After working as a sommelier in New York City for many years, Patrick Watson, along with his wife, Michelle, made the decision to follow their passion and open a wine shop in Brooklyn in 2004. This enterprise would soon expand to accommodate the couple’s love for cheese and specialty foods, as Stinky followed two years later.
Fast forward to 2014 when Patrick and Michelle opened an immense wine and liquor store on 20th Street. While enthused by the abundance of wine-lovers that frequent Manhattan, Patrick speaks of the neighborly character of his Brooklyn shop and says that he aims to retain the same feeling in Chelsea. The excitement of running places like Back Label and Stinky, side by side, he says, is the opportunity to invite people in and to introduce them to tastes they have never experienced. With moveable steel racks holding the hundreds of bottles, Back Label’s space is conducive to any kind of party. In addition, there is a "Back" room where wine-tastings are conducted on a regular basis. From a bridal shower, to a fund-raising event, to a company outing, Patrick is thrilled to be orchestrating a variety of events where he can feature his vast assortments of wines from around the world.
Stepping out of the culinary carnival in the main Eataly building through the side street entrance of the calm, cool wine shop next door was a soothing experience. The space is primarily filled with Italian wines, though there is a selection of local New York varieties upstairs. Also on the second floor is the “Riserva Room,” a temperature-controlled chamber with rare wines, mainly acquired through auctions. What surprised me about the Riserva Room, however, is that the bottles are not very expensive. Despite feeling the need to whisper inside the elegant space, I noticed that many tags quoted prices under $100. We learned from Brianna Buford, the PR Assistant, that this is so that customers do not feel intimidated to try new wines.As with the rest of Eataly, Vino is dedicated to educating the public about the quality, origin, and uses of its products. There are helpful signs in the area and tastings every week. “Staff Pick” signs give shoppers individual recommendations and there are often fun promotions whose goal is to introduce customers to new labels. For example, in 2015, the wine store hid golden corks all over Eataly, offering anyone who found one a special bottle of Vino Libero. “Vino Libero” means “free the wine,” a motto which seems to ring true throughout the store, where wine is freed from any pretension or intimidation and presented in a playful, educational way.
Tom Geniesse is in love with the Flatiron District and he believes he has chosen the perfect location to house his cleverly laid out wine shop. As he explained, there are two ways to shop for wine - first - the old fashioned way with the wines alphabetized by country. Thus, along the walls at the front of the store, multiple wine regions from around the world are represented alphabetically, beginning with Argentina. It is down the center of the shop, however, that Tom'sother idea for displaying wines comes to fruition: The same wines that line the sides are now separated by category - Meat, Seafood, Take-out, Treats, Gifts, Value, Events. Get the idea? The fun doesn't stop here, though, for next to each bottle Tom has a "resume" of each wine, providing tools to make wise choices. Collectors with deep pockets can find a fine selection as can university students who prefer not to spend a great deal. Bottlerocket is designed to build a bridge for consumers to make the right decision. When asked what drew him into the wine business, Tom said that he was a "crazy entrepreneur" who had lots of different jobs but continuously found himself disappointed in wine shops. "I always wanted to know more, and this is a result of that effort."
As the name suggests, Burgundy Wine Company specializes in wines from this glorious region in France. Opening in 1988 in the West Village as a niche market before this concept became so trendy, their clientele has remained loyal and many over the years. Max, one of the knowledgeable staff members, explained to us that his dad got him into wine long before he was of legal age, and it has since become his passion. The shop seems like a perfect place to nurture a passion for wine - we can easily imagine ourselves curled up on their cozy couch with one of their books about wine, and a glass of red in hand.
Eddy Le Garrec is the vinous hero that New York needs and deserves. To step into his store, Empire State of Wine, is to step into a different dimension; one where gouging is a forbidden practice, 90+ point wine is affordable for anyone with twelve dollars to spare, and bottles that are impossible to import are stacked for sale. Eddy himself bubbles with impatient energy. He knows that the quality and price of his product are unprecedented in Manhattan. Eddy has cracked the code of selling affordable wine in the United States, where a five-euro bottle often ends up costing twenty-five dollars.During the hour we spent in conversation, Eddy gave me a peek behind the curtain of his business. We were constantly on the move as he nudged me along with a gentle hand, gesturing to emphasize his words, but I found that in addition to his passion, there was something more inscrutable, perhaps a world-weary or melancholy note. As it turns out, Eddy Le Garrec has lived a life of emotional highs and lows. From LA to Vegas to Miami, and then New York, his is a story worth hearing. Born in France, Eddy traveled to Los Angeles at the age of twenty-five. “I had a contract with a restaurant for one week and while I was there, an incredible thing happened. I won the green card lottery. I was lucky. Stupid lucky. So I said okay, I’m staying, and I fell in love with the country.” Eddy’s family growing up was in the restaurant business, and he found himself in the right place at the right time to thrive in the US. “It was the 1990’s and the beginning of the wine boom, where Americans were growing interested in collecting and learning about wines.” Eddy then casually mentioned that he worked at the legendary L'Orangerie. “I waited on all of the Hollywood stars. I have a story for every single one.” Next came a move to Las Vegas where he followed the same chef who had brought him to LA. “I stayed for two years and directed the opening of several restaurants and hotels. It wasn’t what I loved but looking back, it goes to show nothing is ever a waste of time. I also learned to play poker. But I don’t do that anymore.” Unfortunately, Eddy also made some mistakes in his love life, bad enough to elicit a pained look on his face even today. It was time for a fresh start. After two years of Vegas, Eddy ran off to Florida. “When I moved to South Beach, there was no real wine culture in Miami. I realized I could start up my own brick and mortar, and W Wine was almost immediately a success. That was in 2006. What’s amazing is that I modeled my store, and even this store today, around this Vegas model. It is open, not intimidating or stuffy. The warehouse look is what I want. Customers come in and it makes my day when they say they’ve never seen a wine store like this before. You’ll also see I have the expensive stuff up front that people will walk past to reach the more affordable options, and when they get there they are relieved. It is like finding the slot machines.” The slot machines, in Eddy’s case, are his “15 and Under” series, a bright display he sees as one of his biggest successes. Categorized by flavor profile (Bubbly, Fresh, Crisp, Buttery/Creamy, Light Body, Medium Body, Full Body) and with plenty of information at hand to read, anyone can come in and make an informed choice on a great wine. There might be one or two wines in each category, all handpicked by Eddy for their quality and price. “I used to get angry about people copying this idea,” Eddy told me, “but not anymore because in the end, I know nobody can do what I do, nobody.” Yuriel, one of Eddy’s employees nodded emphatically from behind the register. “Nobody,” he agreed. Eddy was approached by a Canadian company that wanted to buy out his Miami store. “At first I did not want to, but I took a look at the check and was like wow. But then things did not go so well. Their plan was to merge my store with a separate online platform. I was working all the time on my computer, constantly working, and I was very unhappy. In the end, I and the other CEOs were fired because they needed more Canadians on the payroll. It was a hard time.” At this point, Eddy ran a hand through his thick black hair. “I then went into a depression. It took me five years to wake up.” During that period, Eddy felt it was time for another change of scene. “I moved to New York and even went back to school where I studied documentary film. One day I will use what I learned. Nothing goes to waste.” But Eddy could not stay far from wine for too long. After a series of real estate transactions, he found himself owner of the Chelsea storefront property that would become Empire State of Wine. In a stroke of luck that echoed his green card jackpot of years ago, Eddy was granted a liquor license in what seemed like a record time of three months. “Boom, I was in business. Incredible.” This time though, Eddy worked in reverse. He began by building his website. Even there, the aesthetics are meant to promote the sort of open and honest wine culture that Eddy is passionate about. In today’s world of online retail, he has no pretensions about the brick and mortar side of business. But it gives him an opportunity to meet people. “I love helping customers learn about the magic of wine. I also love demystifying it. In the end it is grape juice. Drink it! Enjoy it!”
In January of 2007, Oscar Farinetti founded the first Eataly in Turin, Italy, specializing in quality Italian goods. Under B&B Hospitality, the marketplace has since expanded throughout the United States. The first New York City location opened in the summer of 2010 near the iconic Flatiron building, and an expansion has been planed in the Financial District for 2016.Strolling through the epicurean haven, I saw a dazzling array of artfully displayed gourmet products. The produce section alone reaped multiple varieties of earthy mushrooms, vibrant stone fruits, and luscious greens. The cotton candy grapes and sea beans were astoundingly similar in flavor to their namesakes. Other sights included a traditional espresso bar, a butcher counter with cuts from sustainable farms, and a station entirely devoted to making mozzarella, turning out two to three hundred pounds daily. Above, ornate ceilings accentuated these wonders, paying homage to the building’s previous life as a luxury hotel.“Eataly is the gallery, the producers are the artists, and the products are the art,” explained Italian-born Dino Borri, Eataly’s brand ambassador. He got his start working under the founder of the Slow Food movement, Carlo Pertrini, at the age of fourteen, eventually helping to open an Eataly branch in Japan. He is now based in New York as a major product buyer. He still, however, visits Italy frequently. The gallery analogy is a perfect metaphor, especially since Eataly advocates for small businesses by clearly crediting them with their products and financially sponsoring projects to accelerate capacity growth. “The majority of our products come from Italy, but we also get some locally,” Dino told me. Some of the local sourcing has to do with shipment restrictions - salami and unpasteurized cheese are not allowed to cross over the borders, but primarily the goal is to find the freshest ingredients. One of the benefiters from Eataly's work with local businesses has been Wild Hive Farm, a small farm from Upstate New York with organic, stone-ground bread. GuS Soda also met immense popularity after hitting Eataly’s spotlight, and local farmers turn to the marketplace for a steadier income source than farmers’ markets.However, it is not just the labeling of product origins that keeps shoppers at Eataly informed. Cooking classes are offered regularly at La Scuola, recipes are provided with many of the meals, and various signs give product tips and facts. “The olive oil expert can go on for over twenty minutes in a discussion of delicate, grassy, and herbaceous varieties,” stated PR Associate Brianna Buford, “he knows the proper tasting techniques.” I am sure the vinegar expert is just as well trained.Passing by the highly specialized eateries, my cravings constantly wavered between savory and sweet. The newest edition when I visited in the summer of 2015, the Nutella bar, features a constantly running chocolate hazelnut fountain, ready to be poured on a bounty of appetizing creations. In the bakery section, I learned that all the hearth-baked breads come from the same “mother yeast." Nearby, serving some of the best pasta and perfectly charred Napoli-style pizza pies in Manhattan is La Pizza & La Pasta.During my discussion with Dino, he told me, "We really made this store for ourselves." He declared himself a primary customer for Eataly, saying, “We are what we eat.” It is less about the fancy products than about having everything be “good, clean, fair,” and having something for every price point. “We have introduced a new way of eating,” he smiled. He is glad that others have begun to mimic Eataly's highly successful marketplace model, since it means increased quality for everyone.While spending hours touring Eataly, I sampled the food at some of the eateries. A favorite was the zucchini Carpaccio with fried capers, toasted pine nuts, soft white cheese, and fresh mint at Le Verdure, a veggie-centric eatery that has been a go-to place for me since it first opened. After trying the Pesce Crudo Trio, including raw pink snapper, swordfish, and steelhead trout, from Il Pesce, my photographer, Tom, exclaimed, “this is fresher than the fish my dad caught and cooked last night.” The Manhattan Sideways Team finished off with a necessary treat at Il Gelato. By providing quality flavor, supporting small farmers and educating shoppers, Eataly has truly maximized their slogan “Eat. Shop. Learn.”
Renowned Alsatian Chef Antoine Westermann opened his first restaurant, Le Buerehiesel, at twenty-three years old. For several years, the self-taught chef continued to prepare memorable cuisine, earning the restaurant an illustrious three Michelin stars. In 2006, he had those stars recalled in order to escape the creative constriction that accompanied them, and in 2007, he ceded the restaurant to his son. Chef Westermann’s more recent restaurant endeavors offer sophisticated cuisine sans pomp. In Paris, he is the proud chef and owner of four such restaurants - Mon Vieil Ami, The Durant, La Dégustation, and Le Coq Rico.Translating to “Rico the Chicken,” the first Le Coq Rico opened in 2011 as a restaurant entirely devoted to poultry. After all, the refined chef’s cuisine of choice is fried chicken and French fries. Before bringing Le Coq Rico to Manhattan in 2016, Westermann spent a couple of months sourcing poultry and establishing connections with farmers across the US that adhered to his standards of quality as part of his exploration of “American terroir.” Unbeknownst to the chef at the time, the space he chose in Gramercy resides next to Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace, which houses a collection of taxidermy birds. “This one just felt right,” the staff joked.As to be expected from a chef of Westermann’s caliber, the menu at Le Coq Rico in New York is anything but ordinary. The minimum slaughtering age of the specialty whole birds served is ninety days, more than double the forty-day standard, and Catskill Gunea Fowl are given one-hundred and thirty days. “After that they become a rooster,” I was informed. Another specialty dish, the “baeckeoffe,” originates from an Alsatian laundry day tradition. When the women were busy with laundry and did not have the time to cook, they would drop off a marinade of potatoes, beef and sauces to a baker, who would seal the casserole dish with dough and let it cook slowly. Westermann’s version employs chicken, truffles, and white wine.Watching some of the other dishes come out, I would have never guessed that they were all the same species. The playful giblets platter veiled the bird’s offal with elegant skewers, spiced croquettes, glossy wings, and horseradish toast. A foamy butter bath with micro greens overlay the slow-cooked guinea fowl egg, and I was relieved to find out that the tomato and poultry tartare was not raw, but instead similar to an elevated chicken salad encircled by caper sauce.Birds play a role in other parts of the restaurant, too. In addition to French and American wines displayed in a pristine wine cave, the bar offers a bird-themed cocktail program. One of the most popular, The Elvis in the Sky, is an alcoholic take on the singer’s famed peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich. The “Duck Fitch,” a mix of gin, turmeric, ginger, and mint, is named for the celebrated polymath artist, Doug Fitch. Having lived with a bird for a month after a live performance piece, Doug was deemed the perfect candidate to design the cheerful rooster that has become Le Coq Rico’s emblem. His backlit, blue-and-white painting is on view for guests seated in the main dining area or at the bar that faces the open kitchen.Serving simple food expertly prepared, Chef Westermann is not only a master in the kitchen, but an excellent mentor as well. Floor Manager and Sommelier Adrien Boulouque could not be more thankful for his fifteen years of experience working with the humble and soft spoken chef. “I met him in Washington D.C. and now I am here,” he mused. “It is all about sharing and respect.” This respect is geared towards the staff, the guests, and, of course, the birds.
Nemo Tile’s beginnings date back to 1921 in Jamaica, Queens. Nemo Tile is responsible for lining and decorating many of New York’s most famed and frequently traveled spaces and landmarks: The Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, the original World Trade Center, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the W Hotels, and “countless residences,” according to their staff, all bear their unique tiles. The company specializes in usable, heavily trafficked tiles, of all colors, shapes, materials, and sizes, but Nemo also works on smaller, more decorative or intimate architectural and interior projects.I spoke to Charlotte Barnard, the head of marketing, who told me a bit about the the company’s history and the changes that Nemo has undergone since its inception. Jerry Karlin partnered with, and subsequently took over from, the original owner in the 1950s and since then, the company has been in the hands of three generations of this family run business. I think what struck me most, though, was when I put the pieces together and realized that I grew up in the same town as the Karlin's. One of their daughters was a childhood friend, and our parents were also very close. I even have fond memories of a trip that I took with the Karlins to Florida when I was about fifteen. All of a sudden, Nemo Tiles took on a whole new meaning for me.As I continued my conversation with Charlotte, she informed me that many things have not changed since 1921 - the original location is still operating in Queens and the Karlin family is still involved with MTA projects, including the new Fulton Street station, which features Nemo glass tiles. There have, however, been revolutionary inventions in the tile industry, especially thanks to advances in technology. 3D printing has made it possible to make porcelain look like stone, wood, and even metal.Charlotte proudly stated that Nemo Tile sees some of the most traffic of surrounding showrooms. She pointed out that they have a great location, and that similar companies have followed their lead in moving to the Gramercy area. The company finds most of their products at two major tile shows in Bologna and Florida, but they have wares from all over the world, from China to North America. They have an especially large Italian selection, and Charlotte told us that Nemo had been named “Distributor of the Year” by Confindustria Ceramica, the trade organization for Italian tile.I was deeply impressed with the showroom itself and the constant flow of people stopping by to browse and make purchases: the floor was a clever patchwork of different styles of tile, sliding pull-out displays were tucked into the walls, allowing the space to remain uncluttered, and props like shower heads and mirrors decorated the walls. Charlotte explained, “We are more than a typical tile store. We show tiles within the context of lifestyle. It is a new way to see space, and we are constantly updating the displays.”
The massive, open interior, high ceilings, white columns, and rows of long, pillow-strewn banquettes at this corner Mediterranean restaurant pay extensive, dramatic homage to what is really a tiny, unremarkable fish found in Greece. Since the restaurant opened in 2005, the barbounia has been elevated to what is most likely unprecedented fame. The sardine, for example, has yet to be honored with a white-feathered chandelier and twenty-foot long, soft cream-colored curtains. The airy space, which also comprises a large, inviting bar, semi-outdoor seating on 20th Street, and an open kitchen, is consistently packed and filled with raucous, lively conversation. Barbounia is certainly a scene worth partaking in, both socially and with its mostly Greek cuisine, especially the fresh, simply prepared fish and seafood. They also offer amazing bread and small pizzas and pasta.
The Players, an organization founded in the late Nineteenth Century to further the careers of talented actors by linking them with established patrons of the arts, is a place of considerable national historic, artistic, and dramatic importance. Though founded by, and for, a small group of primarily American Shakespearean Actors, today The Players serves over 700 active theater and film actors, television hosts, arts patrons, and businessmen and women. Although a private club, non-members are given access to this simply remarkable townhouse that serves as its home - guests are invited to the occasional theater production and lectures that are held here.Edwin Booth, the most famous American Shakespearean actor of his time, purchased the mansion at 15 Gramercy Park South and had it redesigned by famed architect Stanford White to house a monumental club and theater for actors and a residence for himself on the upper floors. The ornate chandeliers, wooden parquet floors, gilded ceiling wreaths, Tiffany Glass windows, open circular staircase, indoor stage, library, and dining room are lined with portraits of Edwin by John Singer Sargent and paintings of the faces of every distinguished member of the club throughout its history. From founding member Mark Twain, to Frank Sinatra, to Carroll Burnett, to Uma Thurman, the breadth of actors and theatrical personalities covering the old, intricately carved walls was awe inspiring. A particularly memorable painting was a full-length portrait of the late, celebrated theater patron Helen Hayes wearing a brilliant, crimson velvet gown. Hayes was the first female to be admitted in 1989.The building is still filled with many of the original decorations, objects, and pieces of furniture used by the founding members of the club: the simple wood “club tables” by the bar in the dining room; humidors and personalized drinking mugs for the famously heavy smokers and alcoholics of the old Shakespearean crew; and mosaic tiles carved with words of wisdom for the actors themselves. “Dear actors,” reads one – “eat not onions, nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath.” And another, a particularly revealing line from Shakespeare, “you shall not budge, you go not till I set you up a glass.”And for the real history buffs – Edwin Booth had an older brother, John, another famous Shakespearean actor. The brothers disagreed and competed over everything, from their individual claim to particular theater venues to politics (Edwin was a Unionist, John a Confederate). They settled on a compromise to divide the country into two theatrical spheres for each to work in – Edwin in the North, John in the South. And as for their political disagreements, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in the Ford Theater on April 14, 1865.When we visited in late 2012, The Players was about to celebrate its 125th anniversary. After asking our tour guide, the knowledgeable assistant executive director of the Club, John McCormick, how he felt about his job, he responded “I get goose bumps every time I think about this site that I work in.”