ST. PETERSBURG — The 200 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg is known for a lot of things: lively First Friday block parties, Floribama Shore shenanigans and 20- and 30-somethings turning it up after one too many. But a quiet night out with a glass of fine wine? Not so much.
Chris Ciarcia wants to change that. In the coming weeks he will open Sauvignon Wine Locker & American Trattoria, a new wine bar and restaurant, at 241 Central Ave. Ciarcia imagines the new business as a hybrid of sorts: a place for intimate and small groups to meet over a mutual love of wine and food in the early hours and a spot where restaurant industry insiders and night owl oenophiles can pop by later in the evening.
A bonus, he points out, is that the restaurant occupies the second floor of the historic building. From the balcony, guests will be perched high up, away from the action — enough to observe and people-watch, but not feel like they’re in the thick of it.
“If you like shots and stuff, that’s downstairs, no doubt about it,” he laughed. “This is more for the person looking for a glass of Champagne and a nice steak.”
The concept isn’t a completely novel one for the space: It was the longtime home of A Taste for Wine, a wine bar that closed in 2019 when Ciarcia took over the lease. Since then, he has been working on what he says was a full gut renovation and remodel of the upstairs lounge and restaurant. Permitting setbacks and COVID-19 caused months of delays, but Ciarcia says he now hopes to finally open by mid-April.
The space, which features exposed brick, hardwood floors and a large, wraparound mural from local design team Vitale Bros., will seat roughly 80 people, including 14 seats on the outdoor patio and another 13 at the bar inside.
Ciarcia, a level two sommelier who managed the wine program at nearby Beach Drive restaurant Annata for five years, said the selection will include a wide range of wines at both low and high-end price points, from $30 to $1,200 a bottle. The list will feature a rotating selection just shy of 200 wines by the bottle, about 60 of which will be available by the glass. Ciarcia described his collection as a “very worldly list,” and in a nod to the restaurant’s name, both cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc will be featured heavily.
Taking a cue from more higher-end wine bars and tasting rooms in other parts of the country, patrons have the option of purchasing so-called “lockers,” a private club membership ($500 a year) where guests can buy boutique and hard-to-source wines at a discounted price through the restaurant. The membership will also include guaranteed access to reservations, a 10 percent discount when dining in, special wine events and private chef tastings.
Leading the dining portion of the restaurant is executive chef Christopher Stockwell, who was formerly the chef de cuisine at Parkshore Grill. The menu, which Ciarcia described as “contemporary American with an Italian twist,” will feature charcuterie and handmade pastas like a pappardelle served with lamb sugo and braised rabbit agnolotti with sheep’s milk ricotta.
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There will be salads, made with local Brick Street Farms greens, and small plates like Prince Edward Island mussels with tomato confit and gulf shrimp served over crispy polenta cakes with chorizo. A selection of heartier entrees includes a Creekstone Farms filet served with truffle-whipped potatoes, charred broccolini and a caramelized shallot herb butter, and a heritage half chicken served with sweet corn risotto and braised greens.
For dessert, guests can choose from a selection of cheeses or look to a small list of sweet treats, including a black pepper buttermilk panna cotta with raspberry vin cotto and fresh berries or a pound cake served with strawberry preserves and pistachio gelato.
However people decide to end an evening at Sauvignon, Ciarcia hopes it’s with a nightcap and some good conversation.
“Having a conversation over wine is always easy,” he said. “Everybody can get together for a glass.”
Sauvignon will be open Tuesday through Friday from 4 p.m. to midnight, Saturday from 10 a.m. to midnight and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
241 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-827-7896. sauvignonstpete.com.