HARLEM — Auberge Laurent, the name of Lawrence Page's new upscale French wine lounge on Lenox Avenue, translates loosely as "Lawrence's House or Inn."
Stepping inside the location at 120th Street, it is filled with personal effects from the restaurateur's homes. There's a metal trough from his farm and a bear skin rug, along with funky wall paper.
"I designed it like a house, like a Parisian living room," said Page. And he's having a New Year's Eve housewarming party in his living room that will serve as the lounge's grand opening.
"This is for people who want to enjoy good conversation, fun, good friends and good wine," said Page.
The lounge's new concept comes after Page was forced to abandon plans to open a Harlem outpost of the beloved Village soul food restaurant The Pink Tea Cup. Page, who is also a movie producer, has owned The Pink Teacup since 2010 when he revived it after it had closed.
When he leased the Lenox Avenue location, Page thought it was eligible for a full liquor license, which he would need to make the Pink Teacup viable, and had been granted one in the past. But because the location is too close to a church, he found out that the eligibility was in question.
Page took his case to the State Liquor Authority and fought for a wine, beer and champagne license.
"We almost didn't get that. We could have walked away but I believe in the neighborhood so much," said Page.
Page says he sees Auberge Laurent as a place where wine novices can come to learn about new varieties, but also where connoisseurs can get their favorite glass of wine. Bottles will start at $40, while glasses will range from $10 to $18.
The lounge will also serve small plates such as prosciutto, venison, smoked duck and 15 varieties of cheese. With the living room-like setting and funky decor, Page hopes the lounge will become Harlem's new hangout spot.
"Harlem is an incredible place but the service element has been missing from a lot of establishments," he said. "Many people from Harlem go downtown to get that, so I said why not bring it here?"
The lounge is decorated with 18th century-style couches and is accented by ice skates as well as heavy chains to invoke the African-American journey to freedom from slavery. A grape press adorns the end of the bar and gilded candelabras grace the wall.
Frank West, sommelier and manager of Auberge Laurent, says he wants the lounge to help educate people about different cultures of the world through wine.
"The history of a wine is connected to the history of the country it comes from. The more wines you enjoy, the more your knowledge of that culture has the potential to grow," said West.
"All you have to do is come in and enjoy yourself and we will be your guides."
Page said he plans to open the lounge with a New Year's Eve bash.
"I'm selling experiences, not just wine and food. I want to sell great conversation and ambience right here in Harlem," said Page.