The restaurant 6th and Vine is celebrating its 15th anniversary this week in Winston-Salem's Downtown Arts District, culminating with a party Saturday night featuring Karon Click and the Hot Licks.

This was one of the first restaurants in the district, behind Sweet Potatoes. “I always tell people we’re here because of Sweet Potatoes,” said owner Kathleen Barnes.

Barnes and her former husband, Chris Barnes, opened 6th and Vine on Feb. 4, 2005. Kathleen Barnes took over sole ownership in 2010. The Barneses originally planned to have just a wine bar but decided to open a restaurant because they had so much room at this location. They also have beer and cocktails.

“But it’s definitely a wine bar,” Barnes said, noting that last month the restaurant sold more than triple the amount of wine as liquor.

From the beginning, 6th and Vine has focused on approachable wines, appealing to people who may be new to it. “The staff is very well-trained. They really know the wines,” Barnes said. “For some it’s kind of a game or challenge, trying to figure out what kind of wine a customer will like.”

There’s a small bottle shop in one nook of the restaurant, where customers can buy whole bottles to go. Customers in the know shop on Sundays when bottles are half-price.

Barnes said she thinks a key to 6th and Vine’s longevity is its cozy, inviting atmosphere — that and its loyal staff. The restaurant features lots of hand-crafted wood — bar, tables and wine racks built by her father, David Matthews. Local artwork supplied by next-door neighbor Delurk Gallery adorns the walls. And in addition to the usual dining tables, there are plenty of comfortable couches that make customers feel at home.

In 2005, the restaurant mostly sold salads and sandwiches and a few small plates. Many of those early items, such as the smoked turkey panini ($7/10), are still popular. The same is true of such small plates as the spicy crab and artichoke dip ($11), baked brie ($10), sesame-crusted ahi tuna ($12), and antipasti and cheese ($14).

After about two years, the restaurant expanded its menu to include entrees. Barnes said a lot of people still think of 6th and Vine as a place for a snack or small plate to have with a glass of wine, but don’t realize that it has a good selection of entrees.

“Shrimp and grits ($14) is our biggest seller,” Barnes said. Other popular dinner entrees include the seafood risotto ($24) and bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin ($14).

The chef is Jef Browning, who has been with 6th and Vine about 10 of its 15 years. “His strong suit is sauces. I really like his flavor profiles,” Barnes said. “Like the mocha sirloin. It has a white-chocolate cognac cream sauce, and when Jef told me that, I was like, ‘What?’ But it’s good. I’ve tried to take it off the menu and people won’t let me.”

She said she’s getting ready to introduce a new dinner menu, but it will have just a few new items.

Barnes said that the restaurant has had its share of ups and downs, but that business is good these days.

“The restaurant business is hard. It can be raining and dead one night and packed the next — and you always have to be ready either way. I’m excited that (Salem Parkway, formerly known as Business 40) is reopening, but I don’t think we were hurt as badly as some other places — just because we’ve always been easy to get to without taking the highway,” she said.

She said she has seen the Arts District grow around her over the years. And that has been a good thing. “The more it grows, the more it draws a lot of new people here,” she said. “But the district has always been this great community of creative people.”

She also said she feels lucky that Winston-Salem has such a good restaurant community. “Downtown, I feel like all of the restaurants are in it together. It’s not cutthroat. Finnigan’s Wake (less than a block away on Trade Street) knows they can call me if they need something — like if they run out of butter,” she said.

“The restaurant business is hard. But it’s fun.  Who knows what I’d be doing on my weekends if I wasn’t here.”

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