A swanky European social club where members pay thousands to store wine in speakeasy-like lounges is opening its first stateside location in DC — take a look inside

  • A members-only wine club with locations throughout Europe is set to open its first stateside branch in Washington, DC's West End on September 8.
  • Called wineLAIR, the leather couch-filled space will house 358 climate-controlled wine lockers where members can store their own wines to enjoy with close friends.
  • WineLAIR individual memberships start at $300 per month with a $5,000 initiation fee and grant members access to sister wineBANK locations in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
  • Founder Christian Ress told Business Insider that he's optimistic about opening wineLAIR in the US despite the pandemic, citing privacy as a large draw.
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Opening a new business in the middle of a pandemic presents a unique set of challenges, but winemaker and entrepreneur Christian Ress isn't deterred.

Source: wineBANK

Back in 2009 on the heels of the financial crisis, he launched wineBANK Frankfurt, a members-only space where people could store and drink their wine in a speakeasy-like space.

Source: wineBANK

Though the global economic outlook was dire and his bank skeptical, Ress felt in his gut that wineBANK would be a success, he told Business Insider.

Source: wineBANK

A decade later, wineBANK now has nine locations across Germany, Austria, Switzerland. A 10th location — the first one stateside — is set to open in Washington, DC, on September 8.

Source: wineBANK

Ress describes wineBANK as a mix between a wine storage facility, private members club, events space, and luxury travel network.

Source: wineBANK

Members pay between $120 and $1,540 per month plus an initiation fee for storage in a 'home' wineBANK depending on the location and can access any of the brand's locations when traveling.

Source: wineBANK

Each of the existing locations in Europe is accessible 24/7 by key card. The wineBANKs are made up of climate-controlled wine storage lockers plus wine tasting stations and lounge areas decorated with designer furniture.

Four locations — Baden, Pfalz, Rheingau und Cologne —  have a "wine by the glass" dispensing fridge for members who don't want to open up a full bottle.

WineBANK employs teams to clean and resupply locations each morning, but the spaces are otherwise self-service.

Source: wineBANK

The allure of wineBANK is that it offers a refined space for drinking wine without the need to make reservations, Ress told Business Insider. If members wanted to head to a wineBANK at 1 a.m. and turn on music to wind down, they could.

Source: wineBANK

While the DC location will have all the trappings of the wineBANK brand, it will offer a more elevated experience due to its location in a major international city and go by the name wineLAIR, Ress said.

Source: wineBANK

Located next to the Ritz Carlton in DC's upscale West End, the 5,500-square-foot space will be staffed and operate between the hours of 11 a.m and 2 a.m.

Source: wineBANK

In addition to enjoying wines with friends in the dark-paneled, leather-couch-filled space, members will be able to order wine from the bar as well as charcuterie boards, cheese plates, and dishes prepared in partnership with local bistro RIS.

Source: wineBANK

Individual memberships start at $300 per month plus a $5,000 initiation fee for a 52-bottle wine locker, 2 members' cards, and 3 guest passes. Corporate memberships are also available.

Source: wineBANK

Like in Europe, wineLAIR's 358 climate-controlled lockers will be visible from behind bars for members to admire.

Source: wineBANK

The DC space also plans to host socially distanced events led by top winemakers. Previous wineBANK events have included appearances by Axe Gillery, export manager of Champagne Pol Roger, one of the world's most prestigious Champagne brands and a supplier of the British Royals.

Source: wineBANK

When the pandemic hit and sent Europe into lockdown, new membership applications came to a halt, and Ress was uncertain about the company's future, he told Business Insider.

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But since lockdowns lifted, sales have been booming, Ress said. He attributes this to people wanting to get out of their homes and socialize with friends in a safe way.

Source: wineBANK

WineBANKs are semi-private locations, which create a sense of security, he told Business Insider.

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Ress views the current success of his Europe business as a good sign for the DC opening.

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"I could imagine that we will experience a similar situation [to Europe] where people look for something which is not public, but still want to go out and meet people," he told Business Insider.

Source: wineBANK

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