On a Friday evening in Newton, Massachusetts, groups of friends trickle inside The Paint Bar. Running the gamut from recent grads to retirees, they order glasses of wine and trade greetings before putting on smocks and taking their seats.
A cross between a bar and an art school, The Paint Bar serves wine and beer during painting classes, which are offered four to five nights a week. Each night focuses on a different painting so the instructor can break it down into easily followed steps and shapes.
“People are more relaxed, so it’s a different twist,” says art instructor Jackie Schon, who owns The Paint Bar with Jill Kerner Schon, her mother. “You get that same feeling of accomplishment like when you were a kid and you won the spelling bee.”
The art class and alcohol concept is growing in popularity across the country.
Some venues, like Washington, D.C.’s Brush N Blush, are BYOB. But not all states allow patrons to bring their own beer or wine, so venues like The Paint Bar and Denver’s Canvas and Cocktails offer a cash bar instead. In cities including Chicago and Tampa, art instructors bring art materials to different venues, helping operators lure customers on slower nights of the week. Prices vary from about $35 to $40 depending on the venue. Depending on the operator, they might offer drink specials or the regular drink menu during painting classes.
The Poison Cup in Chicago has been hosting Monday evening painting classes with Bottles & Brushes for the past year. Says co-owner John Witte, “We rotate different artists into our space so it made sense. We liked the idea of adding another event to our week.”
Painting classes at The Poison Cup cost $35, which includes a 16×20 inch canvas, paints and instruction, plus a wine tasting before class starts. “Wine’s the perfect start to this sort of thing,” says Witte. “A lot of people have said that they’re not an artist, they wouldn’t be any good at this sort of thing, so starting with the wine tasting loosens people up a bit.” He’ll sometimes offer discounts on the wines featured during the tasting but says Bottles & Brushes does most of the marketing for them, helping to attract new customers.
The Paint Bar, which opened in February, offers a similar pricing structure, with a $35 fee for materials and instruction, plus $1 for snacks and $5 for most of their beer and wine, which rotate seasonally. “My Mom and I did a tasting, so we focus on drinkable, affordable wines,” says Jackie. “We have two reds, two whites and a sparkling wine. For beer, we have Magic Hat and Sierra Nevada, but for St. Patty’s Day we did Irish beers and cider.”
She adds that they may add a riesling for summer, or pair beer and wine with the paintings. For instance, serving a French wine for nights when students are painting the Eiffel Tower.
The Trend Takes Off Around the Country
Meanwhile, Tampa’s Monet and Merlot also launched earlier this year. Owner and art instructor Brianne Small, who brings painting classes to several wine bars and restaurants around Tampa, says she gives wine breaks during class to let the paint dry and encourage students to order appetizers or another glass of wine.
According to Jennifer Bingham, who owns Crue Cellars, a South Tampa wine bar that began hosting Monet Merlot classes in March, most students order at least two glasses of wine and possibly a cheese plate on top of the $40 class fee. “I love having new groups in here,” she adds. “It was amazing how well the paintings turned out!”
Bingham says Small does most of the marketing for Monet and Merlot classes, so the wine bar just fields a few phone calls, puts out Small’s flyers, and watches as the space fills up with a mix of regulars and new patrons.
Small focuses on promoting her classes through social media and credits a deal offered through group-buying site LivingSocial.com with getting the word out about Monet and Merlot. “I had 800 people purchase our LivingSocial deal!” she says.
The Paint Bar uses similar strategies. They were also considering a deal with Groupon.com but were also finding success through word of mouth and social media. “People love to see their photos so Jackie [also a professional photographer] puts photos on Facebook after every class,” says Jill. “We get an amazing amount of hits and we’ve already had repeat customers.”
Some of those repeat customers originally came with friends and decided to host a bridal shower or birthday party at The Paint Bar, sometimes as a private party or as part of a regular class. “We’ve had catered parties here or people are welcome to bring in dinner,” Jill explains. “It’s a very social atmosphere.”
Occasionally someone will get so engrossed in painting that they forget to drink. Then again, “You have two glasses in front of you so occasionally people will accidentally dip their brush into their wine glass,” says Jackie. “Which means they’ll usually order another!”