By Collin Kelley
Just after quitting time on a recent Friday night, the patio at City Winery in the Old Fourth Ward is full. Even with my windows up and the AC on high, I can hear music playing and see sunlight glinting off raised wine glasses. Two nights later, I’m inside the intimate downstairs performance space to see the legendary Rickie Lee Jones. My belly is full, there’s a carafe of wine on the table and my dining partner, the imitable jazz singer and raconteur Jennifer Perry, describes the space as a “modern supper club.” We both agree there’s nothing else quite like it in Atlanta.
City Winery has locations in New York, Boston, Chicago and Nashville. Atlanta is the latest outpost and it’s a seamless fit into hip Ponce City Market. Located behind Dancing Goats Coffee on Glen Iris Drive, the venue is easily accessible from the street or from the various above and underground parking at PCM. If you drive and are seeing a show, be sure to pay for at least four hours, which will run you $10.
We arrived just after 6 p.m. after receiving an email that Rickie Lee Jones wanted dinner service to be mostly complete by the time she took the stage at 8 p.m. This is not the usual set up at City Winery; with most shows dinner and drinks are available throughout the performance.
Upon entering the upstairs space at City Winery, visitors are greeted by a towering wall of wine bottles. The upstairs dining space, bar and access to the aforementioned patio are all on this level and it was already busy when we arrived. You don’t have to see a show to enjoy the vino and food at City Winery.
The wall of wine bottles conceals a staircase that leads down to the performance space. A host finds your reservation on a tablet and leads you to your table. There’s really not a bad seat in the house and the dim lighting, flickering candles and warm glow from the stage gives the room an almost speakeasy feel.
While heading to our table, we passed tall windows that reveal City Winery’s fermenting vats and barrel room where its own wine is made and stored. Our attentive server informs us that the Atlanta location’s first batches of wine will be available in October.
Meanwhile, we can choose from a short list of “Wines on Tap,” made in small pressings at other City Winery locations, or from an extensive list of other available wines. There’s beer, cocktails and soft drinks, too. We choose a carafe of the Pinot Noir from the Wines on Tap list ($25, about two glasses each), and while I’m not a grape connoisseur, the dark red was smooth and delicious. As the menu indicates, the wine has been stored in a stainless steel keg and preserved with a thin layer of gas to keep it fresh.
The wine is a perfect complement to my lamb and beef burger ($18), served with lettuce, feta cheese, pickles and a tub of house-cut French fries. The burger is juicy and perfectly cooked medium rare. Jennifer had the risotto balls ($12), which she declares deliciously crisp, but the accompanying marinara has a canned taste. She also says some type of side item would be welcome since the risotto balls are listed as an entrée but seem more like an appetizer.
Once the house lights dim and Rickie Lee Jones takes the stage, the real magic of City Winery’s performance space becomes clear: excellent acoustics, a chance to be up close and personal with the band, and an audience there for the music and not just the food alone. For Jones’ fans, this is a night of hits as she explores songs from her nearly 40-year career including “Chuck E’s in Love,” “Pirates,” “Living it Up,” “Horses,” “We Belong Together,” “Easy Money” and a moving cover of Julie London’s “Cry Me a River.”
If I have one beef with the space, it’s that the chairs are too darn hard. After sitting for nearly four hours, the wooden chairs really start to become uncomfortable, even for someone like me with extra padding. Maybe a cushion option should be made available. I may have to bring my own next time.
I’m already keeping my eye on the music calendar for who’s coming next so I can book my next dinner and a show. For more information, visit citywinery.com/atlanta.