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Freedom! Capitol Hill is getting a ‘self pour’ wine and beer bar

Wine entrepreneur David Clawson is back in the States and ready to lead a revolution of freedom in the wine and beer biz while putting an important Capitol Hill cafe space back into motion. He may have been “Brexited,” as he puts it, but his new battle in Seattle on the north end of Broadway will be about “self pour” and the freedom to explore beyond the class system of fine wine.

“We are flipping all that on its head,” Clawson tells CHS. “Why not let the customers try an amazing range of variety and wines.”

In coming days, construction will begin to overhaul the former Starbucks indie-flavored Roy Street Coffee into a new cafe by day, wine and beer bar by night venture.

Clawson is still working on a name for the project but he knows what will be at the center of it — self pour.

It will be an experiment — the cafe will be the first in the region to venture into what Clawson said is a popular and successful UK and European trend — in wine and beer democracy.

“You’ll go in, get a card, and use the machines — like a credit card — select, dispense different pour sizes. Hit the button, off you go,” Clawson explains.

“It’s giving them freedom to try a huge range — likely more than 100 wines and beers by the glass, more heavy on the wine. And letting people do what they want.”

This being the United States and Seattle, Clawson has ready answers for any cluck clucking. Recent changes in state laws make the whole thing even more clearly legal and in line with regulations — though Clawson says much of it could have probably been done under previous rules. Still, it’s a new approach that authorities will be dealing with for the first time. And it has a rebel spirit — it would be illegal in Oregon, Clawson points out.

As for the other obvious question, there is also an answer for preventing “over service” and over indulgence. The credit system on the cafe’s cards ensure that the law is followed. After 10 ounces of wine or 24 ounces of beer, the card must be reactivated so staff will be able to assess whether a customer is in proper shape for another round. Poor pours and worse choices? Those are up to the customer. We do not recommend you try the 7-11 “suicide” approach when playing with the spigots.

The North Broadway project is part of a recent tradition of business innovation rippling through Capitol Hill bars and breweries. Optimism Brewing famously opened in 2015 as a no cash venue. We have a “wine on tap” wine bar — Footprint on E Madison. And the natural wine trend will be represented soon on E Pike at La Dive.

Meanwhile, if the coming beer taps and islands of wine dispensers sounds a little Amazon Go, CHS has led you astray. Clawson is planning a fully-staffed cafe and bar with baristas pulling shots and a menu of daytime breakfasts and lunches, and nighttime bites to accompany the booze.

The new cafe and bar will replace the Starbucks-backed Roy Street as the project shuttered in April after a decade on Broadway. Roy Street debuted in 2009 as part of a pair of new Capitol Hill cafes that looked, felt, and in some ways operated like the independent cafes the new joints were designed to mimic. “As part of Starbucks standard course of business, we continually evaluate our business to ensure a healthy store portfolio,” the company told CHS earlier this year. “After careful consideration, we’ve made the difficult decision to close the store on Roy Street.”

Clawson said he wants to keep Roy Street’s place as a community gathering spot intact with room for meetings and gatherings by day and events at night.

Self pour, for him, is clearly about an entrepreneurial opportunity and a passion for craft beer and, especially, wine. If you’re looking for a model, Clawson tells us about the 15 years he spent in London where he helped to create The Remedy Wine Bar & Kitchen, “a relaxed, intimate, and friendly slightly geeky wine bar.” His return to his hometown of Seattle included a search for a new project and a new place to do business. He looked across the city including across Capitol Hill. Pike/Pine didn’t feel right, he said. North Broadway with a collection of unique restaurants, a quieter bar scene, and, probably most importantly, an amazingly large and amazingly available cafe space fit the bill.

While he is still working on the name, Strata Architects is setting about a redesign of Roy Street that will continue the space’s more intimate warrens and separation while creating a “lightened up,” more modern approach. Work will probably stretch into spring with a planned opening, perhaps, by March or April.

As he learned in densely packed London, the best customers will live nearby. Clawson says his focus for the new cafe and bar will be to  create a “local community feel, a local destination.”

“It’s the local populace we care about,” Clawson said.


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3 thoughts on “Freedom! Capitol Hill is getting a ‘self pour’ wine and beer bar

  1. As long as there’s there’s food to eat + work space late, I’ll almost certainly pay that spot a visit.

    After Cafe Solstice and Roy Street Cafe have closed, Cafe Vivace is the only place that’s open past 6. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have its own kitchen, so finding a spot to get a quick bite then get to work (without being holed in my apartment the whole time) means going a lot farther.

  2. Joe Bar is a scones throw from the old Roy St space and has been there for 22 years. It has coffee, food, beer, wine, and is open until 8pm. It’s also maybe 2 blocks from Vivace, which I guess could mean a lot farther?

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