Candles flicker from every corner casting a glow over the dark wood bar and tables at Cello, while softly illuminating the bottles of wine and liquor on display. Modernity intrudes in the form of a small TV mounted in one corner, but, otherwise, the atmosphere is quiet and rustic enough that it is easy to forget one is still in Manhattan. Tom, a manager and part-owner of Cello for five years, describes the bar as an "easy-going place" with a focus on getting people to try new wines. Patrons are encouraged to sample wines before they make a decision, and Tom stressed that there is no price incentive to buy a bottle rather than a glass. He went on to say that the bartenders pour four glasses per bottle - "you're getting a really full glass," Tom added.
Though they will sometimes keep a specific bottle in reserve for regulars who request it, Cello stocks a rotating collection of wines from "The Old World and New World" to keep their selection varied. One wine for sale when we visited came from a volcano caldera in the Canary Islands. Their list is meant to cater to wine aficionados and novices alike. Tom confidently declared, "We'll definitely be able to find something you like." Cello also offers a well-stocked bar and a modest range of beer choices for non-oenophiles, as well as a pizza and tapas menu featuring meats and cheeses imported from France, Italy and Holland. Tom described the food as "very good, very well thought-out" with wine pairing opportunities in mind.
There are a lot of "first dates" that stop by Cello, but otherwise, Tom characterized the clientele as a mix of businesspeople, local business owners and residents of the neighborhood and, simply, people "chilling out" late at night.
Sofia Wine Bar is, in a word, intimate. A post-work favorite, its dim lighting and relatively small space makes Sofia’s the perfect place for a quiet night out. Owner and designer Antonia DeGrezia, along with his wife Tomasso, wisely chose to keep some pieces from the spot’s previous life as a chandelier gallery to add to the ambiance. Although the emphasis is on their extensive wine list, Sofia has a short menu of “Italian inspired” tapas and thin crust pizzas with a variety of toppings. For a complete old world Italian meal, the couple’s DeGrezia Ristorante is only a few doors down.
Wine Bars were a relatively new trend in the early 2000s – Orhan Cakir and Burak Argun the owners of Pierre Loti, would know best. They met one another - and a third partner - when Burak emigrated from Istanbul in 2000, and they all attended the same language school. Together, they opened one of the first wine bars in New York City, Turks and Frogs in the West Village, and then went on to provide an excellent wine experience for customers at Pierre Loti in Chelsea, Midtown and Union Square.Pierre Loti is a fictional character created by French novelist Louis Marie-Julien Viaud. Loti was a French naval officer who traveled to Istanbul and fell in love with the culture. Burka noted that he thinks the spirit of Viaud's character well exemplifies the cultural exchange between the tastes of French wine and Turkish cuisine happening in his bar. Orhan’s eyes lit up when he spoke of the variety of wine that the bar offers and how the bar brings in a new, “dynamic” wine every month. In addition to operating multiple wine bars, the men have helped create their own label of wines from France, with a specific emphasis on Burgundies and Bordeaux. Each bottle has an illustration of Loti on the bottle.Orhan is originally from Istanbul, where he studied engineering. It was there, however, that he also began his career in the restaurant business. Reflecting back, he told me that having worked in hospitality in two different countries enabled him to create a wonderful experience for others. When he came to the US, he realized that “wine was an addition to the food, but was never the main focus.” He wanted to change that notion, and that is what inspired him to open Turks and Frogs. As I admired the interior design of the space, Orhan revealed that he built everything in the restaurant, including the tables and the bar.While at Pierre Loti, wine continues to be the center point, there is also a menu of excellent small Mediterranean dishes available, including Manti, a type of Turkish dumpling that Orhan has recreated from his childhood in Turkey. The bar has a lot of regulars, and Burak told us that nearly half of their customers live on the block. In addition, given its cozy decor and romantically dim lighting, Pierre Loti is a prime first date spot. Having witnessed many a budding romance take place in his bar, Burak remarked, "If the lady orders a main course, I can tell it's a good date."
The delectable assortment of French pastries was only the beginning of the excitement for me when I first visited Eclair Bakery. Getting to observe and speak with owner Stephane Pourrez, as he was preparing pastries, macarons, croissants and, of course, a variety of eclairs made the experience very special. An alumnus of Ferrandi, the French School of Culinary Arts in Paris, Pourrez worked in New York for a year as a pastry chef before he fulfilled his "childhood dream" of opening his own bakery. No matter what time I chose to pop in, I always found others sipping on their cafe au lait, and mingling with fellow French natives.
Lyn Trotman describes Quest as “a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of midtown.” President of the New York Theosophical Society, which studies the wisdom behind various world religions, Lyn also operates the Society’s book shop, Quest. The store is a pleasantly-scented oasis, with a section devoted to incense, candles, and gemstones. People interested in esoteric studies and rituals can browse through books on every conceivable spiritual tradition, from Kabbalah, to Sufism, to Buddhism, and all things in between. “A lot of other metaphysical bookstores are gone. We are the oldest one left.”