The Meatpacking District has long associated with a kind of Sex and the City pseudo-glamour, the TV promulgated view of Manolo spikes clicking on rough cobblestones towards the goal of a pink cocktail and a possible climax later in the evening. Euro chic and near Jersey reality have regularly commingled below Chelsea in a mixture fueled by the Cosmo, the drink that dominated the end of the American century. But the embrace of the Meatpacking District seems to have changed to wine more recently, and at newer openings at the edges of a neighborhood built on cocktails, wine is making a sustained push for your affections. As the cocktail scene across the country has grown geekier, more ingredient-driven, more hipster, and less friendly, the area of town that was so bound to mixed drinks has consciously uncoupled, and taken up a new fling with wine.
For quite a while outside the zone (actually quite small when you see it on the map), there have been many come-hither looks from restaurants offering a more serious relationship with wine. Dell’anima would have you believe that its feeling for wine comes from the heart. Barbuto was pairing dry rosé with moist chicken meat long before that was a standard attraction at restaurants all over town. Wallsé has deep ties to Austrian wine lovers, and Cookshop is as often overlooked for its way with wine as it is sophisticated in its actual offerings. But inside the Meatpacking District, the space at 63 Gansevoort that formerly housed the wine bar Rhône long served as a reminder, like the deserted Florent nearby, of what the area no longer offered.
That began to change when Santina (820 Washington Street), opened as a superb perch for day drinking in an area impervious to the demands of business life. Santina has more recently refocused its wine list towards better selections and more regional specificity. If you are interested in the island wines of Italy this is a great place to be drinking them right now, whether that be Romeo del Castello "Vigo" from Etna (yes, please!) or a Falanghina sourced from the Campi Flegrei, an active volcanic outcropping on the outskirts of Naples that can both rise above and ebb below sea level with the movement of the magma underneath. That Santina continues to work on its wine selection after its early honeymoon with new diners has worn off is a good indication that it could be seeking some serious love from the wine crowd.
Untitled at the Whitney, which at 99 Gansevoort Street is just around the corner from Santina, also helped set off a renewed wine wave in the area. It opened in May of last year with a well-chosen list, as well as pricing that quickly brought attention from wine fans. While the diverse wine picks are as good as ever, and the service more put together, the pricing at Untitled is less appealing than it once was. The 2007 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Rouge that was $298 back in June is now $335 for an identical bottle, the 2008 Heymann-Löwenstein Sekt that I loved at $69 is now offered for $76, and the 1985 Ridge "York Creek" Cabernet Sauvignon that was such a screaming deal at $148 has been replaced with a 1982 of the same for $199. A quick check with the staff confirms that they will still happily take your tips on these items, and that any pricing change is not owing to Hospitality Included. Price shifts aside, this is still a wine destination, and sommelier Eduardo Porto Carreiro deftly juggles expertise and enthusiasm for a diverse range of wines.
While it is not technically in the Meatpacking District, the Maritime Hotel is totally in keeping with the spirit of that area, and the many thousands of people who sipped a cocktail on the terrace there prior to its conversion into the new Batali & Bastianich restaurant La Sirena might be surprised to realize that they were actually in Chelsea. As everywhere does these days, La Sirena has its own list of specialty cocktails, but the B&B Hospitality Group has long brought a commitment to wine to their projects as well. Their nearby Del Posto led a considerable number of innovations in wine service, including being one of the first restaurants anywhere to work with the Coravin device for wine by the glass, as well as one of first venues in New York to implement an all iPad wine list, and extending more recently to the introduction of a complimentary glass of wine poured from cask for guests who take a tour of the Del Posto wine cellar.
The La Sirena program is a direct descendant of the one at Del Posto in terms of staffing, but the La Sirena wine list offers several options at a lower price point than Del Posto, and few countries can currently compete with Italy as a source for accessibly priced white wines. Most Italian white wines never break the $90 mark on restaurant lists here in New York City, and many fall below $50. If you are searching for a value from the large list at La Sirena, these well priced whites are something to remember as the weather grows warmer and the outdoor seating becomes available. But even before the weather shifts, the glass enclosed bar area of La Sirena offers an exquisite, climate controlled setting from which to drink wine and observe the beautiful world go by. In fact, many of the temples to fine wine that have been raised in this area recently are glass houses, such as Santina and Untitled. They are pleasing settings to drink in. But if you choose La Sirena, be forewarned: the wine list that they have online is not up to date, and if you go there seeking some of the fine values you see on their website, you might be steered in a different direction than you’d like to go by a member of the tone deaf sommelier staff, despite dropping all manner of verbal hints to the contrary. My own attempts to obtain an acid driven, earthy, traditional Italian wine were repeatedly thwarted by a staff more inclined to recommend a sweetly tinged modern alternative.
Toro, the Spanish restaurant that lies just across the border from the Meatpacking District, is a good example of the evolution of the area as a whole. When it opened, Toro offered a brief range of wines and a menu designed to sell cocktails, but a recent look at the program indicates much more back vintage wine depth, and significantly more options for wine across the board. This is now a wine list that will meet you wherever you want to go, from esteemed appellations to obscure corners, and from serious, old vintages through to easy quaffers. Toro’s neighbor Colicchio & Sons maintains all manner of options for the wine attuned, with a significant cellar inventory represented by a long list of pages in the list. Prices often surpass $100 a bottle at Colicchio & Sons, but relative value is often good. Few street blocks anywhere in the city could rival Tenth Avenue stretch between 15th and 16th streets for the amount of wine options available, what with Colicchio & Sons and Del Posto on one side, and Toro around the corner. A very short walk away, Corkbuzz Chelsea Market offers an excellent wine list of its own.
All of this is to say that yes, parts of the Meatpacking District really do seem to have traded one type of bottle service for another, and what was once a chic playground for cocktails seems to have moved on as the times have changed. Whether that means wine is viewed differently than it used to be in this country is an open question, but it does seem to imply that the cocktail crowd is a different mix than it was.