By Morgan Bryce
As soft jazz music plays in the background, Opelika native Nelson Marsh smiles as he describes the atmosphere of his new business, a wine bar called Ampersand.
“It’s like you picked up a little piece of Manhattan, dropped it in the middle of Opelika, and staffed it with Southerners,” Marsh said.
Located in the back of the artisan/maker warehouse Factory South on South Railroad Avenue, Marsh opened Ampersand last Thanksgiving, with a goal of tapping into both Opelika’s and Lee County’s wine-enthusiast community.
“… there wasn’t really anywhere in Opelika or Auburn that catered to a wine drinker. There was nowhere that you could go sit for three or four hours, have a great glass of wine and enjoy yourself,” Marsh said.
During his college years, Marsh said he had the opportunity to study abroad and went to Chianti, Italy, which is in the heart of one of the country’s most beloved wine regions. Located near Florence and Siena, Chianti’s wine experiences left a lasting impression upon Marsh, and he said they played a significant role in the development and concept of his business.
Modeled after two wine-tasting shops Marsh frequented in Florence, Ampersand is a small, intimate space, decorated in modern décor. Patrons are greeted by a large bar and the sight of shelves full of wine bottles, books, board games and vinyl records of Otis Redding and Frank Sinatra.
Last November, Marsh said he started with only 15 bottles, and now has 44, with plans of expanding that offering during the summer. Currently, Ampersand’s wine selection includes Italian classics like Antinori’s Badia Chianti and the Hungarian standard Tokaji, which he sells by the glass.
“Nothing makes it on the list because of a name or a rating or anything. Everything gets tasted, and it all gets hand selected, and so you end up with a situation where all of our wines are really good values,” Marsh said.
In addition to wine, Marsh also sells gourmet cheeses by the slice, which are constantly changing to mirror the seasons.
Marsh attributes the success of his business to the city’s developing night scene and the laid-back atmosphere that Ampersand facilitates for its customers.
“I never figured I would be packing this place out or having nights where I was three-deep at the bar, but it does happen, and a lot of that’s due to the live music … and community events as we have more nights that are dedicated time for downtown to be a place for people to come late,” Marsh said. “(At Ampersand) We are a safe haven for conversation … we also love writers, we’re study friendly, we’re dog friendly. We’re always happy to play a hand of gin rummy, or if somebody wants to pop by and play a round of chess.”
Ampersand’s hours are 3-10 p.m. Wednesday- Sunday. Factory South is located at 817 S. Railroad Ave. in downtown Opelika. For more information, call (334) 787-7688.