AVONDALE — As sun streams into Deep Red Wine Merchant, its logo reflects on the wall and colorful wine bottles glisten.
The bottle shop and wine cafe’s cozy atmosphere and quaint seating area at 2901 N. Milwaukee Ave. is symbolic of its mission: to make wines more accessible, fun and less intimidating for people, owner Dave Thompson said.
“It was a lengthy time to get it open, but it’s really nice to be open now and have the opportunity to be doing what we do best, which is making people happy,” said Thompson, a veteran bar manager. “We really are seeking to make wine accessible to people.”
The business opened last month after the owner worked for more than a year to open his first wine cafe. The building was renovated last year, and Thompson found the spot during the Take a Walk on Milwaukee open house, an event designed to revitalize Avondale’s Milwaukee Avenue.
Thompson’s aim is to dispel any negative connotations about wine people might have and to create a comfortable vibe where people can ask questions.
“Wine is perceived to be a luxury item, [but] we all are deserving of wine,” he said. “It comes from humble roots, and that’s what’s so cool … it’s of the land.”
The shop sells about 75 wines. There’s been great turnout so far, so Thompson is having to restock the shelves and constantly add new inventory — a lovely problem to have, he said.
“I couldn’t be happier about it because seeing the same neighborhood faces coming in, that means the world to me,” he said.
Thompson said he’s specifically seeking wine from makers who are Black, Indigenous and people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community — people who’ve been under-represented in the wine industry.
Contrary to what the bar’s name suggests, Deep Red serves a variety of wine sourced from all over the world. The bar is actually named after one of Thompson’s favorite movies, the 1975 Italian horror flick “Deep Red.”
In keeping with the horror movie theme, the bathroom is modeled after the red bathroom in “Twin Peaks,” and posters of other horror flicks like “The Exorcist” hang on the wall. The main room is inspired by “The Shining.”
For other horror movie lovers, easter eggs can be found within the shop, which has an “elegant horror” feel, Thompson said.
The business also hosts wine workshops and events, and they have been a hit so far, Thompson said. Workshops teach attendees about wine aromas, terminology and flavors, and how to talk to sommeliers while out to dinner. A wine 101 processing class to learn how the drink is made is 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Each class is 12 people and costs $50, including tastings. Those who are interested can send a message to Thompson via Instagram.
Spencer Jones, one of the three staff members and teachers at Deep Red, hosted the first wine class this month. Jones has 15 years of experience working in wine bars like Websters Wine Bar and researching the wine industry.
“I think making wine more accessible for people is what I really like, and taking the pretense out of it and just making it fun and about what you’d like to drink,” Jones said.
The shop is preparing to debut holiday wine bundles and a wine club. Staff hope to host more events in collaboration with nearby businesses, Thompson said.
Thompson drew on years of experience working for Chicago bars and restaurants to craft the wine menu at Deep Red.
Thompson’s restaurant and bar career started in 2004, when he got a job as a food runner at Logan Square’s Lula Cafe. After working at Lula for a few years, he became assistant manager at the beer-focused Bucktown bar The Map Room, a job he held for eight years.
Most recently, Thompson managed the bar program at The Chicago Athletic Association’s Cherry Circle Room, where he developed a renewed interest in wine. The Downtown bar has a massive wine selection of 1,200 labels, he previously said.
People can buy a glass or a bottle, get it uncorked for a small fee and enjoy the Deep Red setting, he said.
“We exist because we’re passionate about wine. … The things that are on our shelves are because we’re jazzed about them,” Thompson said. “A lot of people drink wine, a lot of people want to know about wine, so that’s why we’re here.”
Shop staff want to know what the community likes and are open to recommendations from customers, Thompson said.
Deep Red Wine Merchant is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays.
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