It is only hours before Chloe Grigri’s new wine bar, Le Caveau is set to open to the public for the first time, and she has just discovered that the refrigerator behind the bar is broken.
Yet she remains sangfroid and cool enough to pontificate on what it is that makes wine so good, calling on her ability to distill an encyclopedic knowledge of wine into simple and elegant insight that has informed the wine program at Le Caveau itself, as well The Good King Tavern, the French wine-focused restaurant she opened along with her father, Bernard Grigri, in 2013.
With the opening of Le Caveau, some could say that space is being made on the throne. Occupying the second story directly above The Good King Tavern, Le Caveau is both an extension of and elaboration on The Good King Tavern, while still its own separate entity; it is “a concept within a concept,” according to Chloe.
Since it opened in 2013, The Good King Tavern has developed a reputation as a place to suit any mood, desire, or occasion. “Neighborhood bar with beer and burger feels really different from a French bistro. Being able to marry those two concepts and walk that line took a lot of intention,” says Grigri.
With a wine program that is both meticulously curated and legible to all levels of wine knowledge, The Good King Tavern has become known as a place where any interest in wine, whether nascent or cultivated, can be fostered and encouraged.
Le Caveau, however, is The Good King Tavern’s sultry alter ego. The lights are dimmer, the color palette more rouge. Referencing French cabarets from the 19th century (especially the prolific Le Chat Noir), there’s an implication at Le Caveau that life is a series of stories, a stage that you can be on either side of at any moment. The wine list is a slightly expanded version of that of The Good King Tavern, though there is more of an emphasis on natural wines. And although Le Caveau does not serve meals as The Good King Tavern does, it does serve cheese, charcuterie, French hot dogs, and other snacks.
While Le Caveau deviates slightly from The Good King Tavern in style, it is the same in intention, which is to remain steadfastly committed to maintaining an environment where people with every depth of knowledge of wine can feel comfortable. All tastes, sensibilities, and reactions are welcome – there is no incorrect way to enjoy what one enjoys. On the attitude toward wine served at The Good King Tavern and Le Caveau, Chloe says: “Drink what you like, drink what tastes good to you. You’re not wrong if you don’t like something, you’re not right because you do. Everybody’s palate is a little bit different. Everybody sees something different and that’s the beauty of it.”
A bar that is focused on an accessible and easy-to-understand wine program may seem logical now, as the roots of Philly’s wine scene take deeper root. But when Chloe and Bernard opened The Good King Tavern in 2013, they were told that, since Philly is a “beer town,” they were focusing on the wrong beverage.
“Six years ago,” says Bernard, “the wine scene was not very big here. A lot of people thought, ‘why are you doing wine? You should be doing beer. It’s easier.’”
But comfort and ease don’t have to be the domain of beer alone.
“There’s something casual and cool about beer and that makes it attractive to the masses, and we wanted to do the same thing with wine,” says Chloe. “It was really important for us to create a space where people felt comfortable exploring. We really wanted to open a restaurant and bar in Philadelphia where you can walk in and order a glass of wine and not spend that much money and chill.”
Today, people do indeed come to The Good King Tavern to chill, hard. People pop in for a burger, escargots, a beer, or a few bottles of wine. It’s a place to go to escape life while embracing it, to both hail and lament the messiness of it all.
Guests come from all over to enjoy The Good King Tavern, but it is their commitment to the surrounding neighborhood and its residents and businesses that have played a large role in their success. When Hale & True, a cidery and taproom, opened across the street, they asked Good King Tavern to make their small plates – spiced nuts, pickled vegetables, marinated olives. And each year around Bastille Day, a celebration of France that happens every July 14, they host a block party that welcomes all ages, especially the ages that enjoy drinking.
“Wine is ethereal. Wine is like art and science, married. It’s so cool.”Chloe Grigri, owner of South Street bar Good King Tavern and new city wine bar, Le Caveau
The Good King Tavern is, after all, named after Roi Renė of Anjou, also known Good King Renė, a lover of the arts and philosophy who opened up his palace gates to have parties for villagers. For Chloe, a career in wine seems to be a part of her terroir. Though she grew up in the Philadelphia area, she spent a lot of time visiting family in France, specifically Aix-en-Provence and Marseille, with her French father, Bernard.
“When I was 9 years old,” Chloe remembers, “somebody at the dinner table in France asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said, ‘Well, I’d like to drink wine.’ And they were like, ‘Oh, great. Cool.’ Needless to say, here I am today.”
Working in restaurants was, for Chloe, at first, a way to make money while attending the University of Delaware and then, after transferring, the University of Vermont. After moving back to Philly after college, she did a fellowship in the International Relations department at the University of Pennsylvania but quickly realized that restaurants are more comfortable, so she got a job at the now-closed Chaaya on East Passyunk Avenue and then El Camino Real in Northern Liberties.
Then one day, two years into a stint doing textile design production for Urban Outfitters, her Dad sent her a rental listing for a charming space off of South Street, with dark wood and a tin ceiling. She quit her job immediately and The Good King Tavern began its reign a few months later. In June 2018, they purchased the entire building, which included – until now – a vacant second story.
Ideas for what to do with the space began bubbling right away and construction quickly followed. The aesthetic references cabarets and wine bars from France’s Loire Valley, as well as Chloe’s own sensibility. Throughout construction, Le Caveau’s Instagram has featured photos of inspiration for the space: fonts, menu boards, and of course, glasses of wine. There’s a sense that all of the aesthetic choices, just like the wine program itself, are based on the expression of a vision of style and comfort.
All of Chloe’s wine knowledge is, after all, the result of self-education.
“I’m not a certified sommelier, but I would say that I’m a sommelier,” she said. “It’s the new wave of somm. There are so many people who are taking different avenues to learn about wine today.”
Whether curating wine or drinking it, the mentality behind the wine at both Good King Tavern and Le Caveau is based in the recognition that wine isn’t about wine – it’s about people.
“There’s that whole connection between bottle and person that makes wine feel really alive; wine is alive, in the bottle, in the barrel, and on the vine,” says Chloe. “But it’s also alive in the sense that it’s a labor of love, it’s a passion, and the people behind it are really amazing.”