By Beth Greenberg
Brix Wine Shop owners Carri Wroblewski and Klaudia Mally didn't waste much time once they decided they wanted to open a classy, hip, design-influenced wine and spirits shop in the South End.
They signed a lease on the raw commercial space at the Savoy Building at 1284 Washington St. in August 2003, and opened their doors in December. Their glass-fronted shop, at the corner of Washington and Savoy streets along the Silver Line Route and overlooking the remarkable rehabilitation of the far South End, is streamlined and striking.
Many buildings in the stretch of Washington Street between Herald Street and Melnea Cass Boulevard have received makeovers, and this address was no exception. Gut renovations of the traditional red-brick building, built in 1890, began in 2000 and were completed in 2002. Sea-Dar Construction of the South End renovated the building into 13 residential condominium units and the street-level commercial space occupied by Brix.
As part of the renovation, bay windows were restored, brownstone lintels were repaired, and two contemporary penthouses were added to the top of the building. ''They basically took down everything, and really rebuilt the building," said Sheila Grove, director of the neighborhood's Main Streets program.
Early photos show that the structure was once a public storage facility. From 1946 to 1999, the St. Vincent de Paul charity maintained a resale shop in the commercial space. Offices upstairs had been vacant for at least a decade prior to the renovations. ''We were really certain about what we wanted in a wine store," said Wroblewski, who spent seven years in wine sales and importing before she and Mally signed the lease for their shop last spring. ''We didn't want to be tripping over bottles of pina colada mix to get to a good bottle of wine."
And with only 1,265 square feet of space, and a historical commission to answer to, Wroblewski and Mally had limited options. They elected to keep the rectangular space open, except for placement of a rough-edged granite tasting table near the front windows. The granite, lighted by conical hanging fixtures from the Italian manufacturer Flos, was hand-selected by the owners from a New Hampshire quarry.
Running the length of both walls, and from the dark cork floor to the ceiling, are sleek black laminate box shelves holding custom-milled racks. About 800 ''frontings," or displayed wines, are available at any time, with an average inventory of 6,000 racked bottles. A custom rolling ladder allows access to the highest shelves.
During the spring and summer, customers enter the shop by crossing a doormat of grass sod. The door has hand-forged, custom wrought iron that mimics leaded glass and provides security. The wall at the far end of the shop is painted chutney orange, the one spot of color in an otherwise minimalist dark palette.
The register counter is designed to look like a bar, with a cork top, dark wood stain, and the deep orange wall behind. Nine stylized floating shelves—lighted from below—are hung at varying heights on the wall and hold bottles of liquor, providing the look and appeal of a chic bar.