Oenophilia (eh-no-fill-ee-uh), derived from the Greek language, is the love (philia) of wine (oinos). Ipso facto, an oenophile is a lover of wine. It stands to reason that wine lovers are often foodies too, for what is wine if not paired with its culinary counterparts, from the quintessential savory wine and cheese to the chocolate confection accompaniment?
And what better way to enjoy these two passions then to be hugged by their sights and aromas merged into one grand dining experience, the crème de la crème of private meals, designed for a sit down with old friends, an intimate party or sometimes, just like that – -Enter the growing trend of wine cellar dining; the perfect union between wine and food; comfort and hospitality. In this mode of dining, there’s something for every gourmand, whether you’re looking for a casual gathering, a fancy feast from an A-list chef or just the opportunity to dine in one of the city’s most acclaimed cellars. The ambiance with wall-to-wall wine racks flowing from floor to ceiling creates an atmosphere designed to wake the senses and evoking the sensation of being whisked away to Europe sans the travel.
In that spirit, Upscale Magazine brings you some of New York City’s hottest private dining cellars. From full-fledged intimate spaces to rustic hidden underground treasures, you can sniff, sip, nibble and taste everything from top-shelf wines to signature desserts.
Of Mystery, Intrigue and Bubbly- The 21 Club
During the height of the Prohibition Era way back in 1932, ten federal agents knocked on the door of the most famous speakeasy in New York, namely the ’21’. Jimmy the doorman, seeing that a raid was about to ensue, activates a secret alarm thus alerting the management and moments later, the “feds” burst in, and ransack the building looking for “booze”. After hours of searching the premises, they leave defeated, without finding the 2,000 cases of liquor hidden downstairs.
Years later, the great mystery as to why the agents never found the liquor is revealed – ’21’s secret Wine Cellar. One of the most elaborately disguised vaults in New York City, ’21’s cellar was built to be invisible. Today, while the uproar has long subsided, guests can visit this very same space for intimate dinners behind a two-ton brick wall that swings open to reveal an elegant dining room amidst a legendary collection of vintage wines. For dinner parties, the 21 Club offers a sumptuous 7-course chef’s tasting menu paired with wines that have been handpicked under sommelier Philip Pratt, who has earned a Wine Spectator Grand Award. Headed by well established and talented Executive Chef John Greeley, this dining spot offers some of the best cuisines in New York. Start with one of their choice caviars such as the Royal Sterling paired with a glass of Prosecco. Absolutely decadent.
In addition to housing the restaurant’s collection of vintage wines and rare liquors, ’21’ also stores the private collections of some of the restaurant’s most famous patrons, both past and present, including Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, Elizabeth Taylor, Hugh Carey, Aristotle Onassis; even notorious Rat Packer Sammy Davis Jr. Deliciously scandalous, I’d say.
Swoon at Aretsky’s Patroon
Opened in 1996 by iconic restaurateur Ken Aretsky, this dining spot offers some of the city’s finest American food, thanks to Executive Chef Bill Peet who serves a satisfying menu of classic cuisine, some of his signatures being Warmed Duck Salad” with watercress, frisée and poached egg in honey-whole grain mustard vinaigrette or their unrivaled “28-Day Dry Aged Sirloin” served with Béarnaise or Bordelaise sauce. All considered the piece de resistance can be found beyond the food.
Take the secret elevator downstairs to their wine cellar. The dark wood interior and dim lighting add to the cellar’s comfortable ambiance and retro appeal, much like an old fashioned speakeasy. Here the dining table seats up to 12 and is surrounded by a wine collection that spans the globe, such as their 2005 Chateauneuf du Pape, Chateau du Beaucastel or a 2007 Pinot Noir, Beaux Frères’, Oregon’s Willamette Valley. All of their private dinner menus include a Chef’s selection of hors d’oeuvres and a sommelier that is available to make recommendations and wine pairings for each course.
After your dining tryst, make sure to tour all of the fabulous nooks and crannies of this restaurant. Check out the displays throughout of first-rate photography collections showcasing works by Hiro, Saul Leiter, and Matthew Pillsbury to name a few. Ride the elevator up to the 2nd floor and take in The Humidor Room, featuring walls lined with Spanish cedar and mirrors, The Plane Room, named for walls decorated with aviation-themed photos, The Sporting Room, home to vintage photos of sporting events including Babe Ruth’s last appearance in a Yankee Uniform at Yankee Stadium and The Match Room featuring an entrance lined by vintage cigar boxes. The main dining room is wonderful too or the outdoor rooftop bar, where you can sip mixology delights till the wee hours.
The new Oceana 2.0, located on the ground floor of the McGraw Hill building in midtown greets you with modern aquatic themed ambiance; a fresh white marble bar area over an array of the freshest catch on mountains of crushed ice. Enter the dining room and continue the mood, itself appointed with blue-and-white pillows on the banquettes, aquamarine lobster tanks and rows of gargantuan white-linen lampshades. Now prepare to be awe-stricken.
The Wine Room named for its floor-to-ceiling display of their magnificent wine selection is lightly veiled with glass walls and while airy still allows for complete privacy. Executive Chef Ben Pollinger uses both bold flavors and simple preparations alike with compliments of homemade bread, condiments, and smoke-cured fish created and presented under his direction. Sommeliers are on hand to recommend from their list of more than 500 curated wines. A particularly special private dinner menu choices are their roast natural Amish chicken with braised swiss chard, shoestring potatoes, and roasted garlic just. The espresso profiterole with condensed milk sauce for dessert is to die for. Just perfect for this season.
Salut at the Bottega Del Vino
Bottega’s attractive decor and chalet-style interior mimic their sister restaurant Antica Bottega Del Vino located in Verona, Italy. All of the restaurant’s furnishings are imported directly from Italy including the 100-year old aged wood pillars, marble tops, and etched copper and antique chandeliers, all of these makings for the charm and character.
Located one level below the restaurant and much like a medieval underground saloon complete with arches and red brick ceilings, the private wine cellar space here houses this restaurant’s famous selections of wines within its dark wood walls. Headed by Executive Chef John Greeley, the food here has the reputation of being some of the best cuisines in New York. The wine list matches formidably, under sommelier Philip Pratt, who has enjoyed the accolade of achieving the Wine Spectator Grand Award, with 1,300 selections and 21 wines by the glass.
Try the Tuscan style shrimp stew with tomato and bean sauce or the Beef Carpaccio with mushroom and white truffle oil. The grilled lamb chop in a sweet red wine drizzle or the roasted veal tenderloin in a creamy black truffle sauce is seasonal hits!
The Charming Il Bucco
In lower Manhattan, a charming ambiance awaits you all kerosene lamps, chandeliers, candles and loads of antiques. This rustic Italian dining spot was formerly an antique furniture shop that converted seamlessly, maintaining its eclectic vibe with mixed wood tables and pots and pans hanging from the ceiling. Located down a flight of stairs off the main dining room, their wine cellar is a hidden gem. It’s full of rustic, old world charm with small brick caves containing select boutique wines and a seated prix fixe dinner for about 20 guests. The warm roulade of rabbit, wild mushrooms, prosciutto, pistachio, and baby kale is a hearty seasonal choice. Needless to say, the complimentary wine list is sublime.
Wölffer Estate Winery, The Hamptons
Situated atop the picturesque and lush vineyards by east and the sprawling Hamptons landscape by the west, this winery is one of the most stylish on Long Island. With a purely European ambiance, complete with a Tuscan-style building, ochre walls, a lavish tasting room with imported stain glass doors, an expansive portico and the state-of-the-art winery, Wölffer wines are created right on the premises so you can sip first hand. Start with a private winery and vineyard tour, and then settle in for an intimate dinner Hampton’s style, in their wine cellar. Afterward, count the endless rows of vines in the vineyard and the twinkling stars in the sky.
After all, sometimes don’t you just want to be swept off your feet?