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."
Billed as "New York's Premier Gay Gentleman's Club, " TownHouse is home to three attractive bars: The Club Room Sports Bar, the Main Bar, and the Piano Room Bar. When it opened more than twenty years ago, TownHouse was described as the "only truly elegant gay bar" in the city, and it continues to attract a steady New York and international crowd. With a dress code and more formal vibe, the bars cater to a clientele of gentlemen favoring a classier decor. The Piano Bar has talented pianists performing every night, and even offers the opportunity for singers to join and be accompanied on the piano during their open mike hours.
Fig & Olive is Mediterranean-inspired dining in its most exquisite form. On my first visit to this location, I was drawn in by the collection of wine and olive oil bottles lining the walls and the chic rustic decor that feels reminiscent of eating in the Italian countryside. Never has there been a time when I have dined at one of the several Fig & Olives in Manhattan, that I did not have an excellent experience. I have feasted on fresh ingredients assembled into delectable creations. I was thrilled to take the Manhattan Sideways team here for lunch one day where they raved over the selection of crostini and devoured the mouthfuls of perfectly paired ingredients – goat cheese and caramelized onion, for example – heaped onto small squares of fresh bread. Another favorite that I introduced them to was the zucchini carpaccio served with lemon and olive oil. We accompanied the meal with a beautifully presented Cucumber Cosmos and Rossellinis, selected from the extensive cocktail menu.
After a lawsuit, renovation, and rebranding, Sesamo has officially taken the place of Crispin’s at W52nd Street and 10th Avenue. Sesamo co-founders Nikita Levitan and Sabrina Gao filed the lawsuit against their previous partner, Crispin Mejia. They accused him of a series of problematic behaviors, including sexual harassment, repeatedly showing up to work drunk, and serving expired food. Taking a sharp turn away from Crispin's, the new Sesamo features an entirely different menu. “The new brand launches with an Asian-influenced Italian menu with many old Crispin’s favorites but with fresh and new Asian twists, " Gao said. She added that Sesamo also offers a unique drinks menu, including a brand new Asian fusion cocktail program with some first in NYC offerings, such as boba tea cocktails. Another beautiful feature of Sesemo is its 80-foot mural created by Selwyn Senatori back in 2018. The Dutch artist created the artwork depicting a champagne celebration with a “Feed Me Love” bubble to celebrate the opening of Decimo Ristobar. Though some of the mural has been painted over, the rest that remains adds an air of festivity to Sesamo's exterior. This story was adapted from the W42ST articles, "Crispin’s Becomes Sesamo as Partners Sue Hell’s Kitchen Chef" and "Hell’s Kitchen has Lost an Outdoor Dining Shed — but Regained a Mural. "
McKinney Welding Supply has been a fixture in Hell’s Kitchen since 1943. This long-running business is family-owned and employs about thirty-five people, ten of them being family members. Allen Dickon, branch manager of the West 52nd Street store, told us "We are the only place in Manhattan where you can find all of your welding and compressed gas products under one roof. ”
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.