If you Google ‘self-service wine bar’ you’ll find places in all sorts of more or less exotic locations: the West End, Hampstead, Paris, South Carolina… and when the Googlebots catch up, Lower Kings Road, Berkhamsted.
The Berkeley wine bar and art gallery opened earlier this week. It’s a conventional wine bar if you want it to be, with art for sale on the walls. But dispersed around the gallery it also has Enomatic self-service kiosks. Owner Paul Rozelaar said: ‘The dispensing machines give you a 25ml tasting measure or a full glass in two measures. The key thing is that when the wine is dispensed, any air in the tube is replaced with nitrogen to preserve the integrity of the wine. That means we can offer much more expensive wines by the glass.’ That said, the most expensive on the list at the moment is £8 a glass. ‘The dispensers are designed to allow you to appreciate the wine, and you can taste everything before you buy.’
Paul said staff training was a priority: he sees it as important that the staff are able to talk knowledgeably to customers about wine and art. They will be equipped with tablets and on one of the walls there’s an interactive screen.
You can just walk in and buy a drink, but the Berkeley sells membership for £100 a year. That buys you a card for the dispensers; it also gives access to priority reservations and notice of themed evenings and events, discounts on art and good prices on your favourite take-home bottle. The Berkeley has arranged reciprocal deals with 20 retailers and service providers in Berkhamsted for specials and discounts on their goods and services.
Besides an excellent choice of wines and some lovely artwork aside from the pieces for sale, the Berkeley serves cheese, charcuterie and fish platters. A chocolate platter will be added soon.
As an art gallery the Berkeley has been a feature of Lower Kings Road for more than 15 years. Its whimsical ‘Annual Closing Down Sale’ made the pages of Private Eye and other national publications. The wine bar has been 18 months in the planning. Paul said: ‘We were introduced to self-service wine bars in London and decided that this was perfect for Berkhamsted.’
The Berkeley is the first wine bar in Berkhamsted since Merlot’s at the railway station 10 years ago. It is on 01442 878300.
Pictured are (l-r) Alyson Featherstone, Tony Smith and Paul Rozelaar