Charles Wilson may not speak fluent French, but he certainly understands branding.
Along with co-owner Adam Evans, Wilson will be debuting Brun, a chic whiskey and cigar lounge, later this month at the former site of Balliceaux in the Fan. The name of the new social club comes from the French word for brown, but the meaning goes far beyond a simple color.
“Brun represents our melanin tone and pigment in regards to the ownership of the establishment,” Wilson explains, adding, “and anything in French sounds a little bit cooler.”
The Brun branding also hints at the coloring of the social lounge’s top two featured products: whiskey and cigars. Wilson first fell in love with whiskey in 2018 on a date with his now wife along the Bourbon Trail in Louisville, Kentucky. Tippling his way through several distilleries triggered an immense curiosity for the liquor which quickly became contagious.
“Prior to meeting Charles, I was drinking IPAs and going to vineyards around Charlottesville,” Evans says. “Between breweries and wineries, that’s how my palette first opened up, but Charles was the one that introduced me to whiskey and showed me all the things I didn’t even understand.”
With Evans sold on the whiskey lounge concept, last October the future co-owners returned to Louisville to attend Moonshine University, burnish their bourbon credentials, and become “executive stewards” certified to train Brun’s staff in the history, palette, and flavor notes of fine whiskey. “We wanted to ensure we were more than just investors and weren’t leaving it to our staff to do everything,” explains Wilson.
The choice to make cigars a core component of the business goes beyond the complimentary flavor profiles. The number of places in Richmond which allow a patron to enjoy a cigar and a glencairn of whiskey can currently be counted on one hand. For Wilson and Evans, bringing the two together made sense so that Brun can also become something of an educational venue for folks curious to learn more.
“There are people who have been enjoying both whiskey and cigars for years, and there are novices who don’t know much about either,” Evans adds. “A lot of people become very intimidated when it comes to having to cut a cigar or move beyond the standard Jack and Coke. We wanted to create a space to show people what else is out there for them to enjoy.”
With the Brun grand opening slated for later this month, opportunities to explore the variety of flights and pairings the co-owners have planned are just a couple of weeks away. The lounge will always be open to the public with a $10 cut fee functioning like a cover for entry; however, the club’s Fan neighbors get half off (to show love to the local community). Brun will also offer several membership tiers for those looking to dive deeper with their experience.
The top tier membership is the “Brun level” — $175 a month in exchange for three complimentary cigars and cocktails, discounts on events and concerts, free entry to education events, and the ability to bring up to eight guests. The “Experience level” at $120 per month offers two cigars and cocktails plus invitations to private chef events. Aimed more at those who may not live in town full-time, the “Village level” is $60 a month and includes live streaming of all Brun events, two complimentary cocktails and club visits, and a cigar of the month shipped directly to your door.
The man overseeing daily operations and bringing the Brun vision to life will be Chauncey Jenkins, previously the general manager of Lemaire as well as Common House — a Charlottesville-based social club with a similar business model. A hip hop artist on the side, Jenkins’ hospitality expertise ranges from champagne to acoustics. With him on board, the co-owners couldn’t be more confident: “His reputation speaks for itself in the consistency of good experiences for customers,” says Evans.
Opening a cigar and whiskey bar in The Fan and I shed a small tear about it every day. Black owned and operated. ?
— UNCLE CHANCE (@MRCHANCEFISCHER) November 15, 2021
The weight of opening a Black-owned-and-operated establishment in the heart of a predominantly white neighborhood is not lost on Brun’s co-owners. They hope that everything from the food they serve to the ambience they create will impart the high level of class and sophistication they associate with Black excellence. From the number of people peeking through Brun’s windows, to the neighbors who’ve said they couldn’t be more excited for them to open, Wilson and Evans have been blown away by the warm reception so far.
“We are trying to bring as many people to the table as possible to make this a success,” Evans adds. The popularity of the private pop-ups Brun has hosted so far have left the men certain their establishment is on track to become a spot all of Richmond will enjoy.
“Excellence can break down barriers,” says Wilson.