Carving a dining room and patio out of bedrock wasn't the easiest construction project for Pure Wine Cafe owner P.J. Strain.
The expansion of the wine bar and restaurant on Ellicott City's Main Street took twice as long and cost twice as much as Strain says he expected.
"The charm of Ellicott City also provides one of the obstacles to building and growing," says Strain, who grew up in Clarksville. "There's no straightforward construction project. There's a lot of little hiccups in the buildout."
But after seven months and a $200,000 investment -- split with his landlord, Alexander Design Studio -- the much-anticipated second-floor and alfresco dining area wrapped up in late August.
The sleek, intimate bar with its brick walls and tin ceiling had developed a steady following for its rotating wine list and seasonal small-plate menu developed by chef Kevin Brothers. But it also turned away many people who found its 30 seats taken.
"We have run out of space on weekend nights," Strain says. "I heard over and over again from people 'I love the place. I just can't get a seat.' "
The 1,500-square-foot, 65-seat venue can now hold twice as many customers (with the addition of the patio) and takes reservations. The patio will stay open through October this fall and will reopen in the spring with additional landscaping to create a "wine garden" overlooking Main Street. With its colorful walls sporting the work of local artists, the upstairs dining room matches the look of the downstairs bar. Both are open Tuesday through Sunday.
Pure Wine has also expanded its menu with about half a dozen entrées, which have included mushroom risotto, seared duck with a blueberry glaze and ribeye steak tacos. Strain describes the food as American with a Mediterranean twist.
Sales have grown 50 percent since the expansion was completed, Strain says. The changes appeal to Pure Wine's clientele, which has gotten older over the years to include mostly people in their 30s and 40s. That appeared to be the case on a Friday night soon after the expansion was completed. The bar was filled to capacity with about half a dozen customers standing while they waited for a table in the busy dining room.
Ascending the stairs, some patrons stopped to gaze through the glass that looks into Pure Wine's "wine cave" -- the giant rock that sits under the second floor and holds the restaurant's wine cellar.
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"We try to accentuate the fact that this building has these fun little parts to it," says Strain. "That's something you don't get in modern construction. These rocks are something people have struggled with in the history of this town. This is our homage to that."