From outside, there is nothing notable about the industrial looking building at 306 E. 3rd Street. A sign announces the home for Thomas Reprographics, and there is a black awning with the words “Personal Wine” above a small steel door marked “306-A." If it is after noon, the door will be unlocked, so walk on in. And as you do, the unremarkable will end.
A short staircase leads to a dimly lit brick wall basement decorated with red velvet curtains and antique chandeliers. A large communal table anchors the room. Living room furniture reminiscent of the 1980s is arranged throughout, and there are signed electric guitars hung on the wall above a large leather couch.
“We want people to get excited about trying new things,” says Elsey. “It makes it fun, because the wines change often so you never know what you’ll get.”
Bottles of fine wine of various sizes line almost every shelf and surface. If it wasn’t for the wine, you’d think that you’d walked into the set of Wayne’s World. Welcome to the Red Room Lounge, established May 2012.
Indeed, the laid back vibe and fun-loving personalities of owner Alex Andrawes and sommelier Bill Elsey fit the analogy just fine. After moving operations for his businesses, Personal Wine and Wines.com, from an industrial park in East Austin to this current downtown location a year ago, Andrawes wanted to incorporate an element of interaction — and find a way to share his passion for wine — with the public.
After all, drinking wine from his vast and ever-growing collection is his favorite pastime, so why not incorporate it into his already successful business?
Last fall, he hired Elsey, who had just been named Best Sommelier in Texas at the TexSom competition, to design a by-the-glass list and adapt the front of the basement as a relaxed wine lounge. The general Red Room experience is like having a glass of wine with a friend in his living room, if said friend was a real wine connoisseur.
While the list is small, its ever-changing nature showcases Elsey’s “out-of-the-box” taste, with expertly chosen selections rarely found in other area restaurants. From an exquisite '07 vintage Gran Reserva cava by Canals & Munné ($9) to the refreshing Cantine Barbera La Bambina rosé from Sicily ($8), or an intriguing German pinot noir by Knipser ($15), there is something for everyone if you’re willing to learn.
“We want people to get excited about trying new things,” says Elsey. “It makes it fun, because the wines change often so you never know what you’ll get.” I was especially pleased to see the Vermentino from Duchman Family Winery in Driftwood, TX available for $8 a glass. Elsey was working for Duchman at the time of his TexSom win.
The Red Room is also a retail outlet for rare bottles from Andrawes' collection that are not, or very seldomly, available elsewhere in Austin. “We are not guys to shy away from the strange,” says Andrawes. “But wine doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. We just like having these unique wines that are not accessible to everyone, and offer them at the best price possible.”
Among their favorite rare bottles are a Monmessin Clos de Tart 2007, a Ulises Valdez Rockpile Zinfandel, a Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1986 and a Quinta de Noval Nacional vintage Port 1963. All wines have a retail price, and a slightly higher on-premise price.
The space is also available to rent for special occasion and large groups, which ties in well with the focus of Personal Wine. For the last 11 years, Andrawes has specialized in providing good quality wines with personalized labels for any occasion, from weddings to anniversaries, corporate events and charity fundraisers.
“I found a niche here,” he explains, “since all the personalized wine available out there was of inferior quality.” The wines range from $20 to $100 per bottle depending on the wine, and the labels are entirely customizable through interactive label design. All this takes place in the offices in the back of the basement.
Although already comfortable and fun, the Red Room Lounge is still a work in progress. Andrawes is working on decor, which soon will feature a couple of 2,000-year-old original wine urns from Tunisia that he found in his family’s collection.
On the day of my most recent visit, technicians were busy installing a large projection screen for The Cellar Screen's movie Mondays, which start on Monday, July 16 at 7:30 p.m., appropriately with The Shining.