There’s a touch of New England that can be found in the unlikeliest of locations in downtown Dubuque.
Nestled in a quiet nook on West First Street is a building that boasts red brick walls, wood floors, tin ceilings, quaint cafe tables and a blue velvet couch that perfectly ties it all together.
On given nights and occasional afternoons, light piano accompaniment serves as the backdrop to glasses clinking, laughter and abundant conversation over libations, from wine to specialty cocktails and brews.
It’s the Wicked Dame Wine + Bar, a neighborhood gathering spot still in its infancy, yet one that has grown a steady and devout following since opening in November 2018.
It’s the brainchild of Kim Hackett, who co-owns the establishment with brothers Tom and Tim Firth, of Dubuque. The Massachusetts native relocated to Dubuque 12 years ago by way of Boston. Now 48, Hackett is starting over and embarking upon a new journey through Wicked Dame.
“I’ve always had the right people beside me,” she said, sitting relaxed at the bar of the business she decided to take a chance on. “Some days, I think it’s crazy to be starting over again at almost 50. But I’ve gotten to the point where there are familiar faces and regulars coming in all the time. And that’s a really great place to be.”
A history in hospitality
Although Wicked Dame is a new venture for Hackett, she comes with a wealth of knowledge from her years of experience in the hospitality industry.
“I worked in hotels and restaurants, as well as a wine bar in Galena (Ill.),” she said. “And although I’m not a sommelier, I’ve always loved wine. I learned a lot about it during my time working in restaurants, and I continue to learn a lot about it, right along with my customers.”
And while opening a place of her own always was in the back of her mind, it wasn’t something Hackett had considered until a friend nudged her toward the notion.
“And so, I wrote up a business plan,” Hackett said, laughing. “Tom (Firth) took a look at it and said that it was something that he and his brother wanted to be a part of. And they wanted to do it now. It happened fast.”
The trio hit the ground running, and within only months, were putting the finishing touches on rehabbing the lower level of 214 W. First St., the home of a former insurance office.
“I wanted to bring that New England feel to the Midwest, with the Wainscoting, the brick and the tin ceilings,” Hackett said. “It’s everything I dreamed it would be.”
But that wasn’t all. She also wanted to create something she believed wasn’t as prevalent in the community: A casual and quiet environment, where patrons could mix and mingle comfortably over a good glass of wine.
“There really wasn’t anything like this,” Hackett said. “
From sparkling sweets to full-bodied reds, wines from Chardonnay to Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Rose, Riesling, Moscato and Champagne run abundant, as well as their darker companions including Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah Blend, Merlot, Pinor Noir, Bordeaux and Port, among others.
Selections range from California to Oregon, Argentina, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, New Zealand and even South Africa.
“We started with more than 100 varieties,” Hackett said. “Now, we have about 150. And we’re constantly changing them out. Cabernet is always a popular choice, as well as Pinot Noir, Rose and seasonal wines. But if there is something someone really likes, we can always try to see if we can get it from our vendors.”
Wine is available by the glass or bottle, to enjoy at Wicked Dame or at home.
Traditional and specialty cocktails also are available, several named after the establishment’s favorite wicked dames.
“We have the Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Frida Kahlo, the Amelia Earhart and the Marilyn Monroe,” Hackett said. “People love them.”
Traditional beers and craft brews also are a part of the mix. Additionally, patrons can pair their beverage of choice with a cheese and charcuterie board.
Hackett was quick to point toward that the support she has received from locals and those passing through the area has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The support I’ve gotten from the community and the local restaurants and bar owners has just been incredible,” she said. “It’s not competitive. There also are a lot of local women who own local businesses. There’s a lot of women supporting women as well. I can’t say enough for it.”
Rebecca Severns, who co-owns RF2 Furniture Warehouse with her husband Edward, helped furnish Wicked Dame with its tables and chairs. Teri Connely, owner of the Calico Bean Market, helped select spices for cocktails. And Rylynn McQuillen, owner of Fig Leaf also lent a hand in supplying fedoras for bartenders for Wicked Dame’s grand opening.
Special events, including “Bachelor in Paradise” viewing parties, private events and live music also have helped draw patrons to the venue.
Hackett also sang the praises of her staff, who help her with the heavy lifting, while she also plays Mom to twin girls, ages 17, who are heavily involved in the performing arts.
“Like my regulars, the staff will come in on their days off, just to hang out,” she said, laughing. “It’s a place they seem to like to be here as much as I do and bring in new ideas that they can try. I love to come in and dance around when no one is here. I just love what I’m doing. We just to be a place that says, ‘Here we are. Join us.’”
Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.