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Downtown eateries see growth, change

Silverbow opens wine bar, Zephyr finds new owner

Posted: January 20, 2014 - 1:04am
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Bartender Kelly Organ serves Allison Natcher and her husband,  Jeff Crews, from the bakery's kitchen at the Silverbow Inn's new wine bar on Friday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Bartender Kelly Organ serves Allison Natcher and her husband, Jeff Crews, from the bakery's kitchen at the Silverbow Inn's new wine bar on Friday.

When Silverbow Bakery owner Jill Ramiel placed her first order to stock the restaurant’s new wine bar, she had one instruction for her supplier.

“Dig deep into your list of products available,” she recounted. “We don’t want anything for sale at Costco, or on endcaps at other stores. If I can remember the bottle from an advertisement, I don’t want it.”

Ramiel is serving up a changing selection of wine and bubbly from around the world at the bar, which opens at 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. This will be the new addition’s second week in operation, although the wine bar project — including a big renovation — has been in the making for about a year, Ramiel said.

“Somebody came up with this idea and I said, ‘That’s crazy,’” she said.

Soon after, however, she started warming up to the concept.

“In the 17 years we owned this building, this room was the only one we never renovated,” she said. “We have a wine and beer permit we never really use. Nobody thought to come to the bagel shop for a glass of wine.”

So, the idea for the Silverbow Wine Bar was born. Ramiel said she hasn’t had formal wine training, but is building this aspect of her business based on what she likes and feedback from customers.

“You get better at it with practice,” she said.

It’s important to Ramiel that the wine bar be user friendly; she wants people of all different backgrounds to enjoy the place, she said. That’s why wine flights are on the menu — guests can pick a few things and get small tastes of each, no commitment necessary.

“You don’t have to know anything about wine to come here,” said Ramiel, also the president of the Downtown Business Association.

A map-of-the-world mural adorns one wall of the space. Little shelves hold the currently available wines near their countries, states or regions of origin, and easy-to-understand descriptions caption each.

An Australian white by Woop Woop has been the most popular selection so far, Ramiel said. Be it because of the vintner’s fun name, the beautiful bottle or the light, tasty wine itself, the wine bar had almost run out of it already, she said.

The wine, bubbly and port on the menu are bolstered by a new selection of appetizers and light plates. The flat breads, cheese crackers and paninis, among many other items, are made in-house. It took “a good eight months” to develop the wine bar’s menu, Ramiel said.

Evelyn Rousso of NorthWind Architects, another member of the DBA board, developed the concept and design for the interior of the wine bar — right down to the color scheme, Ramiel said. Rousso also led Silverbow’s hotel renovation.

Ramiel said the goal was to blend Silverbow’s off-beat vibe with a more grown-up touch. A funky, multi-colored custom chandelier hangs overhead. Fun touches were added generously, right down to the purse hooks under the bar — they’re bird beaks.

“We think, how can we spin it to make it funny and quirky, and not ho-hum,” Ramiel said of the design.

The Juneau Economic Development Council, as well as the DBA, have turned their focus on sprucing up downtown. The JEDC is encouraging downtown business owners to invest in Juneau’s economic success through a storefront improvement competition. Applications for entering in the competition are due May 15. More information can be found online at www.jedc.org/juneau-downtown-revitalization.

The goal is to draw more customers downtown, Ramiel said. The JEDC’s support has made Ramiel feel like she’s not alone in her desire to get more people eating and shopping downtown.

“It made me feel safer to invest,” Ramiel said. “And I didn’t want to get left behind.”

Other downtown restaurants are also taking the cue. Tracy LaBarge, along with business partners Robert Hynes and David McGivney, recently purchased Zephyr, on Seward Street, and Sprazzo, on Franklin Street, previously owned by Haydar Suyun.

LaBarge said she’s currently trying out a new menu at Zephyr, and that the new ownership is “changing everything” in the two eateries, right down to their names. The restaurant formerly known as Sprazzo will probably reopen in March, LaBarge said.

The three also own Tracy’s Crab Shack and McGivney’s Sports Bar and Grill.

LaBarge attributed her business success so far to “a lot of good employees. We wouldn’t be able to do this without them,” she said.

After months of renovations, Rockwell on Franklin Street has plans to reopen at the end of the month. A post on the business’ Facebook page last week said its tentative opening date is Jan. 28.

Ramiel said new and exciting things downtown will keep customers coming back.

“People should be able to come downtown without knowing exactly what they want to do, but knowing there will be good food, entertainment and their peers,” Ramiel said. “That takes a lot of us.”

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com.

Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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