More than a hundred years ago, it housed the horse-drawn carriages of the Stimson family. Until the mid-1970s, it harbored the famous car collection of Seattle businessman Joshua Green. And starting Friday, the historic First Hill Stimson-Green carriage house will be home to the new “BYOB members club” Birch Road Cellar.
Club owners and lifelong friends Sharon Provins and Kim Bosse call it a “new spin on the private members club concept” and “an oasis for friends to spend the night together uninterrupted.”
Members pay $105 or $135 per month for a storage locker for their favorite wines and spirits, which they can drink in a space that’s not exactly home, but not really a bar, either. It’s open until 2 AM, yes, but doesn’t sell any alcohol. And you’ll need to unlock two doors with your fingerprint — or accompany someone who can.
Provins and Bosse opened the first Birch Road in Chicago in 2014 and expanded to a second location in 2017. The Seattle outpost, on the northern edge of First Hill, is the first outside of Chicago.
“We didn’t get into the business thinking we wanted to create this private club,” said Bosse. Instead, they created a third solution to what they call the “host at home or head to a bar dichotomy” problem. As Provins explains it: “A space to enjoy your small-batch bourbon or the wine your neighbor makes in Yakima without having to be alone in your house.” Like their tagline says: “A good drink is meant to be shared” — just not with too many strangers.
Birch Road’s First Hill location puts them in the company of some of the more illustrious Seattle private clubs, such as the Sunset Club or the University Club. The duo says that’s coincidental.
“I had been aggressively looking for Seattle locations for 18 months,” says Provins, who moved to Seattle five years ago. Bosse lives in Chicago. “Ballard, Fremont, Downtown, SODO, Georgetown, Beacon Hill…” she sums up. “A lot of Seattle is new construction. A lot of it just didn’t have the charm we were looking for.” Right when they were ready to give up, they found the Carriage House.
The house was built in 1901, in the same style as the Tudor-style mansion it belongs to. Today, the Stimson-Green mansion is one of Seattle’s most significant residential landmarks, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Seattle landmark is owned by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.
After a three-month renovation of the carriage house space, Birch Road, named after the suburban Chicago street the two founders both lived on as young girls, opens Friday.
A handful of Chicago members who have moved to Seattle since 2014 have already joined the new location. Which means there are approximately 195 more member spots left to fill.
Birch Road accepts approximately as many members as lockers — around 200. The temperature-controlled “cellar,” kept at about 57 degrees, is, like the entrance door, protected with a fingerprint lock. Each member has a key to their lockers, which fit either 10 to 12 or 22 to 24 bottles.
A small locker membership runs $105 a month with a $60 sign-up fee. Big players can get a large locker for $135 a month.
Though you can stack your bottles, Bosse explained, it’s not their intention for them to function as boxes to age wine in. “We’re not really going after collectors, it’s not about who has the best bottle to pour. The bottles in here are meant to be drunk,” Bosse said.
Whoever does will have to pour their own drink. There are no servers at Birch Road. “You’re welcome to play bartender for the night,” Provins said. “It’s interesting to see members when they first join, they feel awkward standing on that side of the bar because they haven’t experienced that before,” Provins said. “But they love it.”
“One of the things we think really makes the space feel like home is the fact that you let yourself in and there’s not somebody right away in your face being like, ‘What can I get you?’ ‘Do you have a reservation?’, ‘Do you need anything?’,” Bosse said. “And [there’s not] the subtle pressures that you feel in other places to always be buying something to be there. You don’t feel that here because you can’t buy anything.”
At the same time, they argue, staying at home (think: roommates, kids, dogs, home offices) is not always that great either.
“It’s also a nice way to meet people in a safe space,” Bosse added. “You can go out and meet people, but you’re still keeping a certain distance.” At Birch Road, at least if you don’t know someone, you know they’re a member, she continued.
Did they mean it’s a “safe space” because people are pre-triaged or -screened, so to speak? “No. We consider it self-selection,” Provins said. “The type of people who are interested in Birch Road Cellar are the kind of people who “appreciate what they eat and drink,” Provins said. Not the kind of person who will ask for a house wine, she explained.
To join, you don’t have to be much more than the drink version of a foodie, except 21 or over. You don’t need a referral or resume, though you do have to come in for a “face to face conversation.”
“And if it seems like you’re interested, it’s a good fit.”
“That’s the self-selection,” Provins explained. “Some people come in and are like: ‘Why would I come here, I’d rather drink at home, or bars’, or ‘I don’t care about what I drink.’ And then there are other people who are like: ‘Oh my gosh, I have two cases of my favorite wine from South Africa sitting in my basement, and I want to drink it with people and don’t want to invite people to my house.’ People either get it or they don’t.”
Birch Road Cellar Seattle is located at 1212 Minor Ave. You can learn more at birchroadcellar.com
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