A new wine bar will be opening soon in the former home of Dilworth Billiards.
The legendary antique pool hall closed in April of last year after 35 years in business but not for lack of success.
“I had a wonderful run for 35 years and was very successful in my business model,” said Eric Sprouse, who owned the pool hall and still owns the building itself. “It was retirement time and I wanted to transition into a landlord instead of a bar owner.”
Sprouse says he turned away 10 to 15 other potential lessees in the search for the perfect predecessor to fill the space below his home on the building’s second floor.
The search was an exceedingly thoughtful process based on resounding feedback from Dilworth neighbors. “I know what everybody wanted because I used to go to a lot of HOA meetings,” said Sprouse. “Every single time they said coffee shop or a wine bar.”
So he found a concept that would deliver both.
Dilworth Tasting Room will be a wine bar, bottle shop and coffee bar all rolled into one.
Owner Jaffer Kovic is a master sommelier with a long tenure in the restaurant industry, including time as wine director at Del Frisco’s in Las Vegas and Houston. He’s an exceptionally knowledgeable wine pro with a refreshingly laid back approach to his craft and his own bar.
“It will be the most unpretentious place to come enjoy yourself,” he said. “If you want to drink champagne with a straw, drink it. If you want to put ice in your glass and make it a spritzer, drink it. You’re paying for it, you drink it whatever way you want.”
As much as Kovic deflects attention away from his own personal experience and expertise towards the building’s history and his bar’s future, it’d be hard not to mention the master sommelier’s 6-month stint as the drummer for the heavy metal band From This Day.
“I lived out my music rock ‘n’ roll dream and said that was enough,” he said.
Kovic found his way to the Dilworth Billiards space completely by chance.
He first visited Charlotte back in 2007 for an immersive Del Frisco’s training program. “I remember being here and I liked it so much,” he said. “I thought it was a really cool city.”
So last year when he and his wife wanted to make the move from New York City to somewhere “more laid back,” Charlotte was top of mind. On an exploratory trip to feel out the city, they stumbled upon the old Dilworth Billiards building on an aimless drive.
“We just drove by out of the blue and saw the sign and that was it,” he said.
After three months of construction, Dilworth Tasting Room is nearing completion.
It’ll look familiar but fully refreshed. The slick, industrial interior features show-stopping custom leather couches from CoCoCo in Cornelius and a custom mahogany and copper bar handmade by Kovic’s father.
“His dad was the first one here and last one to leave every day for five weeks,” said Sprouse. “He’s an unbelievable artist that happens to be a general contractor.”
For his part, Sprouse has stayed involved every step of the way. Here, it seems that it’s not about a new business running an old business out. It’s more of a passing of the baton, an evolution in the building’s next phase of life.
“To find a place that was here for 35 years is really hard to see these days,” said Kovic. “And to find this place and the owner who is still active is a tremendous help. Eric is down here all the time. I’d say he’s just as excited as we are.”
And he’s not the only one. Sprouse says his regulars can’t wait to get back into the building. “They’re dying to come back,” he said. “Everybody, not one single person has said anything negative about it. Everybody is dying for this to be open.”
Head chef Ivana Bekavac is creating a simple but elegant menu to accompany the wine selection.
She thinks people will be most excited about the build-your-own cheese plates with about a dozen imported European cheeses and salumi options and will also offer small plate starters, salads and mostly raw desserts.
“I think it’s going to be really accessible and friendly,” she said.
Dilworth Tasting Room is targeting an opening in the first week of January.
The space seats about 50 inside with a commanding bar along the back wall and a retail bottle shop to the right. Outside is a second bar, fountain and additional seating on a lush brick patio. Kovic hopes residents use it as an extension of their own homes.
“The ethos behind is that it’s for the neighborhood,” he said. “A lot of the folks here don’t have a huge backyard or a massive patio. They can come in and make this their home away from home and chill out, relax, enjoy themselves.”
Dilworth Tasting Room will be open Monday through Thursday 3-10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 3-11 p.m. Kovic is debating whether or not to open the retail bottle shop on Sundays and says the morning coffee and pastry operation won’t debut until later in Q1.
You’ll find wines by the glass and by the bottle and can also purchase anything from the retail shop to drink on site without a corkage fee (ever). Kovic, who is a big fan of dessert wines, says to expect recommended pairings for each of their desserts, including ice wine and sauternes.
Ultimately, he hopes people come in and feel comfortable to explore and try new things without feeling bound to any perceived assumptions about how things should be done. “It’s only food and wine,” he said. “Do what you want. Enjoy it.”