In an increasingly loud, chaotic world, The Grape Life is treasured as a mellow, soothing, sophisticated refuge. It effortlessly and expertly provides two of life’s greatest, enduring pleasures – outstanding wines and live music.
The comfortable, comforting wine store and lounge has been at 3402 Elmore Ave., west of Panera Bread, since 2008 and owned by the lovely Diane and Kevin Koster since 2015. The Grape Life is loved by its regular patrons and performers because the Kosters care deeply about the quality of their beautiful beverages and small bites and roster of local musicians.
“The live music scene is strong at the Grape Life,” Kevin said. “We have a variety of genres and can assure our customers that they will hear talented (mostly local) live music no matter when they choose to visit. We offer live music most Friday and Saturday nights, with some exceptions. Jazz, blues, pop, country, swing, 50’s-60’s-70’s, etc.”
“We keep the volume at a level that doesn’t prohibit a conversation,” Kevin said. “We are as passionate about our live music as our musicians and customers are.”
Musicians Love It
Tony Hoeppner has been playing at Grape Life for about 14 years, and will be back May 21.
“The people are the greatest — they respond to every song I play,” Hoeppner said of audiences. “Kevin and Diane are the greatest, very nice to work with. The Grape Life is one of the best places to play in the Quad City area, always a friendly crowd and just a great environment to perform live music.”
Freddy Allen (a pianist and singer specializing in jazz standards) started performing in 2017 after moving to Davenport from Chicago. He mostly plays with a swing trio or quartet.
“I love the people who come to the Grape Life. I’ve made some amazing friends from there,” Allen said. “I also really dig the vibe…it’s relaxed and really fun. Most of the time, you’ll find the folks who attend the shows are there to enjoy the live entertainment. They are appreciative and attentive, and can still enjoy talking with their friends or enjoying the company they’re with. There’s no other venue in the QC area like the Grape Life. It’s truly unique, a hidden gem.”
“Kevin & Diane Koster are fantastic, they support live music! They book local, live music of many different genres. Other than RME, you won’t find a venue that boasts such a variety of musicians from jazz to country to classic rock and everything in between.”
Allen will play again there June 3rd, July 1st, and Aug. 12th. “I have a special fondness for smaller, more intimate rooms,” he said. “It’s been extremely special getting back to a more normal performance schedule since the beginning of the pandemic. I’m so grateful for vaccines, and I’m grateful to be performing live. It was a very challenging few years for artists, but we survived thanks to our fans, supporters and friends.”
Jordan Danielsen has played Grape Life for 10 years and is next there May 28.
“Kevin and Diane have been such a delight to work for and have become good friends. The Grape Life is one of those gigs that everybody listens and you feel like you are performing in someone’s living room,” Danielsen said. “It is definitely a gem on the QC live music scene.”
Kim Nickels of Silvis is a regular customer – loving the live music, comfy couches and low lighting.
“They program music perfect for their space; smaller bands that tend towards the jazzy, mellow side of life,” Nickels said. “That genre can be hard to find live in the QC. My favorites to listen to at Grape Life include Tony Hoeppner and Freddy Allen, each of whom always have other great musicians playing with them. I might add, too, that the volume level of the music is perfect — loud enough to hear, but you don’t need earplugs.
“And on top of great music is the wonderful selection of wines and whiskeys,” Nickels said. “They have a few snack foods you can purchase, or you can bring your own. And the owners, Diane and Kevin always take great care of the musicians and the patrons. They make you feel like you are at home.”
In addition to QC musicians, The Grape Life features a rare touring act, Sundae + Mr. Goessl (vintage jazz), based in Wisconsin.
“I get approached three times every other week,” Diane said of touring acts. “You don’t know us, you don’t know our venue, you don’t know our clientele. I can’t guarantee they’re gonna get an audience, and we have to have butts in the seats if we’re gonna do this live music thing. Very, very rarely do we take a second look.”
That’s what happened with the husband-and-wife Sundae + Mr. Goessl five years ago.
“I went, oh my gosh, we have to have this couple,” Diane said, noting they average three appearances a year. “They’re fun, they’re married. They have a shtick, it’s great. And they fill the room.”
Starting As Customers
Grape Life was first opened by Jim and Nancy Renkes, and Diane was a regular customer.
In 2015, Kevin was working at Blackhawk Bank & Trust in Milan and Diane was working for the Quad Cities Community Foundation.
“We have always wanted to own a small business,” Diane said. “This just came at the perfect time.”
In April 2016, Diane’s daughter Lindsay Thul was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive type of breast cancer at 28 and passed within a year. In spring 2020, Diane honored her life and aimed to educate others in a new book, “Lindsay’s Legacy: A Mother’s Memories.”
“We inherited a couple of staff people, which was perfect at the beginning,” Diane said. “Especially when Lindsay got sick and I was here full-time. Our part-timers that stepped up.”
“It’s(Lindsay’s Legacy: A Mother’s Memories) a story of hope and it’s a story of courage,” Diane said of her book. “And it’s a story of a relationship between a mom and a daughter, and it’s very educational about that disease, the different steps Lindsay went through.
Becoming A Wine Expert
Diane and Kevin always make it a priority to be on site every day. Jim and Nancy Renkes also featured live music, but the Kosters built upon that, expanding the variety of artists featured, including jazz.
“They had some bourbon, and now we have a lot of premium liquors and a lot of bourbons,” Diane said, noting they also expanded the old wine club, from one level to three levels – one bottle a month for $25; two for $39 or two red and two whites for $69.
Kevin enjoys the day-to-day business of the Grape Life, including tasting new wines and interacting with wine customers. He has refined his palate and can discern the notes and flavors of most wines. Kevin said he’s an expert when it comes to recommending the perfect wine for every customer’s taste.
“Choosing unique, delicious wines for our customers, providing an intimate, friendly space for a chat with friends, a meeting, small parties and events like bridal showers, chatting with our customers over a glass of fine wine are all elements of what we love about owning the Grape Life,” he said.
More About the Business
Since COVID, the venue has required reservations for live music, which carries a $5 fee.
“That assures people a seat. Initially, it was so we could space people apart, know exactly who was coming and I pre-assigned seating,” Diane said recently. “We just kept doing it and it works really. That $5 helps offset music fees we pay to the music companies. It’s expensive to have live music.”
After shutting down in mid-March 2020, The Grape Life reopened that June with more limited seating – going from a 55-person capacity to 37. They don’t seat strangers at a four-top table.
“We took out two big chairs and re-arranged the room,” Diane said. “We made sure all the seating areas were six feet apart, which was all we were required to do. Literally, Kevin measured it out and made sure every seating area was six feet apart. It still is – we left it that way.”
“We’d rather have a safe and comfortable experience for people,” Diane said. “The money is secondary. We’re not gonna pack this room just for the money.”
They typically have live music Fridays and Saturdays. The Grape Life hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
They host a “Wine Down” every Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m. — buy a $6 glass of wine and get a free chair massage from massage therapist, Ron Thiele.
The Grape Life also is available for private rental. For more information, visit Facebook.com/TheGrapeLife or call 563-355-7070.