A vital town is like a living organism – shedding old skins and growing new ones. Case in point: the closing of old drinking establishments and restaurants and the birth of innovative taverns for both wine and beer downtown.
The popularity of Flagstaff as a destination for visitors and as a happy hometown for residents has created an evolving market for a variety of venues for entertainment and social interaction, including first-class restaurants, coffee and tea houses, bars, galleries, retail outlets and places to stay.
Are these burgeoning businesses a sign of a healthy economy?
“Yes, the economy is improving,” said City of Flagstaff Economic Vitality Director Heidi Hansen. “We have several businesses in development and many on the horizon. Six of those businesses are new hotels. It goes to show that the economy is thriving in many of our economic development sectors, especially in tourism.”
Hansen said the city had another record year last year as measured by Occupancy, RevPar (revenue per available room), ADR (average daily rate in lodging) and BBB (bed, board and booze) taxes.
Vintage Wine Barrels Reign
One of the most unique drinking establishments, which opened in October, is Blendz, a fresh new wine bar experience that specializes in serving award-winning varietals straight out of oak barrels.
Co-owners Doug Umlah and Randi Rolle, who are also husband and wife, are excited to offer this new concept in Flagstaff.
Located across from Heritage Square at 21 E. Aspen Ave., Blendz occupies an historic building, which most recently housed Armadillo Wax Works. The building was built at the turn of the 19th century during the early pioneer years in Flagstaff. “This is the original Babbitt Brothers Building, with a pressed tin roof that is painted copper,” Umlah said. “Even the wine taps are authentic French oak barrels.” The red-oak floors were added in 2002 and the ground was dug down to accommodate a basement.
The décor is that of an upscale winery, with plenty of wood accents, Umlah noted.
Blendz is offering 20 different varietals on tap, all of which are 100 percent pure, meaning no other wines are mixed in with them.
“We are a licensed, bonded winery, which allows us to purchase wine in bulk from other wineries and pass the cost savings on to our customers,” he explained. While not a requirement, customers are encouraged to create their own special wine blends, bottled on the premises with customized labels, often from photos sent via cell phones. “So far the response from the public has been great,” Umlah said. “Our location across the street from Heritage Square attracts plenty of tourists, and we are acquiring new local customers all the time who enjoy purchasing bottles, be they custom blends that they created on a previous visit, or our single varietals by the bottle.” This is the first business for the couple after both of them worked for many years at Flagstaff Medical Center. Rolle works mainly from home and handles marketing, advertising and sales for their new enterprise.
A wine cellar in the basement completes the system where wine is pumped upstairs from kegs that are filled from 55-gallon drums. Umlah travels every few months to fill about eight drums with wines from wineries in the Sonoma and Napa areas of Northern California, the Paso Robles area in the central coast of California and the Wilcox wine-growing region in Arizona. When full, each drum weighs about 600 pounds. One drum can fill three-and-a-half kegs and two cases of bottles. The cellar also houses a walk-in cooler for wine and beer and a station for bottling extra wine and custom orders. “Whatever is left, we bottle this,” he said. “It’s a constant: bringing wine kegs and then bottling it.” Customers who want to taste a few of the varietals can order a wine flight of five wines and can also add a blending kit with basic instructions for creating a custom wine. Blendz is also a full service bar offering beer on tap, premium spirits and retail wine by the bottle to go. Although there is no full-service kitchen, small tapas plates are available. The wine bar is open seven days a week. For hours and details about seminars, go to www.wineblendz.com.
One Flight Up
Also new to the historic downtown area is FLG Terroir, a new wine bar and bistro at 17 N. San Francisco St. After a six-month renovation and remodel, the bistro has moved into the space one flight above street level where the famous Wine Loft was for about 15 years. In fact, the website calls the business a “reinvention of the old Wine Loft,” with the same subdued lighting, natural setting for a rendezvous with family and friends, as well as a wonderful view of the street below.
Like the Wine loft, FLG Terroir specializes in small boutique wines from throughout the word and a great selection of bottled beer that include more than 30 labels with an attention on Belgian Ales.
There are some changes, however.
“While we were renovating, we kept in close touch with our old customers and everyone was very excited when we reopened,” noted Fred Wojtkielewicz, general manager at FLG Terroir. “While the old wine loft was charming, the new space gives us a more upscale feel, but philosophically we are the same, but with the addition of food and expanded wine menu.”
The expanded wine menu is quickly approaching 500 labels, which are displayed in an impressive array along one wall in the bar.
Wojtkielewicz says he has been a service industry professional for more than 25 years, including many years at the Wine Loft, and is a certified specialist of wine with the Society of Wine Educators.
“It has been very exciting for me to share my wine knowledge with the community and to focus on limited production wines from throughout the world,” he said.
The business name, terroir, is French for the natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors like soil and climate. “Terroir is one of my favorite words,” Wojtkielewicz explained. “It speaks to all the elements that make wine unique to the place it is grown. We feel FLG Terroir is a very special place and is a unique and integral part of our community.”
First-time business owners and investors in FLG Terroir, Doug Brozovsky and Pamela Hyde, “have always been passionate for wine and what this business brings to the community,” he added. The style of food focuses on small plates that pair with both wine and beer and includes exotic selections such as oyster on the half shell, savory Belgian waffles and Hoisin pork rillette with crostini and cornichons.
“People love that we have realized the potential for the space and are excited for our food offerings,” Wojtkielewicz said.
By Betsey Bruner, FBN
FLG Terroir is open daily, including Saturdays and Sundays for brunch. For more information, visit flgterroir.com.