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Covington woman follows her heart, love for wine to open new bar Crafts & Vines
Garin Pirnia | WCPO contributor
11:00 AM, Oct 20, 2016
COVINGTON, Ky. -- Combining beer, wine and desserts in a neighborhood atmosphere seemed like a no-brainer for Covington resident and oenophile Lesley Hugo.
She left her job as a financial analyst for Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center last year to launch Crafts & Vines, a new bar in Mainstrasse Village that held its grand opening Oct. 14.
“I just was done with health care, done with the corporate world,” Hugo said of her decision to start a new career. “If I’m going to crunch numbers, I want to do it for myself.”
She knew she wanted to do something with wine but wasn’t sure what. (Her husband, Vic, also is a homebrewer.)
“We talked to a lot of people who live down here in Covington and asked them what kind of bar other than Gypsy’s and your regular hangout bar they would like to see,” she said. “Whenever we brought up our concept they were like, ‘Yeah, we need something like that.’”
Hugo enrolled in Cincinnati female entrepreneur accelerator Bad Girl Ventures, which helped her refine her concept and business plan. In January 2015, the Hugos signed a lease at the former location of pizza and ice cream shop Fatty Patty’s; renovations of the 124-year-old building took more than a year to complete.
“We took all of the paper down off the windows right before Oktoberfest,” she said. “Once we did that, people just started knocking on the door: ‘When are you going to open? When are you going to open?’”
Crafts & Vines is so quiet that people are able to come in with laptops and work. The bar is broken into three sections: the six-seat bar, a small area with tables and chairs and a mini retail bottle shop in the back. (A cold case in front also sells beers and wines.)
All of its draft beers are either Kentucky or Cincinnati beers, with an emphasis on the former. Lexington’s Ethereal Brewing, Paducah, Kentucky’s Dry Ground and Party Town nanobrewery Mash Cult make rarefied appearances. Besides Hotel Covington, Crafts & Vines is one of the only places in Northern Kentucky to find draft wine, which some customers are still getting used to tasting.
“We’ve had a couple of people tell us that our keg went bad,” Hugo said about a dry Finger Lakes Riesling on draft. “They’re like, ‘This isn’t a Riesling.’ It’s not your traditional Riesling. It’s not real sweet. It doesn’t have that petrol smell or that cat pee smell. They’re like, ‘Oh, OK.’”
To complement the drinks, Hugo hired pastry chef Haley Matthews to create a few alcoholic and non-alcoholic desserts. Hugo’s brother and sister-in-law met Matthews at Grandview Tavern -- where she sold bourbon balls -- and suggested Hugo contact her. Before she moved to Covington, Matthews worked in nursing, but on a whim, she enrolled in Louisville’s Sullivan University’s culinary arts program.
Matthews said she “fell in love with the sweet side of things,” including developing her signature “beeramisu,” with beer instead of coffee and hard liquor as the base.
“Tiramisu is one of my favorite desserts,” Matthews said. “I got to thinking about different types of alcohol variations, and it went from there.”
She soaks the ladyfingers in different milk stouts from Bellevue’s Darkness Brewing and then adds a slightly bitter tasting cocoa powder, plus whipped cream. She also makes bourbon balls, mimosa truffles and the more traditional, booze-free pumpkin pots de crème and crème brûlée.
On the savory side, the small menu consists of olives, potato chips and charcuterie boards. Customers can choose three meats and three cheeses for a large board, and with the Truck Stop board, they get maple Sriracha bacon, beef jerky and Lil’s Bagels pimento cheese.
Almost every day Crafts & Vines offers some sort of special, Hugo said, whether it’s $4 glass pours or Saturday date night, in which couples can get two glasses of wine and a large charcuterie board for $30 or a small board and two glasses for $20.
Soon, Crafts & Vines will start serving craft cocktails such as beermosas and will offer monthly wine tastings and events.
After such a long wait, Crafts & Vines is shaping up to be exactly what the neighborhood -- and Hugo -- needed.
“There’s nothing down here quite like us. We thought we could bring something different to Mainstrasse Village, and I think we’ve accomplished that,” Hugo said.