The beauty of being in a city like New York is that there is definitely no shortage of interesting and delicious places to eat and drink. Factor in that as a Wine Rep, your job is to become intimately familiar with all of these establishments, it can be both a recipe for euphoria, as well as one for disaster (read: too much euphoria to begin with—i.e. the next morning’s hangover!). But disregarding all that possibility for the potential dehydration, headaches, and general all out malaise that may or may not, nay, will most likely occur, I’m going to take my chances, and share with you five of my favorite places to sup and sip once this little Wine Rep calls it a day. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to the latest installment of Notes From The Concrete Terroir with the theme being A Night Out On The Town (Cue music/opening credits…), narrowing down the island of Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs to focus on my little corner of the world, which is better known as Alphabet City.
Situated right on the border between the Lower East Side and the East Village, Alphabet City was once not thought of as a destination for food and wine. In fact, quite the opposite. Drinks, yes, as in a strong cocktail, or a can and a shot while you try to insert crumpled dollars into a faded jukebox in some grimy dive, or chow down on some stomach churning greasy fare and bottled suds in a last stop diner. But as for vino…I don’t think so. Call me a wine snob, but I draw the line at popcorn-in-a-glass Chardonnay, or Cabernet that is more taxicab than anything even remotely resembling the noble grape emanating from Bordeaux and Napa, let alone the North Fork.
But all that has changed. Consult any guide on where to dine and drink in NYC, and chances are there is at least a 150-word blurb on the latest and greatest in this, my favorite of all neighborhoods.
Let’s get to it.
Starting with happy hour, at the end of the average work day having spent pounding the pavement visiting and tasting with accounts block after block, I like to roll my emptied wine bag into Bar 2A, which is located right at the corner of East 2nd Street and Avenue A.
Along with McSorley’s, Vazak’s (aka 7B/The Horseshoe Bar), and Max Fish, 2A is one of the oldest and most legendary bars in the neighborhood, having been around since the mid 80’s, when bands such as the Rolling Stones—and more recently, back in the early 00’s, The Strokes, among others—were recording albums in the hidden apartment studios across the street, and shuffling inside the wooden confines of the bar between sessions to relax for a spell. Everyone needs their “Cheers,” and for many, many years, this has been mine. Part office, part sanctuary, I can’t think of a better place to pull up a bar stool and order up a glass of, say, the Middle Earth Pinot Noir. From there, all I need is the view through the huge floor to ceiling windows that engulf the main, first floor bar, and take in all walks of humanity that stroll by. Frequented by a very mixed crowd of all aged artists, writers, local shopkeepers, college students, retirees, and of course, the aforementioned musicians of both the world famous and completely obscure variety, 2A has become almost a kind of rite of passage for anyone seeking to get a taste of a true downtown experience.
Around the corner from 2A is Boulton & Watt. And where 2A might be all about history and neighborhood legacy, B & W is all about newness, and represents the better side of what gentrification can offer. With its rustic décor, and a full menu that features everything from housemade sausage and caviatelli, to otherworldly shrimp and grits, which can make you swear you were in New Orleans, more so than the northwest corner of Houston & Ave A, this is a spot you will definitely want to linger at. And while lingering, personally, I like to sit with either one of their famously delicious bloody marys, or even better, a glass of the Borgaio Rosso, which is a Sangiovese/Merlot Blend straight from the F train stop in Tuscany.
Looping back down 2nd Street, there lies a semi-secret gem of a place that also offers much in the way of Italian wines and delicious food, and that is Il Posto Accounto.
Tucked into the middle of the block deep between Avenues A and B, blink and you might miss it. And you surely wouldn’t want to do that. Owned by the married team of Beatrice Tosti di Valminuta and her husband, Julio Pena, this is one of those quintessential New York trattorias that we seem to see in the movies all the time. Dark and cozy, in my humble opinion it is quite simply one of the best Italian restaurants in the whole of the Apple that is Big. A neighborhood institution having first opened its doors 21 years ago, this is where I go whenever I want to treat myself to a fantastic meal (Linguine Vongole, anyone?!), and a stellar wine, such as the Tassi Brunello di Montalcino (2012). Towards the end of March all the way to the last outstretched reaches of Indian summer, it is not uncommon to see “The Beach Crew” lounging on the sidewalk, smoking their cigars, and sipping some goodness all while a 3-piece jazz trio serenades. This is why you come to New York. This is why you come down to Alphabet City.
Another hidden neighborhood gem lies a couple of streets over on East 4th by the name of Bibi Wine Bar.
At Bibi, it’s all about low-key, understated charm. With a bottle list that represents all the major wine producing regions in the world, the most difficult choice is selecting what pairings you want to go with—charcuterie and a French red?…or how about a kale and brussel sprouts salad with a white? Decisions, decisions. Since I’ve had a bit of red in this column so far, think I’ll mix it up and go with uncorking the Alianca Vinho Verde. Refreshing and effervescent, why wait for another couple of months of winter before Spring arrives, when you can have it right now. With Prosciutto. And Roquefort. And olives…
And last but certainly not least of this mini neighborhood tour, every ‘nabe needs a good wine shop, and while this area has several, too many to even name really, one that stands out for all the right reasons you’d want, is, what else, but the Alphabet City Wine Company.
Here at Avenue C between East 6th and East 7th Streets, ABC Wine Co hits all the high marks: Excellent shelves full of both obscure “Wine Lover Wines,” as well as more readily accessible favorites for the average non-discriminating drinking palate, ABC has it all covered. And then some. Add in a friendly, knowledgeable staff, and a robust selection of spirits as well, and you basically just need to make sure you have a wine key, and/or a glass waiting for you at home. But if you don’t, of course, they have those for sale as well. Whenever I find myself at ABC, I can’t help but reach for a Cab that back in the day would have been so elusive to hail in this part of town, and by that, I mean pure Sonoma Gold in the likes of the wonderful Valley Of The Moon Cabernet.
I’ll have a refill.
Peter “Blue” Zusman is an artist and wine & spirits enthusiast living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He places equal importance on both a finely-aged single malt and a medium bodied, earthy red. Summer is always about Provence. He was formerly a contributing wine writer at grapecollective.com.