The definition of a great wine bar is ever-evolving. After scouring Manhattan and Brooklyn this fall, I found six wine bars that are excellent examples of where the genre is now, wonderful places that fit my own rather elastic definition of what a wine bar might be, and five more that have stood the test of time.
Tiny Gem Wine is a singular sort of wine bar with just three small communal tables, a counter and a small outdoor space on the Lower East Side. It has no wine list, and it’s closed on weekends.
Flynn McGarry, the proprietor of Gem Wine as well as the chef at Gem, his restaurant around the corner, is intent on Gem Wine being primarily a neighborhood spot.
Bottles are displayed on shelves along one wall with prices marked. You’re compelled to wander over to browse. It’s a system that fosters discussion with the servers and rewards exploration. All the wines, most of them natural and not widely known, are fairly priced and inexpensive, with almost nothing above $100.
Wines by the glass change often, depending on what’s deemed to be drinking particularly well. I had a glass of a wine there that I’d never had before, a blend of chenin blanc and chardonnay from Domaine de la Barbinière in the Fiefs Vendéens, a little-known appellation in the western Loire Valley. It was pure, refreshing and so deliciously salty I wanted another glass right away.
Simple dishes like salads and crudo predominate. Anything requiring cooking comes in from the restaurant, and the servers make frequent round trips. I stopped in once for a plate of Gouda and perfectly ripe pear with crusty bread, and another time for fluke bathed in citrus. You could make a meal for a group with a few of these dishes and a few bottles of wine.
297 Broome Street (Forsyth Street), no phone, gem-nyc.com.
Parcelle Wine Bar
Parcelle Wine Bar, also on the Lower East Side, is in many ways the opposite of Gem Wine. Its wine list is more extensive — not as esoteric, though it contains many unusual wines. It’s longer, deeper and more expensive, with trophy bottles costing hundreds or thousands of dollars. But it also offers an excellent selection of terrific wines for $60 and under.
Parcelle is the creation of Grant Reynolds, a sommelier and former partner in Delicious Hospitality Group. Parcelle was originally a delivery retail shop on far West 38th Street, but Mr. Reynolds missed being able to host winemaker dinners, serve glasses of wine and drink with customers, things prohibited in wine shops in New York. So he created a room in the space that, by day, houses his office, and by night is now Parcelle Wine Bar.
It’s more of a lounge than a bar, with comfortable, midcentury couches and chairs perfect for a drink and a snack, as well as tables for a fuller restaurant experience.
You can eat salumi and Parmesan for the classic wine bar experience, or far more elaborate, umami-laden dishes like silky, savory crab fried rice and clam pasta with scallions charred to bring out their sweetness, prepared by Ron Yan, a chef who grew up in Hong Kong.
I found some of my favorite producers on this list, like Wasenhaus, which makes intense yet delicate and compelling pinot blancs and pinot noirs in the Baden region of Germany, and Domaine de Cassiopée, a natural Burgundy producer, which makes soulful wines that are virtually impossible to find in New York retail shops.
The crowd was young and local the night I stopped in, far more likely to drink exceptional, inexpensive bottles like the Lumassina Frizzante, a lightly sparkling wine from Punta Crena in Liguria for $55.
135 Division Street (Canal Street), 212-258-0722, parcellewine.com.
Place des Fêtes
While the name Place des Fêtes in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, is French, its ethos is Spanish, at least as far as the list of natural wine goes, along with a few from Portugal and Chile. Except for Don Bocarte anchovies, a superb Spanish product, the food is strictly New York.
An offshoot of Oxalis nearby, Place des Fêtes is far more casual and easygoing, with a vivacious energy even early in the evening.
The prepared food is seasonal and moderately priced, $14 to $32, like a refreshing composed salad of Castelfranco with quince and hazelnuts; and maitake mushrooms, fried in a batter until crisp and served with a beautifully flavored black garlic preparation cooked to the consistency of buttery fudge. I wanted to paint it on just about everything on my table.
The wine list is an adventure, like a joyously delicious, hazy rosado pétillant naturel from Còsmic Vinyaters or an easygoing, natural Rioja from Viñedos Hontza. Don’t fear asking for advice, as many of the wines will seem obscure.
212 Greene Avenue (Grand Avenue), Brooklyn, 718-857-0101, pdfnyc.com.
The Ten Bells Bushwick
The original Ten Bells on the Lower East Side may not have been the first natural wine bar in New York, but for a long time it was the best. It was a place you went to hang out, drink great wine, eat a few oysters and some charcuterie, and just revel in the bustling, good-times vibe.
Last year, a second Ten Bells opened in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It’s under different ownership than the original (which itself changed ownership a few years ago), the menu is slightly different and it has a full liquor license.
But, if it feels slightly mellower, it shares the spirit of the original: dark and moody, and decorated with empty wine bottles, trophies of past pleasures. The extensive wine list is largely French and natural, while the menu is elemental, mainly standard-issue Spanish tapas and tinned seafood.
Have a tapa or two, a glass of natural wine like a vibrant riesling from Beck-Hartweg in Alsace, and your evening is off to an excellent start.
65 Irving Avenue (Starr Street), Brooklyn, 845-584-3523, tenbellsbk.com.
Ruffian in the East Village is not new. But it’s singular, nothing like the tiny place it was when it opened in 2016, receiving one star in The Times from Pete Wells, the restaurant critic, who praised its meat pies and soufflés.
Its menu became largely vegetarian, with a pronounced eastern European feel, and the original narrow counter is now supplemented by an adjacent dining room and an outdoor dining shed.
The wine list is predominantly natural and offers a wide array of skin-contact, or orange wines. The biggest concentration comes from Austria, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, along with a smattering from Italy, France and elsewhere.
It’s possible to snack at the counter, with maybe pita bread for dipping and a glass of rosé from Gut Oggau, a terrific Austrian producer. But it’s more exciting to put yourself in the restaurant’s hands with a four-course tasting menu. Many dishes are a combination of the sweet, savory and sour flavors that characterize much of Eastern European cooking.
125 East Seventh Street (Avenue A), no phone, ruffiannyc.com.
June, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, encompasses both wine bar and restaurant. You can have a full meal at one of the tables along the wall of the long narrow room, or in the heated, tented rear garden. Or you can stop at the bar for a glass and a bite. By 7 p.m., it’s packed.
The list of natural wines is extensive, with plenty in all categories, mostly European but with a small, excellent selection of progressive American producers like Martha Stoumen and Clos Saron in California, and Southold in Texas.
One night, sitting at the handsome marble-topped bar, I had a glass of spicy pineau d’Aunis from Emmanuel Haget in the Loire Valley, followed by a mellow, pure 2010 Château Massereau Cuvée K Bordeaux Supérieur. The wines were delicious accompanying chewy, flavorful sliced duck breast and lacinato kale in a sort of nutty romesco sauce.
231 Court Street (Warren Street), Brooklyn, 917-909-0434, junebk.com.
More Not to Be Missed
Paul Grieco’s maniacal temple of riesling worship in TriBeCa has much more to offer. It’s rustic and satisfying, with simple dishes, a lot of great wines beyond riesling and a manifesto of wine from Mr. Grieco himself.
24 Harrison Street (Greenwich Street), 212-625-9463, wineisterroir.com.
Aldo Sohm Wine Bar
Aldo Sohm Wine Bar is the exception to every rule. It’s in Midtown Manhattan, affiliated with Le Bernardin, where Mr. Sohm is wine director, and looks it. Yet it’s an easygoing place to stop among the Manhattan canyons, midafternoon or pretheater, for simple, elegant foods and the sort of wines you would expect at such a place, with special attention given to Austria, Mr. Sohm’s homeland.
151 West 51st Street, 212-554-1143, aldosohmwinebar.com.
The Four Horsemen
At this point in its existence, the Four Horsemen in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, may be more restaurant than wine bar. The food is so good, and the largely natural wine list so enticing, that it’s awfully hard to get in. If you can wangle a table or a seat at the small bar, you won’t regret it.
295 Grand Street (Havemeyer Street), Brooklyn, 718-599-4900, fourhorsemenbk.com.
Wildair, too, might be more of a restaurant. Yet this casual counterpart to Contra on the Lower East Side, with its natural wines and simple yet adventurous dishes, pleases whether for a snack or a meal.
142 Orchard Street (Rivington Street), 646-964-5624, wildair.nyc.
Il Posto Accanto
Il Posto Accanto started out in the late 1990s as the archetypal Italian wine bar in the East Village, a great place for a plate of salumi, cheese and a glass of wine. It’s outlasted its contemporaries, and has morphed into a restaurant and an institution, but it’s still wonderful to sit at the bar with a quick bite and a glass of Valpolicella.
190 East Second Street (Avenue B), 212-228-3562, ilpostoaccantonyc.com.
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