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Over the course of my long interview with Eli Hengst and Jared Rager in Blue Ridge‘s beer garden, wecovered a lot of topics related to the owners’ new approach to their Glover Park restaurant. One of them was the reason why Washingtonians are ditching wine for beer.
“Part of it is a function of the economy, there’s no question,” says Hengst. “I was talking with some restaurant friends the other day and they said…’We can’t remember that last time we sold a bottle of wine over $80.’ And they have a pretty substantial wine list, and they said, ‘It’s just not selling right now.'”
“People aren’t going out on a Tuesday night and ordering a bottle of wine,” he added.
Wine vs. beer drinking, the guys said, also varies by neighborhood. Hengst and Rager’s properties on Capitol Hill (Sonoma Restaurant & Wine Bar) and in Georgetown (Mendocino Grille & Wine Bar) sell far more vino than Blue Ridge ever did. In fact, the owners said, Blue Ridge always sold more beer than wine, even at the beginning when the restaurant emphasized the grape.
“The level of curiosity [for the beer program at Blue Ridge] is exponentially greater than it ever was for the wine program,” Hengst said. “Listen, we’re still selling a boatload of wine up on the Hill and at Mendocino, but it tends to be a lot by the glass, not the big bottle commitments.”
The beer craze, the owners thought, dovetails with another cultural trend: our desire for informality. Yes, people see more value in beer — $20, for instance, goes much further with craft beer than it does with quality wine — but beer also fits in better with diners’ need for casual quaffing.
“So people are very price conscious right now,” Rager said. “I think it’s also beyond price conscious. It’s just the level of formality. I don’t think it’s any surprise….
“The mood is, ‘I don’t want to spend over $15 on my meal’,” Hengst continued. “Look at the number of burger places, pizza places, salad places that are popping…”
“I think that’s an indication of how people feel,” Rager concluded. “Unless there’s an occasion, I don’t think they really want to deal with [more formal places].”