As I mentioned a couple of posts ago when I wrote about my 27th Birthday Shenanigans, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Part of this has to do with a relatively recent tradition, one that a good friend and I have taken up religiously for over four months now: Wine Wednesday.
Wine Wednesday actually started out as Winegasm Wednesday when, fresh off my breakup, said friend came over to my new apartment offering support and friendship and many glasses of cabernet. We decided to venture out of my apartment to check out the wine bar, “Winegasm,” conveniently (too conveniently) located directly across the street from my new digs. It was quiet, they played good music, had great happy hour specials and bomb truffle fries. We were sold, and returned religiously the next week and the week after that.
Fast forward not even three weeks to another Wednesday, when we arrived outside of our beloved bar to find one of New York’s notorious “Permanently Closed” signs.
“Seriously?!” we bemoaned. We’d been going every Wednesday for three weeks and now it’s gone? UGH. Such is life in ever-changing NYC, where gentrification and ever-rising rent prices push out even the oldest establishments. This has happened not once, not twice, but THREE times to me. When I first moved here, I remember telling my mom my plans to check out places X, Y, and Z one weekend. “Slow down,” she said. “They’re not going anywhere and you don’t have to explore all of NYC in your first month!” she said. HA! All the places I had mentioned that I was going to check out closed down the exact day that I was planning on going to visit, and now the city had claimed another victim. Maybe it’s me and my terrible string of bad luck, but my advice to new New Yorkers is EXPLORE THE ENTIRE CITY IN YOUR FIRST MONTH, because it might be gone the next day.
In any event, the death of Winegasm meant that we were on the lookout for some new places to drink and unwine(d) mid-week so that we could get through Hump Day and sail smoothly into the weekend. We checked out several places throughout the city and in my neighborhood of Astoria, but inevitably found ourselves drifting down to the Lower East Side more often than not.
If you find yourself in what was once one of New York’s sketchier neighborhoods, now turned grungy hipster “gritty-chic” graffiti haven (that’s a thing, right?), I recommend popping into one of the following places for a drink. Or maybe three, who’s counting? Each one has a totally different vibe and will be a unique experience depending on what you’re looking for (another reason I love the LES – so much variation!).
First up on the list and a repeat offender because the cocktails are so creative:
Death & Company (433 East 6th Street, b/w 1st & A)
Hidden behind a barely-marked door, I
almost definitely walked past Death & Company the first time I came here, just missing the small wooden plaque with the establishment’s name carved into it. An elegantly dressed lady was standing outside and I honestly thought she was just waiting for somebody, but when I tried to go in she stopped me at the door, asked me for my name, and wrote down how many people I was waiting for.
Death & Co has a strict “only seated when your full party arrives” policy, as they tend to fill up quickly and seating is limited, but I was able to sweet talk her into letting me sit inside at the bar while I waited for my friend to arrive. She opened the door and I walked in to the pitch black interior. It took my eyes a minute to adjust to the complete darkness, as the only illumination besides the dim back-lighting of the bar are tiny candles placed around the room and on the bar tables.
Death & Co has a highly original menu of assorted craft cocktails combining traditional flavors with unique variants. I would definitely recommend the Hawaii Five-O (Tanqueray gin, rum, macadamia, passionfruit, lime, hopped grapefruit bitters), the Side Eye (tequila, mezcal, sour apple, strega, ginger, lime, celery bitters), or the Wing & Prayer (Jean-Luc Pasquet Pineau des Charentes, gin, lemon, Don’s mix, angostura, and absinthe).
They have delicious bites and small plates – one of the better menus I’ve seen. I can’t wait to try their fried cauliflower, and I’d pair any of the above drinks with their truffled popcorn, candied nuts, crispy fries, or cheddar cheese curds (to die for, if you’ll excuse the pun).
Beetle House (308 E. 6th Street)
As a long time fan of all of things Halloween and Tim Burton, I’d heard of Beetle House, but had yet to make the sojourn down to this part of the city – mostly because not everyone is as big a fan of creepy goth/horror accoutrements as me. Thankfully, my Wine Wednesday partner was more than excited to check out the place when we passed by it on our way back from Death & Co, when we quickly decided to make it the following week’s Wine Wednesday destination. As you can see, there is clearly a sinister pattern we started developing…
Sinister or no, Beetle House was definitely fun in a toned-down yet kitschy sort of way. There was a large bar with Tim Burton themed decorations everywhere (nightmare before Christmas, Beetle Juice, etc.) and even a roving Sweeny Todd who brandished an old-fashioned razor and kept trying to entice us to “try his meat” (I passed).
The weird thing about the Beetle House is that you have to make a reservation to eat there (even though there weren’t that many people), and you have no other option but to do their prix-fixe menu, which includes an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert (with different pricing levels based on which “tier” of food you want). It’s not terribly expensive, but combined with a drink it would add up quickly. And I don’t always want dessert or an appetizer. Scratch that – I always want dessert but I don’t always need dessert. It would be much better if they offered you the option of choosing things a la carte, but since that’s not in the cards, I would suggest doing what we did if you don’t feel like going all in on a meal: give up a table for a couple of stools at the bar and order some appetizers.
For whatever reason, this was one of those Wine Wednesdays where we got totally and unintentionally #turnt. Maybe it was the cocktails, which were mostly straight alcohol and super strong, or the fact that we ordered our appetizers too late, but after one drink I was feeling pretty good. My favorite drink was The Beetle’s Juice (Muddled blackberry and limes, Tequila, Blackberry schnapps, Angostura bitters, splash of cranberry), but The Nine (Absolut Citron, sour apple pucker, Midori, triple sec, Green apple sugared rim) was a close second. At this point I ordered chicken and cheese quesadillas with guacamole, and capped it off with a dessert cocktail – the Chocolate Chocolate martini (Vanilla vodka, Dorda chocolate liqueur, cream, creme de cocoa, garnished with a chocolate bar). It’s becoming a bit clearer why this was one of our wilder Wine Wednesdays…
While the food was good and the drinks unique, points off for the weird prix-fixe rule and the slightly sloppy presentation – they “ran out” of the green apple sugar rim (which looked like it had been sitting at the bar for a while) and my dessert cocktail was NOT garnished with a chocolate bar (not that I’d needed it, but…).
I would definitely come back and bring guests though because the drinks were really tasty, the bar tenders/staff were friendly, and I love a good Halloween-themed spot any time of year!
Bibi (211 E. 4th St. b/w A & B)
Bibi is the cutest little wine bar you ever did see. I met up here with a friend who I hadn’t seen for a while and it was the perfect spot to catch up over a glass of wine. For starters, it was an intimate venue, kind of quiet and tucked away with dim lighting (but not so dim you couldn’t see), nice music (but not so loud you couldn’t hear) and enough people to make you feel pleasantly surrounded but not suffocated.
They also have great happy hour specials – we split a bottle of red wine for $22 and passed a pleasant evening in conversation and good company.
Bibi would be a great place for a girl’s night or a date night, and it wasn’t super busy. I could see myself returning here, even on a solo venture with a good book, to check out some more wine from their insanely-expansive menu, as well as the ever-tempting S’more-in-a-Jar and Pigs in a Blanket.
Lois (98 Loisada Ave)
I am almost hesitant to share Lois because it is my favorite of all of the places I’ve shared so far and definitely a hidden gem. But really, word should get out so it doesn’t suffer the fate of Winegasm et. al. I’m really sharing this for selfish motivations.
Lois is a beautiful little wine bar in Alphabet City (so-named for the North-South running Avenues A, B, C, & D in the Lower East Side). It’s a bit of a trek to get there – about 10-15 minutes walking distance from the nearest subway, meaning you probably aren’t too likely to stumble upon it unless you happen to already be in the area. This is great, because while there have always been people – which creates a nice sort of buzzy atmosphere – I’ve never felt claustrophobic while here.
Lois (so-named because of its location right where Avenue C turns into Loisada) is unique for a few different reasons. First of all they don’t serve bottles; instead, all of their wines come on tap – 16 different kinds, to be exact. You can either order by the glass, or by one of their three different sized carafes. They also do not accept tips, as tipping is built into the price – so when you see that it’s $14 for a small carafe, you can be sure that you’re only shelling out $14. Maybe it’s the part of me that’s on a budget, maybe it’s the part of me that still lives in Europe, but I love this about Lois.
If that isn’t enough to convince you, the fact that they will let you sample as many wines as you want before committing might. Or that during Happy Hour, any size carafe you order is accompanied by a small cheese and cracker plate of your choosing.
In terms of atmosphere, Lois is bright and airy. Both times I’ve gone, the front door and windows of the restaurant were completely open to the street, letting in a slight breeze, sounds of the quaint outdoor street, and allowing optimal views for people watching. The bar is also one of the comfiest I’ve ever sat at, with large, cushioned seats and plenty of space. Their menu, while compact, is carefully crafted and has ample opportunities for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike (Avocado Arepa, Lemon Baked Eggs, and Kale flatbread? I’m in).
Of course Wine Wednesday isn’t always this fancy, just as it isn’t always wine. Occasionally it’s Wineless Wednesday iced cold brews and grilled cheese sandwiches at Queens Kickshaw in Astoria, or a bottle of wine shared at my apartment while laughing loudly to old Kristen Wiig SNL skits. Who knew the worst day of the week (besides Tuesday, Monday’s ugly sister) could be so much fun? 😉