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Lawyer putting aside career to open a wine bar

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Elizabeth Banker spent her college years drinking Chablis wine from gallon-sized jugs.

Now she knows better.

“I’ve always loved wine,” said Banker, 39. “I'm happy to say, though, that my tastes have evolved.”

Her plans have evolved, too.

Banker, part-owner of the law firm ZwillGen, is putting her legal career aside to open a neighborhood wine bar in Glover Park.

“I love wine from every part of the world — from bubbly to white and red and port,” Banker said. “And what makes me really excited about wine is sharing it with other people.”

Banker finalized the purchase of a two-level outpost on Wisconsin Avenue that formerly housed Kitchen 2404 last week.

Slate Wine Bar is scheduled to open in mid-August.

“It will primarily be a wine bar — we’ll have a full restaurant menu — but it’s really about small production wines and vineyards that are family-owned, sustainable and use organic methods,” she said.

Banker has poured about $600,000 into the project so far. Much of the initial investment of $450,000 came from Banker’s own savings, although other lawyers — including Laura Covington, vice president of IP policy at Yahoo, and Jon Berroya of the Business Software Alliance — are also investors.

“Wine bars are a good way to learn something without feeling like you’re learning,” Berroya said. “You order a flight, taste some things and all of a sudden, the next time you’re out buying wine, you realize you know a thing or two.”

Banker, who lives in Cleveland Park, plans to spend the coming weeks making cosmetic changes to the restaurant — painting, resurfacing the bar, changing light fixtures — and deciding on which wines to stock.

“We’ll be doing a lot of tastings,” Banker said. “It’s really all about the wine.”

The focus, she said, will be on specialty wines that will be sold by the glass. She plans to have six to eight daily specials at any given time, plus 15 wines available by the glass and 30 by the bottle.

“I encourage people to experiment with wine,” she said. “Offering wines by the glass gives you a lot more opportunity to do that — maybe you want to try a first growth Bordeaux, but don’t want to pay for an expensive bottle.”

In preparation, Banker spent two years traveling to wineries around the world. She learned French, started a wine club and worked at Sunset Hills Vineyard in Purcellville.

Once Slate opens, Banker said she plans to host wine seminars, winemaker dinners and other events at the bar.

“Consumer education is really the most important thing for me,” she said. “I want to tell the personal stories behind wine.”

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