Some art collectors aren't afraid to shell out big bucks for a magnificent piece that catches their eye. Others need some time to think about their purchase. That's one reason there's a quaint little bistro located in the back of Glass House 383, the new art-glass gallery on South Main.
"In visiting other galleries, I've noticed that people would come in and look at a piece and say they want to think about it. I want to give those people a place to think about it," says general manager Michael Lubiani. "I'll bring the piece [into the cafe] and put it on the coffee table. That way they can talk about it and look at it with no pressure."
Not all gallery vistors plan on making a purchase. Some are just there to look, and Lubiani says the cafe also serves as a place for those customers to relax after viewing the artwork.
"When I walk into a gallery, like many people, I feel intimidated. Studio glass is so new and it's very attractive, but you walk in and it's like, What do I do now?" Lubiani says. "It's like walking into an expensive clothing store. You might feel uncomfortable and want to do something you're more comfortable with. People are familiar with sitting down in a cafe and having a cup of coffee or a glass of wine."
Glass House has the only espresso bar on South Main, offering specialty coffees as well as teas and frozen drinks. The coffee menu is flexible, catering to customer requests.
"We've had some local residents come in and say, 'It'd be really nice if you had this type of coffee.' We'll try it for a while to see if people like it," he says.
There are 17 wines on the list, and Lubiani says they worked with a wine-distribution company to ensure a good representation. Glass House also offers eight cheeses to complement the wines.
Since the gallery has no kitchen, the bistro serves food that can be prepared behind the counter. Four grilled Italian panini sandwiches make up the bulk of the menu. One contains roast beef and Swiss, while another has turkey and provolone. Vegetarians can choose between a mozzarella, Swiss, and veggie sandwich or a Greek-inspired sandwich with feta and spinach.
The bistro also has a Caesar salad, a Greek salad, and a soup of the day. Desserts include tiramisu, Key lime pie, and triple-chocolate cheesecake from specialty vendors.
Hannah Miller, the bistro manager, and Lubiani worked together on developing the menu through trial and error.
"We had the panini grill at Hannah's house for a while, and then it was at my house. We did a lot of experimenting," says Lubiani. "I'd give her some ideas, and she'd give me some until we came up with what seemed to work."
The cafe also features live entertainment on the weekends. Local singer-songwriters and jazz ensembles perform on Friday and Saturday nights, and the Memphis Songwriters Association will soon start open-mic nights on Thursdays. Lubiani says they're trying to create a low-key atmosphere in the gallery, and in keeping with that mission, the acoustics in the cafe were specially designed so that customers can talk over the music.
"We want to provide a nice quiet environment for people to come to after Beale Street or after dinner. We want people to be able to come in and have a conversation and not have to compete with the music," Lubiani says.
In the front of the gallery, hand-blown vases, bowls, and sculptures are on display. Most were designed by out-of-town artists, which Lubiani says is partly due to the fact that there's only a handful of glass artists in Memphis. That may change within a couple years, though, since Glass House plans on offering glass-blowing classes in an adjoining studio next year. Gallery visitors will be able to watch students blow glass through live feed on plasma-screen televisions in the cafe.
"We're really trying to touch several senses here," says Lubiani. "We've got the artwork in the front, which is visually very nice. We're got the food and entertainment in the back. We really want to provide an experience while promoting the art form." •
Glass House 383 is located at 383 S. Main. Hours: Monday-Tuesday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Wednesday-Thursday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 10 a.m.-midnight; closed Sunday.