In an interview for Wines of Romania last year, Marcel Vulpoi, co-owner of Gramofon Wine, announced the winery will develop a partnership with George Remes and the Godot Theatre, in order to develop a cultural hub in the Bucharest center. Originally scheduled for the end of the year, the new Great Hill Society Club enjoyed a "soft opening" in December, but only hit full throttle in January, with the official opening also being the perfect opportunity to stage the "Vino Veritas" theater play, by David MacGregor. We also visited the place (for another play), tasted things and, obviously, asked Marcel Vulpoi a lot of questions. Again.
Bragadiru, from bowling alley to Society Club
From a poor child, helping a confectioner and brandy maker, Dumitru Marinescu became first associate and then heir to the business of his former patron, Iancu Stefanescu. An inspired investor, he expands his brandy and spirit businesses during the Independence War and establishes the first refined alcohol factory in the commune of Bragadiru, a name he will add to his own and then turn into a true local brand.
At the end of the 19th century, Dumitru Marinescu Bragadiru opened the famous Rahova brewery and, as was the fashion at the time, he also built spaces for employees’ relaxation, from the summer garden to a theater and a bowling alley. The Colosseum building, also called the "Colossus", today renamed as the Bragadiru Palace, combines the styles of the most famous buildings of the time: the Chamber of Commerce, the Romanian Post Office, the House of Savings and Deposits and the building of the Supreme Court of Justice, all built in the same period. In 1948, the palace was confiscated by the authorities and became the Lenin House of Culture.
After 2003, the palace is retrocessed to the heirs and once again, after a long renovation, returns to its former glory. In recent years, one of the capital’s gastronomic hubs was slowly established here. And, after the association between the Godot Theater and Gramofon, the Bragadiru Palace can offer any pleasure, for any taste, officially entering the list of the most attractive destinations in Bucharest.
The Art Cell, permanent exhibition
The Great Hill Society Club soft-opening took place in December, the space brought together 10 artists recommended by the Art Cell (Celula de Arta) in the "Art for Christmas" vernissage. "It was a success," says Marcel Vulpoi. "We had 60-70 works on display, some swere old in the first five minutes, in total over 20 were sold. The concept is simple – you buy directly from the artist, cut out the middlemen, everyone is happy. I am not an art dealer, to impose a commission. I’m glad to be the first to see the works, that’s enough for me. It means that I can make a reservation or I have the right of first refusal".
The opening was such a success that Celula de Arta, a group that brings together 30 of the most acclaimed young artists, will receive the free of charge use of one of the Society Club rooms, as a permanent exhibition space.
New youth for an old trend – Art and wine
Art goes well with wine, we know. Empathy, emotion, disinhibition, ideas that circulate – both art and wine stimulate them equally. Art makes you want to talk, wine makes it easier to say it. A decade ago, bridges between arts and wines had begun to be built more often, but the financial crisis and then the pandemic had, estranged us from this concept.
“The combination of art and wine was, indeed, an older trend, but when we appeared on the market we had already kind of died, it had entered a cone of shadow. I didn’t even know, at that time, that there had already been experiments of this kind, with established painters making wine labels. It came naturally to me, what I like can be liked by others, the same was the case with the decision to establish the first wine bar, The Great Hill. I asked myself: what do I like? Fine wine, fine art and good music.
So, ok, we’re doing a wine bar with art and music. Coincidence – or luck – it was that others liked it too. I don’t do these things because it is popular or it looks good on my CV, I do it because I like it. For example, I don’t think that these popular stars from around here will ever sing on this stage, because I don’t feel close to them, they don’t mean much to me. But the stage was and will always be opened for authentic gipsy and folk musicians, Taraf de Caliu, those from Varbilau, Ionel Tudorache is already scheduled… But also a lot of jazz!", promises Vulpoi.
What kind of people visit the The Great Hill Society Club?
"A great teacher once told me that smart people are recognized by the way they spend their money. Not the way they do it, like that’s easy – you can have a brilliant idea, do something good all your life, some real estate scheme, anyone can make money. But not everyone spends it the same way.
People who come here spend money on theater plays, they buy paintings, they taste fine wine. These are the people I want around. Here, and also at the winery", says Marcel Vulpoi, satisfied that the scenario he considered ideal was quickly adopted by all customers. "People come an hour earlier, and when they make reservations they also announce that they want a tasting pack or whatever wine they want, with what dishes.
They come, they taste, watch the play, then they remain to discuss it, possibly over another bottle of wine. Because that is the most beautiful discussion, right after the play. From a regular theater you have to leave, possibly out in the rain and… what do you do? If you want to discuss what you just saw, you have to look for a cafe, a restaurant… It’s uncomfortable, the sensation cools down, it loses its charm", explains Marcel Vulpoi.
Young people are a priority
If you’re still wondering what theater, art and wine have in common, it’s worth clarifying.
The Godot Theater, which originally operated in the Old City, promotes young people, whom it puts on stage alongside established artists, like Maia Morgenstern or Razvan Vasilescu. For the established ones, it is a challenge, for the young – it is a validation. Just as the Art Cell does with young painters and sculptors. And just as the Great Hill Society Club brings a new generation closer to wine. And it does it with elegance and charm.
"From the first time I saw the Colosseum Hall, at a jazz concert, I decided that this was the ideal location for what I wanted to do. I didn’t know George Remes, I called him and told him that we can do some nice things together. In three days we had already signed the papers! I called him, he was at the Palace, he invited me, it was his birthday and he was with friends. When I told him what I wanted to do, with music of a certain level, with art… He wanted the same thing, but he didn’t have the financial power to do it", Vulpoi recounts.
So was it born out of personal chemistry or just because they had common goals? "Chemistry. Totally".
Things are happening all the time and new things are about to happen at the Bragadiru Palace. Like the "open mic" night where anyone can come and speak. Anything. Speeches, singing, stand-up comedy, poetry recitation, story-telling.
It was also here that the first glass dedicated to the national variety, Feteasca neagra, was launched, made by Chef & Sommelier at the request of Gramofon Wine. It was tested at the official opening, together with the preview of the Vino Veritas play, when only wines made of Feteasca neagra were tasted – Gramofon (off-dry), Sonorum and Opus Fabula Maximus, that is, the same Opus Fabula we know, only aged in oak barrels.
And, when the sun outside will be accompanied by a few more degrees, a fantastic garden will also await us at the Bragadiru Palace, with some 250-300 seats, where the concerts and plays will take place for as long as the weather permits. In other words: We know what you’ll do in the summer!