All about Riverside

Carissa Bowlin

All are welcome to relax at ‘clean, smoke-free environment’ on the river

Bob Morson, owner of Riverside Wine & Imports, consults Wine Trends distributor Mark Sheakley about which wines need to be purchased and stocked. Riverside has been open since August 1996.

Credit: Ben Breier

Soothing jazz hooks performed by the musicians in the back complement the serene setting.

A couple is enjoying a glass of deep red wine at the bar while bartenders shine goblets.

The manager is assisting a guest through the endless shelves of 1,800 wines and 400 beers.

A group of businessmen unwind after a long day at the office over a case of imported beers.

Artwork of painted vines wraps around the framed selections as a couple of students observe them, wine glasses in hand.

It’s not the typical Kent bar scene, but a relieving alternative.

Riverside Wine and Imports expanded from being a hot spot to select an exotic beer or wine to the prime, laid-back location to spend your entire Monday through Saturday night.

The bar is open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., perfect for a lunch excursion, happy hour or a way to spend an evening. The newly remodeled escape features just the right touch of track lighting and murals for a taste of New York right in the heart of Kent.

“Wine bars didn’t become popular until about 10 years ago,” said owner Robert Morson. “I saw that being involved in the business, applied for a liquors license and opened as a bar shortly after.”

Along with wine, beer and spirits, Riverside also offers a menu of gourmet cheeses, fresh bread, crackers, fruit, spreads and salamis. These can be ordered a la carte or in a variety of combinations.

The real kicker: This bar is smoke-free. In fact, in order to smoke a cigarette, guests are asked to relocate to an area just outside the parking lot at the house next door. There are benches and an ashtray. If it is raining, Morson offers the front porch of the house.

“This is the first smoke-free bar in the area,” owner Robert Morson said. “The whole idea is to create a clean, smoke-free environment where people have an alternative to the run-of-the-mill college bar and just relax and listen to jazz and blues.”

This cosmopolitan feel has attracted guests from students to professors, business professionals to industrial workers. Riverside welcomes guests clad in business suits just the same as guests sporting their latest rock show merchandise.

Kent State seniors Lexi Waddle and Kim Shreve visit the bar about once a week and refer to Morson as “Bob.”

“There is nowhere else you can go and taste the wine before you buy it,” Waddle said. “Bob is very, very knowledgeable about every brand he carries. He will help you mix and match a case of beer or wine that is in your price range.”

Shreve chimed in and added, “And then you can pop the bottle open right there and drink it. It’s nice because it’s quiet and you can have a glass of wine and still hear yourself talk.”

One way a guest can sample wines is to take one or maybe two of the “Wine Flights.” Each flight includes two ounces of four different wines from a specific geographical region or genre of wine such as the “California Chardonnay Tour” or the “Tour of the World of Reds.”

“This way a guest can find out which wine they really enjoy before buying a whole bottle,” Morson said. “Once they do pick a bottle, we love our guests to stay and enjoy the bottle in the Riverside atmosphere.”

Morson has been in business since August 1996. He bought the location in form of a carry-out store and transformed it into a fine wine and beer export. Located right on the river, Morson knew his place had potential for more right from the get-go. It was just a matter of waiting for the proper license to serve the spirits on location.

Now Morson sits pretty with 44 seats at tables and six seats at the bar, only a few renovations away from upgrading to 12 bar seats. There are TVs to watch the big games, news or the food channel. The next step: The addition of a patio overlooking the river due next June.

“We are really in a great spot to have a deck and patio right along the river,” said Morson.

Everything about the place is just a step above the rest. Morson is all about quality, from the Riedel glassware – which the wine savvy know does affect the taste of the wine – to the way he makes the effort to know guests’ names, where they’re from and what they’re about. This helps Morson select the best wine, beer or spirit for each guest.

Morson can often be heard asking guests “is this what you really want?” when making a selection. If the guest is looking for that $200 bottle of Merlot that is what he will aid them in finding. In the same way he will look just as hard for the best bottle of $20 White Zinfandel. It’s about serving the guest.

“I want the guest to leave with what they came into find,” said Morson. “I want to help them find the best choice for their particular taste and price range.”

Morson carefully selects all of his drink selections. He does attend trade shows during which distributors bring samples and Morson compares his approach to the business of alcohol to other store owners.

He was just at a beer trade show last week, but for now he is sticking to his six draft beers: Great Lakes Christmas Ale, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Bell’s Oberon Wheat Ale, Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA and Ephemere and Aldabash.

Contact ALL reporter Carissa Bowlin at [email protected].