There has been rumors floating around for a while, but the news is now official. 33 Wine Bar in Lafayette Square is being sold. But fret not, it’s not being closed and you’ll still be able to get a great beer (or wine). 33 founder Jake Hafner decided it was time to move on and decided that rather than closing one of the best bars in the area, he’d hand the keys over to a 33 regular Jeff Stetner.
I think this is kind of a bittersweet moment for a lot of fans of 33. While it sad to hear that Jake will no longer be in the bar every time you walk in the door, it’s good to hear it’s staying open and staying in good hands. Jeff has a lot of new ideas planned for the bar, including expansion next door which will allow for more retail sales.
While it’s easy to fear change, I think everyone should keep an open mind about it all. Jeff is a really good guy and a self-confessed “wine dork and beer dork.” He fell in love with a wine bar and isn’t looking to add TVs or change the vibe. You’re still going to see familiar faces when you walk in the door. Jeff loves the place as much as many of us and doesn’t want to lose that 33 “feel.” I consider Jeff and Jake friends and wish them both a lot of luck.
You can read Jake’s full letter about the ownership change after the jump.
33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar committed to long but purposeful rambling emails.
There is a time for everything… this is 33’s. Another rambling email, but what else would you expect from me. You may want to be sitting down for this one. Maybe even grab a bag of popcorn and crack open a bottle of Riesling or maybe just enjoy that morning latte while you read.
There is a really good reason this email is so long. Trust me on this or just cheat and skip to the end.
Almost 8 years ago, on Feb. 26th, 2001, 33 opened on a slightly chilled yet sun filled day. My grandpa, Franz Basler, who once drove sugar up from Bloomsdale, Mo to St. Louis during prohibition was my first patron. As my brother Jim and I attempted to figure out the cash register, he ordered a glass of Riesling for my grandma and one for himself and that day 33 began to breathe. When I first opened, my Grandma Hafner called and sent me an Irish plaque stating a simple “Welcome” that still hangs in the bar next to the front door. She prayed that customers would, “beat a path to my door” and it clearly worked. They all have since passed and I miss them dearly. Our first bottle of wine sold to go was to a chap who called himself, Bob Ruebsam primarily because it was his name. On certain nights, you can still find him sitting at the bar with his wife Tess in hand.
There are a mere 9 wooden seats at 33’s cozy bar. 3 multiplied by 3. It naturally fit into the space, it would be too cute if planned. There are 8 tables. 45 chairs. I designed the circled glass top with 55 repetitive clear circles as a psychology experiment to determine the exact percentage of wine drinkers who were also OCD. (32.8% in case you were wondering…not really…24.3%… not really once again…just in case you are still wondering). My cousin, Jen made the place work by spacing the tables, lighting and picking out the colors for the bar. There is no TV (except on special occasions: one super bowl, a world series and election night) because unlike other bars, this is a bar to connect with friends or meet new ones. 33 persevered without a sign for over 5 years after a violent fall storm whipped winds down the street picked up our sandwich board sign and mercilessly smashed it against a tree. In response to the wine gods, I chose not to replace it and soldiered on. When people asked, I would dismissively note, “Every business has a sign or the Chocolate Bar has a sign it seems a waste of money that I should also have to pay for one.” Only now as I write, do I realize how sarcastic I can be.
Before 33 opened, it ran only one tiny ad but the phone number listed was wrong and 33 didn’t have to pay. 33 never ran another ad. 33 has earned countless awards as a result of our dedicated and fiercely loyal customers. I have never had it in me to display them always thinking I would rather you and those that stumble upon our shop have the chance to make your own decision. The World Headquarters of 33 at 1913 Park Ave. has grown to an amazing staff of two full-time employees and both Mike and Dylan are as knowledgeable and conscientious as one can find. I have served people from all over the world as well as some people who noted they lived in a far away land called O’Fallon. Many leave noting how nice it would be to have a 33 by them. For many of our patrons jobs or families have taken them away from St. Louis, but it warms my heart as I see them when they are back in town or when they occasionally send an email or letter my way.
The front door at 33 doesn’t close automatically, the patron must choose to shut it behind them. There is a small piece of tin near the front door on the old scuffed pine floor which has a patched a hole from someone’s high heel. There is a tile on the landing leading to the bathroom that needs new grout and it moves slightly if you stand on it and shift your weight. There are four steps leading up to the wine cellar and 11 leading to the basement cellar. If you look closely at the floor behind the bar and in our tiny bathroom: 2 sets of 3 grey tiles produce a row of 3 and 3 different tiles behind the bar. It takes exactly 3 steps from the curb and 25 steps for me to get from the front door to the back. By my estimates I have served over 60,000 bottles of wine. I can open a bottle with my eyes closed. I can also open a bottle of wine behind my back, sometimes I close my eyes for no particular reason just to show off.
I have spent over 1500 hours cleaning the place more than 2100 times . Shortly after 33 opened, I started the first menu title line which read, “Over 100 served” by my estimates 33 has now served well over 200,000 people while working over 28,000 hours and in the process I have walked over 2500 miles and both descended and climbed over 35,000 sets of stairs. I feel I can walk the entire place with my eyes closed and backwards, while drinking a glass of wine, balancing a beer on my head and singing “Kumbaya.” 33 still doesn’t have a working web-site nor a message on the shops answering machine. 33 is old school. The kind of business that trudges along asking customers to come along for the ride. Those that get it hop in and believe in it so strongly they send and in some cases (Shamus) force others to come. I guess inside I never really wanted it to change. But a good part of me always new, I was just watching it for awhile. I was a wine shepherd of sorts but instead of sheep I had bottles and instead of a herding staff I had a wicked corkscrew. We have always cultivated 33 sheeple.
Because of you 33 has been so fortunate to grow the business every year it has been open, in both good times and bad and in 2008 we had our best year ever! (note exclamation mark)
A thanks to my family… My parents, Pete and Justine have helped me so much that even when I say thanks I realize it is not enough. They lent me the money back in 2000 and it is because of them I was able to also acquire a SBA loan. In the beginning, I financed extra money through credit cards racking up another 20,000 at one point and lived as a modern day pauper with my parents in my child hood room with race car wallpaper to keep my bills low. 33’s meticulously crafted wine cases and the bar back were built by my dad. He’s the real shizzle but in a quiet reserved sort of way. And those days when you came in and realized the place was really clean, it was Justine clean. The flowers on the patio cascading off the walls and jumping from the earth are simply because of her. No one has worried more about me and my success than my mother (especially during the first two years.) I am going to go on a vacation this year with them, one lasting longer than 4 days. It has been over 2 1/2 years since I have actually taken a week off and in the time since I started I only once have had an 11 day vacation. My siblings, Jim, Monica and Mike all pitched in especially during the first few years. My brother’s amazing wife Michelle (today is her birthday!) has always kept our books in line and I knowingly am indebted to her as well.
Our first day we did well over 300 dollars in business probably by 30 or 40 dollars. One day two months after we opened we did 22 dollars. That wasn’t so good. Some of you receiving this email came to 33 that first day and still do. Others came later and many have made 33 a part of your life. Years ago, a few customers (Aimee and Katie) put it to me in words that today still make sense. There is a book titled “Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring Stories About the “Great Good Places” at the Heart of Our Communities” In short, it is about the place that people share part of their lives. Home being the first, work being the second and the third,
in this case very cutely 33 for so many people.
During this time, I have had the privilege of serving you and doing my best to provide that place. Many of you, have graciously allowed it to happen and become our most ardent supporters. There is a joke among a few regulars that I have been claimed as a dependent on your taxes. This is not legal. However, it also funny as it may be true. I guess by now as you are reading (that is if you still are) you are beginning to realize this all is going somewhere. This is the time. I sincerely thank-you for letting me serve you at 33, for making it part of your life. For showing up when you desired a drink and when you were celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, solemn when you remembered friends passing and all those places in between. For letting me provide a place to share your life.
It was with great privilege and deep happiness that I signed a term letter yesterday and agreed to pass 33 onto my close friend, Jeff Stettner. Over the past several months, Jeff and I have been working very closely together and finalizing the details to make this happen. Word has begun to leak into the market as often happens in these cases and I am sorry if you heard it from someone other than Jeff and I. You will soon agree this is the right thing for 33 and I am so looking forward to sitting on the other side of the bar and sharing a drink with you. Jeff has so many great things planned for you and it feels really good to pass this to someone I know will carry on its ideals. He has an expansion already planned! A small retail shop and so much more! All the things you have always wanted from 33. It is time for 33 to take a step and I know in my heart, Jeff will get it there and it has been entrusted to him.
But the more things change the more they stay the same. Jeff is applying for the liquor license and as soon as that is finalized he will grab the reigns of the shop. I will be honored to help him over the next several months introducing him to you and will be here wanting to serve you during that time. His vision is the same as mine. That 33 has rightfully become a 3rd place in so many people’s minds and that 33 exists as an ideal rather than a passion of just one individual. The high standards will be the same. The glasses will still be sparkling clean, the wine list eclectic, the regulars will still come and all along the way a committed owner will be your guide.
In short time, you will become to realize 33 hasn’t really changed. Jeff and I are ensuring that together. 33 was created as the place I desired to hang out. It will become my third place and I will gladly share a drink and toast with you. It will always be the place where you can meet the owner and know they work diligently to bring something special to you. I will be honored to sit next to you at the bar, peruse the wine and beer list and ask for a recommendation just as you have allowed me to do all these years. Jeff has agreed to let me don my corkscrew from time to time and get behind the bar to help out whenever I feel the need to do what I do.
33 is not about one person and it doesn’t have a single leader. It is an ideal. It’s a place where things are done right and always will be. Jeff gets it. He understands 33 and all those things that have made it successful. It’s that rare place where friendships are kindled amongst those sharing the simple common bond of drinking great wine and beer. It’s where people retreat, escape to and oddly enough I will admit some people still don’t understand it. Those people instead retreat to the safe warehouse box stores or chain retailers where they can hide among other customers and become a number rather than part of something. 33 doesn’t try to be all things to all people instead it chose something and did it well. It chose not to offer people the comfortable easy choices present at most bars and instead 33 challenged you to explore new regions.
Mike and Dylan will also be hanging around and Joe as well as so many other former employees will still be found sitting at the bar. We are a welcoming team for Jeff and are all committed to the future of the shop under his guidance. There are so many employees of 33 over the years that I must extend my thanks to them also. But no one spent more time there than good ole Joe though Michelle, Ben, Tricia, Aimee and Jim all gave a good run to 33. If I missed anybody it is become I am drunk. Not really. And to all of you that supported me faithfully, I am eternally indebted.
I close with the a thank you that emanates from deep inside and pours out. I have and will continue to be humbled by your commitment to 33. It has been entirely my honor and privilege to be your dedicated bartender over the past 8 years. I will be around full time for several months and then for a few random weeks until the end of the year selling wine to you and helping my friend Jeff keep the dream alive.
Stop by in the next few weeks and meet Jeff and if you are lucky, his wonderful wife J.J. As soon as we finalize the liquor license I will have Jeff send word to come on by. I will be there with him to greet you.
33 will continue as a third kind of place place.
As far as I go. We will end in much the same way we begin. We never had a grand opening and nor will we have a grand changing of the guard. I will leave in much the same way I came in a humble, happy chap eager to see you arrive and thankful for the time we spent together.
Please stop by and meet Jeff when you get the chance. It gives me that good deep inside feeling to hand him the keys. I have already asked Jeff to get a sign so people can find the place, put something useful on the web page and actually record a message on the answering machine. I can’t wait to become a customer of the best wine bar in town. Soon I’ll see you on the other side of the bar.
The future is bright it’s not just all the snow on the ground. Please join me in welcoming Jeff. Once the dust settles, you will soon agree this is a great thing for the shop and I have chosen a new leader wisely. Together we can keep 33 on track.
Till then, my friend. Drink well, be prosperous and in the word’s of Yogi Berra, “Bob’s Speed to you”