Level 2 Certified Sommelier. “I’ve noticed a lot of people in Downtown St. Pete really like high-end wine, so if somebody wants a vintage Bordeaux, we will have that too.”
Ciarcia has worked hard to develop a wine menu that’ll appeal to both the first-timer and the experienced wino. And a special emphasis has been placed on organic and dessert wines, which will each have their own sections on Sauvignon’s menu. A temperature-controlled wine cellar will store over 50 different wines and a handful of champagne to be served by the glass.
However, Sauvignon will be much more than a restaurant and wine bar. Ciarcia wants to establish a community of wine connoisseurs through two programs at Sauvignon — a wine club and wine lockers.
Sauvignon’s wine club includes a variety of perks, including a 10% discount on wine (retail or on-site consumption). Members will also be invited to exclusive quarterly events, such as bottle shares, where members each bring a different wine to share with the group. Ciarcia is also planning to bring in different distributors to host free members tasting events and sell wines at very competitive prices. Admission to the wine club is $150 per year.
The locker room at Sauvignon will hold at least 50 climate-controlled wine lockers that each hold 12 bottles of wine. Locker members can store bottles from home or wine they’ve bought through Sauvignon. Those who rent a locker will also get invited to the same events as wine club members, in addition to getting a bigger discount on their total bill — 15% off wine and food. Lockers cost $500 per year and are already going fast. Around 20 lockers have been reserved to date.
Sauvignon: Wine Locker and American Trattoria is currently in the buildout phase with plans to open in January 2020. Be on the lookout for the launch of Sauvignon’s website, where you can reserve your wine locker or join the wine club. In the meantime, give them a follow on Instagram to get the latest updates.
“I really hope the community enjoys the concept,” says Ciarcia. “One of my favorite things is introducing somebody to a wine that they’ve never had before, but I know they’ll like based on the wines I’ve seen them enjoy in the past.”