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New Somm Wine Bar joins Incline District

Posted at 12:13 PM, May 26, 2016

East Price Hill this week welcomed its newest night spot, a key piece of the puzzle to establish Price Avenue as a neighborhood commercial corridor.

Somm Wine Bar opened Wednesday at 3105 Price Ave., just east of the corner of Grand and Hawthorne avenues. It’s the brainchild of owners Tony and Dominic Cafeo, the brothers who brought Cincinnati the Incline Public House and several incarnations of what is now Jefferson Social.

Somm — the name is a play on sommelier, the French title for a wine steward — shares its building with Bloc Coffee Co., started seven years ago as an outgrowth of non-denominational Bloc Ministries. What is now Somm used to be Bloc’s meeting room, said Tony Cafeo. There is no official link between the two businesses, although Cafeo said he’d be happy to offer Bloc coffee to his patrons if the logistics can be worked out.

Wednesday’s opening puts new emphasis on the west end of what has come to be called the Incline District, the hilltop land overlooking downtown Cincinnati surrounding the site of the former Price Hill incline. Three years ago, the district was born with the opening of Incline Public House and then the Incline Village condominiums just south of the tower. Last year, Cincinnati Landmark Productions joined the cluster when it opened the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater across Matson Place.

Now Somm, about four blocks west, adds another cornerstone toward making the intersection of Price and Hawthorne another hub in the district. Besides Somm and Bloc Coffee, that corner now boasts the Flats Gallery, a partnership with Mount St. Joseph University, and Veracruz Mexican Grill, which opened less than three months ago at 3108 Price Ave.

With its shared ownership, Somm is positioning itself as a more intimate, laid-back complement to Incline Public House. “We want to give people a place to go before or after the theater,” Cafeo said.

The wine bar offers 80 wines, craft cocktails, 16 craft beers and a fairly large food menu. General manager Kevin P. Armon said the majority of the bottles cost $35 or less. “I’d say there are 50 less than $50.”

Somm's by-the-glass wines will change regularly, some day to day, and the bar will offer full- and half-glass pours. Almost all glasses will be less than $10. Some of those will come from the wine tap, which serves from sixth-barrel containers — that’s about 5.2 gallons each — kept independently at an ideal temperature.

Armon said wine taps are catching on along the East and West coasts. They keep harmful air from reaching the wine, and they save a significant amount of glass waste from bottles.  

To soak up those wines, customers can choose from a menu of surprisingly high-end options, including escargots. At Tuesday’s pre-opening for friends and family, Cafeo said the traditional snail dish was the best seller. “People said they can’t get it anywhere else.”

Other dishes include house-made mozzarella; duck confit with raspberries, toasted pine nuts and blue cheese; riesling poached pears with prosciutto, figs and blue cheese; and smoked salmon terrine. They’re all the responsibility of chef Wayne Miles, formerly of the Incline Public House.

Like Cafeo, Armon has a strong resume in Cincinnati’s restaurant business: The former GM of Teller’s of Hyde Park went on to open the Mercer and Kaze in Over-the-Rhine, and he worked at Boca Restaurant Group, chef David Falk’s food fiefdom of five top-rated restaurants.

Armon met Cafeo when he was running Jump Café on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine and Jefferson Social’s granddaddy, Jefferson Hall, was across the street. They became friends on the bocce courts behind Pompilios in Newport.

He’s excited at the chance to be hands-on at Somm, where he’s overseeing just a handful of employees instead of the dozens at Boca. The intimate setting will keep him close to customers. “I love it,” he said.

While the duo wants Somm to be a key player in a Price Avenue entertainment district with citywide appeal, Cafeo said they want to be interwoven in the fabric of the neighborhood. As Armon put it, “We want to be an extension of their homes.”

The décor, with a strong industrial vibe, isn’t exactly homey, but it’s comfortable with a relaxed, urban style. Most of the 40 seats are at long tables, which is designed to encourage interaction. It will also more easily accommodate special events, like winemaker dinners, and groups.

“It’s a secret over here,” Cafeo said. “West Side people go out in packs.” Whether those are soccer moms on a girls night out or friends who just saw a show, he wants them to stop by.

A glass garage door soon will open on a patio that will seat 20 more. “The permits are filed,” Cafeo said. Once they’re approved, construction should take only two to three weeks. They hope it won’t be long, because the Incline Theater’s three-show summer season kicks off June 1.

Somm so far is open only Wednesday through Saturday evenings, but Armon and Cafeo expect to expand their hours once the patio opens.

Follow Thomas Consolo on Twitter: @tconsolo_news.

A chalkboard next to the bar will soon list specials. For now it showcases Somm’s logo. (Thomas Consolo for WCPO)

Somm’s Wine Bar

  • Where: 3105 Price Ave., East Price Hill
  • Hours: 4:30 p.m.-midnight (later if business justifies it) Wednesday-Saturday.
  • Contact: 513-244-5843; Facebook.com/sommwinebar.