If you remember the great ‘80s sitcom “Cheers,” you’ll recall that it was about a Boston bar “where everybody knows your name.” The focus of that bar was pushing beers to its patrons, but Crush Wine Bar in North Little Rock’s über-hip Argenta neighborhood replicates the Cheers bar’s friendly vibe, while providing a hotspot for oenophiles and brew lovers alike.
Founded 15 years ago in Little Rock’s River Market by married-couple team Joseph and Virginia St. Ana, Crush made the move across the river to Argenta seven years ago. Its original Little Rock location was the first dedicated wine bar in Arkansas (adding its rotating array of 30 beers after the move) and it brought a long-held passion to life for Joseph.
“I had worked in a wine bar in Atlanta before we moved here, so I had a good idea how to run it,” recalled Joseph. “But I’ve been in the wine and liquor industry since 1993, working in stores. I’m familiar with wine, and then I became a sommelier. I thought it’d be fun to try my hand in starting a bar of my own.”
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the St. Anas, who had to deal with the 2008 recession just a year after opening. Joseph went back to work at another job for a while, while Virginia guided their ship through the economic storm. According to her, Argenta’s vibrant neighborhood was a key factor in their survival.
“It’s definitely a neighborhood atmosphere here compared to downtown, though the people from Little Rock come here too,” explained Virginia. “We’ve watched the neighborhood grow and appreciated the Joint opening, the Argenta Community Theater opening, and Flyway Brewing. Restaurants coming in have been really good for us, because they brought people down here. They’ll come in here before or after they go to dinner.”
Crush holds 34 patrons on the inside, 35 on its back patio and another eight out front thanks to outdoor tables. Since Argenta is designated an official entertainment district, patrons can also drink canned beer while walking outside – and wine as long as it’s not in a glass – all the way up to the Simmons Bank Arena.
“The biggest challenge for me is not being a bigger space,” said Joseph. “When you’re a smaller space, you just can’t hire everybody. So I’m the floating person who does a lot.”
“But the biggest reward is that we’ve actually become real friends with a lot of our customers and go to their events and parties,” added Virginia. “We’ve had people have their first date here, get engaged here and then come back when they’re married. That’s the best.”
Joseph noted that big arena shows pack the neighborhood with those seeking pre-show festivities, but they also regularly draw customers from as far away as Cabot, Conway and Hot Springs. Crush has also become a prime spot for travelers from area hotels, as well a meeting spot for friends to reconnect when one side is passing through town.
“We want people to treat this as their living room, because you don’t have to clean up to come here,” said Joseph. “You can hang out, wear shorts, and you’ll be as comfortable as you want to. You can be yourself at this place, whoever you are.”
“That and good customer service,” added Virginia. “We’re local, locally owned and we really try hard to make sure there’s a great wine list. You’re not going to find this fine a list unless you go to a fancy steakhouse. There, you have to dress up, but come in here and have a really nice glass of wine, casually.”
Crush Wine Bar is located at 316 N. Main St., North Little Rock. Hours are 4-9 pm Tues.-Sat., closed Sun.-Mon. Call (501) 374-9463.
READ ALSO: SPOTLIGHT ON SMALL BUSINESS: Seniors Serving Seniors in Central Arkansas