IT ALL STARTED over a bottle of wine — or over a wine shop. In 2013, I was living in Texas and preparing for my move to Washington, D.C., where I had plans to attend graduate school. My car was packed to fit the few sentimental belongings that would make the trip with me. After a very long drive, I arrived at my new home, located at 1635 Wisconsin Avenue NW, in Georgetown. My apartment, which was on the second floor of the building, shared an address with one of Georgetown’s neighborhood wine shops, Bacchus Wine Cellar. From the street, a shop’s bay window thrust itself forward, beckoning with its magnums of champagne and revolving whiteboard messages, such as:
‘SAY NO TO DRUGS. More Time to Drink Wine!’
Inside, the shop smelled of polished wood and rolled cigars. The owner, Bassam Al-Kahouaji, a soft-spoken Syrian man, was one of the first friends I made. Little did I know, however, that this friendship would be a defining one, that this place would be a cornerstone of my D.C. life.
After settling in, I explored the surrounding street block and found that the pastel buildings lined up one after the next — marigold, lavender, sage and blush — were home to charming restaurants, art galleries and antique shops. Green vines climbed across their facades and hugged the roof cornices, like long, loving fingers. I made a conscious effort to be a supportive local: I ordered coffee at the local bakery, bought gifts from local stores and was an active participant in the businesses that nested around me. And then, as weeks folded into months, I began to notice familiar faces on my street, smiles beneath the eyes of people I’d come to pass on my daily routine: beauticians, baristas, curators. As my surrounding community came into view, I realized I was a stranger no more.
While most of the businesses on my new street catered to a daytime crowd, come 5 o’clock, Bassam’s wine shop was just getting started. Tastings were held every week, Thursday through Saturday, and on these evenings, the shop pulsed with friends, wine aficionados, raconteurs and the familiar faces I’d come to know.
As a Texan struggling through my first D.C. winter, I found unexpected comfort in Bassam’s warm wine shop; the large window glowed amid the muffled layers of whiteness. On cold, snowy afternoons, he opened not only his doors but also his finest wines, and friends flocked to the cellar for a good story and spirit.
Emptied bottles of aged wine and bourbon are among the many souvenirs the shop displays to mark snow days past. No matter the season, I always look forward to walking down Wisconsin Avenue and spotting the shop’s window, the bottles of wine glinting from their perches, like a guiding light.
Soon I will graduate from my program and life will take me onward. Regardless of where I go, the wine shop, and the home that rests above it, will always remind me of this particular time and of the Washingtonian that lives within me. When I think about this side of my identity, my thoughts venture downstairs, to nights spent learning about the myriad spirits and cultures of the world. Whether it was an Argentinian Malbec or a newfound friend of European descent, those downstairs gatherings changed my perspective and uncorked fresh conversations. It was a place for people like myself, hailing from places afar, to come together and open up, like a fine wine, our unique complexities commingling in a shared home.
It’d be false to say I haven’t gained a zealous appreciation for wine through this experience, but I’ve also gained so much more. In moving to the apartment over the wine shop, I found a great neighbor, a new community of friends and a place I’ve been lucky to call home.