Rumours Wine Bar is back, and it’s all grown up.
Last night, Rumours Wine Bar reopened in its newest iteration—as a sophisticated Gulch eatery with subtle notes of urban glitter and a generous finish of that snug homey-ness that’s been Rumours’ signature, in all its iterations.
“You’re here!” cried co-owner and manager Jenn Doherty McCarthy as we crossed the threshold, into a room shimmering with quiet elegance—chocolate walls hung with giant Julia Martin painted ladies and Trevor palette-knife botanicals, old-wood tables and jewel-toned cushions…all crowned with gemstone-bright chandeliers dripping with golden light.
“You’ve got to try this!” said McCarthy, a Maine native, who’s mastered the art of Southern hospitality, but with a Northerner’s restraint.
She’s one of those bartenders who knows when you need company and when you’d prefer a private moment…and she always knows what you want to drink, especially when you’re hemming and hawing. Last night, McCarthy thought—no, knew I needed a Last Word cocktail—brightly acidic, pale green, and aptly monikered for a person in the word game.
“Now come with me,” McCarthy ordered, gently but firmly. I followed her to a resplendent back dining room, the crowning design achievement of McCarthy and co-owner Christy Shuff (who created the original Rumours concept on 12South). “Look at this!” grinned McCarthy, settling in on a hot pink divan that whispers (but doesn’t scream) Jazz-Age bordello.
“It’s made of golden retriever puppy fur!” she laughed, stroking the velvety-soft upholstery, silky as a dog’s ear. One purple-and-silver brocade wall shimmered in the soft chandelier light; dark wood set off bright tea lights and reflected in a gold-framed mirror. A huge sliding divider had been thoroughly Julia Martined, to excellent effect.
The room was a masterpiece of that intangible romance and atmosphere I like to call the “Twinkly-Lights Effect.”
I’d made a faux pas a few weeks ago, in asking McCarthy how creative restaurant minds tackle the problem of imbuing new real estate with warmth and charm. I wanted to know, because I don’t have that gift. McCarthy hastened to reassure me that she and Shuff were on it.
She needn’t have, as I never doubted it. But I had to admit: Even after seeing the space in various stages of construction, I couldn’t see what they saw when they first re-imagined the empty box that served as the partners’ empty canvas.
As much as I loved the old Rumours—for years, a second home, and the place we celebrated the major events of our lives—I found myself thinking (a little tearfully) Rumours is all grown up. McCarthy smiled with muted Yankee pride as I gushed (Southernly) about their creation. “I’m ecstatic,” she said. “It’s 374 days since we closed. I’m so happy.”
And so was I.
A few glasses of velvety Gamay Beaujolais later, Christy Shuff joined us at a banquette as we sampled chef Jo Ellen Brown’s starter menu. “You’ve gotta have this,” Brown told me, emerging from the kitchen to point out a flash-fried Brussels sprout app on the menu. I agreed to her terms, and had no regrets whatsoever.
Maybe you can go home again, I thought, loading as much earthy mushroom pâté as a crostino would hold and placing one after another onto my tongue, reverentially, a communion of sorts. I’d floated to a near-manic state of euphoria, fueled by good wine, Twinkly-Lights Effect, and surging vicarious pleasure in my friends’ triumph.
For Shuff, this newest realization of her artistic vision is a long-awaited vindication. She had been one of the 12South neighborhood’s earliest pioneers and champions in the early 2000s, as co-owner of Rumours Gallery, 12South Market and Deli (later converted to 12South Taproom), and finally, Rumours Wine Bar.
When (in essence) market forces (and deeper pockets) pushed Shuff out of the neighborhood her businesses helped to forge, she `found it tough to swallow. It felt like a no-good-deed-goes-unpunished moment; the downside of being an indie urban pioneer who bootstraps a small business in a transitional neighborhood is this: If you succeed, you transform your environs, and real estate prices respond in kind.
If I may say so, Shuff was pretty resplendent herself last night, in a gray print dress that ended mid-thigh, to excellent effect. “Rumours is exactly where it’s supposed to be,” she said, going all philosophical (but just for a moment). “We wouldn’t have found our new home if we hadn’t lost the old one.”
The momentary flash of Shuff the Philosophical dissolved, and the far-more-familiar Shuff the Exceedingly Charismatic took her place, shining up the place with her dazzling grin and unselfconscious laugh. Glasses clinked, lights twinkled, and we held the taste of the new-and-improved Rumours on our tongues, savoring its taste.
If last night was any indication, Rumours on 12th & Division has great legs, exuding insouciant notes of elderberry and lingering saucily on the palate for as long as it damn well pleases.
*Note: This post was composed from the POV of a fangirl, not a restaurant critic. Deal with it.
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