It’s a typical Thursday evening in laid-back downtown Kerrville. From our bistro table in a niche between the wine shelves and bar, my wife and I watch the eclectic mix of locals and out-of-towners making themselves at home at Grape Juice.
Grape Juice is at 623 Water St. in Kerrville; closed Sunday and Monday. Call 830/792-9463.
Some sip libations at the bar, while couples and small groups chat in the lounges tucked along one wall. Although it’s not quite 6 p.m., the restaurant and outdoor patio are humming with activity. Welcome to “Kerrville’s living room.”
In 2009, owners Patrick and Keri Wilt, who had built a following in nearby Ingram with their Grape Juice Wine Shop, moved downriver to Kerrville to play a part in the downtown historic district’s revitalization efforts. They bought a 50-year-old building on the banks of the Guadalupe River and began re-creating the homey feel of the old Grape Juice, converting a large, open area into smaller spaces where customers can belly up to the bar, hide away on plush leather armchairs in a curtained lounge area, dine in the restaurant, relax on a deck outfitted with patio furniture and twinkling lights, and purchase bottles to enjoy at home. A mix of modern and vintage furniture, along with interior walls enlivened by paintings and photographs by local artists, lend Grape Juice a casually sophisticated feel.
Design details also reference Kerr-ville’s history: A wood-lined, vintage walk-in Friedrich meat locker—now used to chill kegs of beer—serves as a focal point of the bar area, and keen-eyed visitors might notice wrought-iron ceiling beams and a wall that once framed the eastern exterior of Kerrville’s 1938 Rialto Theater next door, which was demolished in 1974. From the Grape Juice parking lot, shared with a longtime print shop, customers can make out the faint outline of the stairs that led to the movie theater’s balcony back in the days of segregation.
Grape Juice customers like me who enjoy both beer and wine can find awesome selections under one roof. Either goes well with such dishes as macaroni and cheese accented with cabrito from Leakey’s Hilltop Place Ranch, soft tacos stuffed with sautéed quail from Bandera’s Diamond H Ranch, and Asian lettuce wraps incorporating Ingram’s Broken Arrow Ranch venison.
As a fan of draft craft beers, I can always find a tempting selection of seasonal beers from Texas craft breweries, such as Blanco’s Real Ale Brewing Company and Fredericksburg’s Pedernales Brewing Company, or I can go international with a pint of Belgian ale.
Customers who aren’t sure what style of beer or wine they want benefit from a knowledgeable and personable staff, who are happy to offer samples before pouring a full glass. Bartenders aren’t shy, either, about encouraging steadfast light-beer drinkers to venture outside their comfort zones with a flavorful draft pilsner or lager. Those who insist on a bottled Bud Light will find it listed in the “Bottled Up” section, tongue-in-cheek, for a mere “1 million dollars.” “We try to make it fun and simple. It’s about the journey,” says Keri, channeling her inner vintner Zen.
Most of Grape Juice’s wine selections come from vineyards that the Wilts have visited and the winemakers they have befriended in the United States and abroad. On Grape Juice’s lengthy wine list, look for compelling selections not only from California, Oregon, and other top U.S. wineries, but also from throughout the world, such as carmenere from Chile, rioja from Spain, and ugni blanc/colombard from France.
“I’m going to get you the best of the best,” Patrick promises. “It may not be a label you’re familiar with, but it will be a label that I’ve traveled the world to acquire so you can enjoy it in Kerrville.”
Above all, the Wilts strive to make their customers—oenophiles with sophisticated palates and novice wine sippers alike—feel at home. And, most beer and vino—which Patrick and Keri call “Sanity by the Glass”—sells for $6 to $16 by the glass, and $22 to $62 by the bottle.
Regardless of price, wine lovers visiting the popular Kerrville hangout or any of the myriad Hill Country wineries would be wise to heed Grape Juice’s simple philosophy: “Remember: At the end of the day, it’s just grape juice.”