In theory, I should love wine bars — I drink a lot of wine, and I often trade evenings in my dinky, NYC apartment for nights out. But I often cringe when I hear the term, since every restaurant proprietor takes poetic license to call their beverages a “wine list” and their establishment a “wine bar.” Peddling pedestrian, supermarket wines, often in uninspired spaces, and charging the equivalent of the bottle price for a single glass? We deserve better.
The best wine bars, in my opinion, don’t have the same list as everyone else. They offer a few unique wines, whether from a smaller producer or a lesser known region or varietal, and always carry a few affordable options by the glass. They also store the wine properly (no wine kept above the pizza oven, please!) and serve it in decent stemware (no thick lips!).
In the West Village, here are five spots that really get things right:
Grab your significant other for an evening at Anfora.
Dark, date-worthy atmosphere, also popular with groups arriving early to score the comfy leather banquettes. Skip the couch for a seat at the bar, giving you direct access to the helpful, wine-savvy staff. Anfora offers a range of unique wines from around the world,
including a Georgian anfora aged wine, a Lebanese Cabernet blend, and a white Pošip from Croatia. Prices are spot on with lots of options between $10 and $12 plus more serious glasses like a Rioja Reserva for $24. Food is not an afterthought, either — try the lauded lamb-ragu sliders. Anfora hits all the marks. 34 Eighth Avenue, 212-518-2722
Can’t make it across the pond? Check out Vin Sur Vingt for a taste of France in New York.
Vin Sur Vingt
Adorably petite, French bistro-style wine bar offering bar stools plus rows of teeny tables packed as tightly as they come in Paris (and the West Village); arrive early or really late. The all-French wine list is regularly rotated through 50 options by the glass, starts at $9, and includes plenty of Bordeaux and Burgundy for those who need it, as well as Jura and Corsica for the more adventurous. Staff is French and helpful and lets you taste before you buy. Gallic nibbles like escargot and pate are offered on the tightly edited menu. 201 West 11th Street, 212-924-4442
The Upholstery Store’s wine selection is better than its decor.
The Upholstery Store
Kurt Gutenbrunner, Austrian chef/owner of next door’s Wallsé, opened this sliver of space as an ode to Austrian wines. The short, rotating list dips into other unsung regions, but mostly highlights his homeland’s unique varietals: Grüner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Blaufränkisch, and St. Laurent, plus hard to find Furmint. Bottle prices are high starting at $50, but glasses are within reach beginning at $10. Bartenders generously offer tastes of wines both on and off the menu — just ask, and you shall receive. The spare, candlelit decor and limited charcuterie/cheese menu could both use a jolt of energy, but huge points are earned for dedication to these seldom seen varietals. 713 Washington Street, 212-352-2300
Get to Blue Ribbon early to find a seat, their rotating selections are worth it.
Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar
Another teensy, weensy West Village spot with limited bar and table seats. Cut out of work by 4 p.m., or else wait your turn. Their thoughtful list of bottles and half-bottles crosses many oceans and spans all price points, with numerous under $45 selections like a French Minervois and Mallorcan white. Wine by the glass is more limited, but rotating flights like “Greek Whites” and “Crozes-Hermitage” keep it interesting, with tasting pours of princely size. Small plates are a mixed bag ranging from Southern barbecue to French charcuterie. 34 Downing Street, 212-691-0404
You might need to search a bit to find Zampa.
This hardish-to-find Italian bar, where meatpacking and a bare stretch of West 13th
Street intersect, has a modern Italian vibe that is ever so slightly softened for its West Village locale. A long, curvy bar beckons first with eye-catching pastries, breads, and cakes, then with a long chalkboard wine list of reasonably priced, mostly Italian varietals, both by glass and bottle. The program covers a large swath of Italy and offers selections from the oft ignored regions of Puglia, Basilicata, and Calabria. Dine on cicchetti (Northern Italian small plates) while picking the brain of the knowledgeable bartenders who enthusiastically let you sample the wines. The ever-present owner remembers faces and greets with staccato waves as he hops between tables and the kitchen, lending an air of welcome to the chic setting. 306 West 13th Street, 212-206-0601
Don’t see your favorites here? Tell us about them in the comments!