Now in its 25th year, Barcelona has been around long enough to see its Columbus neighborhood change, with new businesses and residents moving in, says Tim Hawkins, the restaurant’s general manager. Hawkins oversees a 150-bottle wine list, centered on Spain, with an additional section for the rest of the world. Looking back at 2022, Hawkins noticed that “guests were looking for more unique wines, so we added Slovenia and Croatia to our list.” That’s one of several changes he made last year. —Elaine Kim Heide
After developing new retail wine offerings during 2020 and 2021, did anything become a permanent part of your program?
The virtual tastings were a really big hit for us. We started out modestly, selling packages in the $90 range for four or five bottles of wine. And we would also sell any kind of to-go food that we’d recommend to pair with the wine. Now, I get the occasional request so we have been putting them back in the mix, though not on a monthly basis like we did during the pandemic.
A big change for us post-pandemic was our hours of operation. We used to be open seven nights a week with five lunches. When we came back from COVID, we dabbled in brunch on Sundays, but stopped. As a result we operated through all of 2022 with no lunches, no brunch, and we closed on Mondays, going from 12 shifts per week for many, many years down to six. And I can say that we did more in sales last year than we did the year before, with only six shifts. It was a scary experiment, but this is how we finished up the year.
Also, the look of our dining room changed drastically. A number of tables had tablecloths and butcher paper, and with COVID and distancing we didn’t know if people we going to come back to restaurants and didn’t want to pay for all of those tablecloths and all that paper. So, we bought new tabletops. We sanded them down, painted a base coat and then stenciled and glazed them. We now have these beautiful tables, handmade by us.
What other changes did you make in 2022?
Pre-pandemic, I used to invite our six vendors in when I was changing the wine list, which was typically twice a year. I’d invite them each to bring up to ten wines. I’d give them some ideas on what to bring; for example, more reds in the cooler months, more in Spain or not in Spain, or a certain grape. This was the typical approach. The staff was required to attend at least two of these twelve tastings with me per year. We would taste blind, without knowing the price of the wines, and take our own notes. At the end we would find out the price and compare notes. I would take those notes and create our list from that.
Then with COVID, that just stopped happening. We no longer do the big twice-a-year list changes. Because of availability, I keep the list more in flux. Supply interruptions are better than they were in 2020 but there are still issues.
You mentioned that guests were increasingly asking for wines of Priorat over the last year. Is this a new trend for Barcelona?
This isn’t necessarily a new trend, but the wines are becoming more known to the guests coming to this restaurant. I can find reasonably priced Priorat wines, but they’re typically on the higher end. I expanded the number on the list, and I might carry seven or eight at one time. Putting this list together has been a challenge because of availability.
A sales rep will come in and say, “You do Spain, what do you think about this Rioja?” And I have to tell them, “I have 25 Riojas on the list right now, what else do you have, and where else can we go?”
You shared that about 15 percent of your list is made up of lesser-known wines. What’s an example of something that’s lesser known to your guests?
That’s an interesting subject because I don’t ever want to say that a guest isn’t educated—we’re here to help guests and teach them as we learn. We have guests who are quite well versed in wine and some who are not. Everyone is open to accepting as much information from us as they want. I have unique blends, Spanish cabernet, and Spanish pinot noir on the list. Of course, people know Oregon and California, but the Spanish wines are not as well known. From Spain we also have Txakoli made with hondarrabi zuri and hondarrabi beltza grapes.
We get quite a cross section of people. There are some who don’t know a thing about Spanish wine. We love that because they might not know what a grape is, so we start by asking, “What do you like to drink?” We can then equate their pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, or chardonnay to verdejo, viura, godello, albariño, or whatever it may be from Spain. After being here for 20 years, I have to remember that verdejo is not a common grape for a lot of people.
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