Tucked along a row of storefronts on Pike Street in Covington, Ripple Wine Bar has such an unassuming presence that you could easily miss it. I discovered it only last winter, and after a quick stop for wine and appetizers at the bar I became an instant fan. Recently, I returned with several friends to experience a full evening of the place’s food and drink.
Wine bars seem to be having a moment in Greater Cincinnati these days, with two new ones opening this summer in East Walnut Hills (Symposium) and O’Bryonville (Annata). Ripple opened three years ago — less than one year before COVID-19 brought our dining scene to a crashing halt.
In early 2021 after vaccination efforts made guests feel comfortable enough to resume in-person dining, Ripple’s owners made some personnel changes and forged ahead. Now it’s thriving as a semi-casual, cozy and very fun place to enjoy excellent wines, refreshing cocktails and quite a few tasty dishes.
The food comes out of a “kitchen” that seems way too small to produce everything on the menu: more than 25 appetizers, entrees and sides along with charcuterie boards and several desserts. I put “kitchen” in quotes because the food-prep space is nothing more than an open area at the front of the bar where a couple of cooks work with incredible efficiency to feed everyone. A staffer described the space as “just barely big enough for three people to work in.”
The same efficient use of space applies to the dining areas in what has to be the smallest building on the block. There’s an upstairs dining room that can seat up to 30 patrons, with bar seating at ground level for another 18. A couple of sidewalk tables add a bit more capacity. Reservations are a must, even for the bar seats and especially during the weekend.
Not all establishments calling themselves wine bars are as wine-savvy and devoted to quality as the folks at Ripple are. One of the personnel changes in 2021 was to hire sommelier and general manager Gabriella DiVincenzo. She and owners Matthew and Kathleen Haws have created a wine selection that will please just about any palate and fall within most budgets. Next door, they’ve added a small retail shop where you can purchase bottles of anything on Ripple’s list along with other carefully curated wines. The team also has a wine club that hosts special dinners and tastings, mostly on Sundays when Ripple is closed.
The restaurant’s wine list changes marginally every couple of months while remaining consistent in its balance of a few dozen red wines, a handful of sparklers, a few rosés and 14-15 whites. Most of these are served from a state-of-the-art Cruvinet system that keeps open bottles from being oxygenated so that the last serving tastes as good as when the bottle is just opened.
There’s a nice variety of prices, and you can order almost any wine by the half glass as well as by the glass or bottle. Some of the selections are more than what I’d usually spend for a bottle and it’s a treat to be able to try a glass or half-glass of wines that go for $70 or more. On my recent visit, I loved every sip of the Albert Boxler Alsatian white blend with our appetizers, followed by a luscious Girard petit sirah from Napa that went wonderfully with my entrée.
If you don’t know much about wine and aren’t sure where to start, just ask for guidance. DiVincenzo says that while wine can be intimidating to the uninitiated, she has great confidence in the staff’s ability to demystify the experience.
“Of the many restaurants I’ve worked at, I’m most proud of the staff at Ripple and how they make [understanding wine] easy for the guests,” she says.
But before you sip anything, be sure to take in the funky-cool way the Haws have rebuilt and decorated the place. Their work started in 2018 with a demolition and gut job on a building that is over 100 years old.
“We wanted to keep as much of the space in its original form as we could,” says Kathleen Haws. “But we also wanted to modernize the interior and use the space as efficiently as possible.”
She and her husband scrutinized historic photographs of the building to help achieve that blend of old and new. They refurbished existing porcelain tiles on the outside of the building and tore out interior walls to expose original brickwork. After getting the electric and plumbing up to current building code standards, they consulted with the design firm Orleans Development to finish the interior. They chose black-and-white hexagon shaped tiles for flooring, harkening back to photos from the 1890s when Pike Street was a busy commercial area.
Local artist Jon Flannery created cartoon-like murals for several walls, blending with the black and white color palette that Haws says supported their goal of making wine approachable and fun. The white paint on interior walls helps make the small space seem larger, while the rope lighting and butcher block bar adds modern elements to the historic space. The result is a super-contemporary, urban ambiance that would fit comfortably into a groovy Brooklyn or Denver neighborhood.
What should you eat? You might start with something like truffle popcorn, a charcuterie board or the scrumptious shrimp nachos. Beef Wellington popovers — with a filling of braised beef short rib, mushroom duxelles and pecorino cheese — can sell out early because they are so delicious.
There are a couple of salads, three flatbreads and a half dozen entrées. We especially liked the scallops and a filet mignon with potatoes and an excellent chimichurri sauce. Entrée portions aren’t large, but you won’t go away hungry if you partake of some of the appetizers and salads.
For dessert, you can’t go wrong with a slice of house-made salted caramel cheesecake and perhaps an “after-party” glass of port, Madeira, sherry or dessert wine.
Ripple Wine Bar, 4 W. Pike St., Covington.Info: ripplewinebar.com.