Named for its Alphabet City Loisada location, Lois (98 Loisada Avenue; 212-475-1400), an all-tap wine bar, feels long overdue in a city once on the cusp of embracing the movement. Several years ago, taps with local wines began popping up at bars around the city — North Fork wineries were early, eager proponents of the system, while kegged-wine forerunner Gotham Project began distributing a Finger Lakes riesling. Yet, perplexingly, nobody capitalized on that momentum. Maybe there weren’t enough good wines in kegs to justify an entire bar dedicated to them? Gotham Project certainly endured growing pains: The wines it sourced in its early years were awful — and often priced too high by its restaurateur clients, negating its value proposition. I stopped ordering tapped wine for a long time as a result.
Fortunately, it seems the tide has turned, because kegged wine makes a hell of a lot of sense. On a recent visit to Lois, co-owners Nora O’Malley and Phoebe Connell enumerated the reasons why. “We love wine on tap because it allows us to keep our prices low, guarantee that the wine will be fresh for every pour, and, best of all, it allows us to give tastes to customers so they can ensure they’re ordering exactly what they want,” said O’Malley. “Plus, it’s much better for the environment.”
The duo source their kegs from a vastly improved Gotham Project, a few California wineries, and New York producers like Channing Daughters and Red Hook Winery. They plan to rotate the selections regularly, “so after one wine ‘kicks,’ there’s something new to go on that line, about every ten to twelve days,” said O’Malley, adding that they’ll try to keep regular customers’ favorite wines available as much as possible.
The two met in high school in Cleveland, but didn’t rekindle the friendship until coincidentally landing jobs nearby in the East Village. Connell earned her master’s in food studies from NYU, and accepted a position as food manager and buyer at Alphabet City Beer Co. at 98 Avenue C. O’Malley had earned a sommelier certification from the Sommelier Society of America, and landed the manager role at Alphabet City Wine Co. at 100 Avenue C. (Proving once again the world of food and wine is truly a small one.)
Newly reacquainted, they worked on the all-tap concept, one they both felt strongly about. O’Malley would handle the beverage program, and Connell the food. Searching for the right commercial space in NYC can be a grueling, disheartening experience, but by sheer luck a former politician’s office, smack between their stores, went on the market. They seized the opportunity and turned out a renovation in a remarkable three months’ time, working with a designer to bring a reclaimed, retro aesthetic to the 550-square-foot space.
Despite their space having been open only a few months now, O’Malley and Connell have established a balletic rhythm behind the narrow bar and small prep area, as they respond to customers or prepare dishes. Connell’s current small-plates menu ($4 to $12) dabbles in sweet, savory, briny, creamy, and fried. Olives, house-made pork rillettes, duck confit arepas, cheese boards, and chocolate-vanilla striped pudding are a few examples.
O’Malley pointed out the wines will change, but recent offerings included a California riesling, Brooklyn Winery’s white “Roebling Blend,” a juicy red zweigelt, and a pale-pink cab franc rosé from Finger Lakes producer Weimer. Expect to taste wines from around the world, though; French, German, Spanish, and Italian grapes and blends all make regular appearances.
When asked what the public’s reception to the concept had been so far, Connell commented with enthusiasm: “We’re thrilled to see how well our customers have responded. They love that the wine is from the tap and that they can try anything they’re curious about to find something they’re really going to enjoy, rather than ordering blindly off a pages-long wine list. We also have a lot of people who are excited to talk with us and learn about pairing wines with different dishes and cheeses. Those are exactly the sort of conversations we love having.”