The Barrel Thief in Fremont is a wine bar unlike any other in Seattle: The entire menu of wines comes by the glass. Owner Christopher Gronbeck is able to do this using a buzzy device called a Coravin, which extracts wine from the bottle without removing the cork and simultaneously injects argon to prevent oxidation. “It's one of the few wine technologies I've heard touted as ‘revolutionary’ that I believe actually is,” Gronbeck says.
The wine bar at 3417 Evanston Ave N usually has between 150 and 175 wines by the glass. "That means guests can explore wines they wouldn't commit to buying a bottle of," says Gronbeck, like a rare or premium wine that might run $30 a glass, but much more by the bottle. The bar can also pour more eccentric wines—several dozen of them, by his count—usually only available by the bottle (Pioneer Square wine bar pop-up Walden uses a similar approach for its 30-bottle list).
From a business perspective, the Coravin prevents bottles from going bad, reducing waste and preserving the large amount of wine (up to 20 percent) that restaurants typically have to—or should—discard due to oxidation.
But for customers, less waste means lower prices for glass pours. "We don't need the 400-percent markup that some establishments aim for and charge at least 20 percent less than we otherwise would for most glass pours, since we're not pouring wine down the drain," says Gronbeck.
Some visitors are a little overwhelmed by the choices, so the staff finds ways, to help them explore or pare down the possibilities, like staff picks or a house wine passport that encourages exploration across different countries and regions. But others, says Gronbeck, have jumped into the wine list wholeheartedly. "A few are so far along in their passports that it's forcing me to work harder to find more and more eclectic wines to add to the menu."