Champagne shouldn’t only be for celebrations. At least that’s what Jen Pelka thinks, and it’s the outlook she’s infusing into her Champagne bar the Riddler, opening Thursday in the West Village with a high-low mentality of sparkling wine paired with burgers and icebox cake in her new, gold-filled space.
It’s Pelka’s second location of the Riddler, which she first opened in San Francisco in 2017 to immediate success. She’s bringing much of the same things that made it popular there to a sunny corner space at 51 Bank Street at West Fourth Street: the design style, playful menu items like chambongs and free popcorn, and options at a range of prices, from lower costs to a splurge. New additions include a raw bar and expanded food menu.
“For me the perfect night out is me and my husband out to dinner splitting a dozen oysters and a burger with friends and a bottle or two of really amazing Champagne,” Pelka says. “So that’s basically what I built.”
She’s bringing selects from her extensive Champagne collection, and most options on the 150-bottle list are from grower producers, meaning smaller winemakers practicing mainly organic and biodynamic production techniques. But there will also be bottles from benchmark houses, such as Krug and Dom Perignon, as well as vintage and reserve bottles. A dozen sparkling wines by the glass will be mainly made by women. Cheeky offerings like the chambong and the option to fill a glass to the brim are available off-menu.
What’s different here from the original location is the food. While favorites from San Francisco are still on the menu — tater tot waffles eventually at brunch, caviar service with Lay’s potato chips, and a dark chocolate pot de creme dessert served in a caviar tin with chocolate pearls on top — there’s also a full kitchen here, meaning expanded offerings. Chef Nikole Morsink is drawing on her background at the Modern and the NoMad to create a menu with raw bar, a cheeseburger with fries for $21, cheese and charcuterie, and shrimp cocktail. A new dessert is an icebox cake made with Tate’s cookies. The opening food menu is below.
“We want to be a neighborhood spot that people can come to a couple times a week. That’s why we’re doing a burger — the food is going to be comforting and delicious and not stuffy at all,” Pelka says. “But we also want it to be a place that people can really come to celebrate.”
The space here seats 35, with stools against a marble bar and along the front window. Tables imported from France and a booth for six make up the rest. There are luxe touches throughout, like a gold leaf ceiling, white carrara marble countertops, brass finishes, and a Riddler signature: a large black-and-white photograph of a young Jacqueline Bisset drinking Champagne in her underwear.
The Riddler joins a city where there aren’t many bars dedicated to Champagne. (The only other of note is Air’s Champagne Parlor, just a 10-minute walk away in Greenwich Village.) New Yorkers have rallied around the entry, with people such as Cherry Bombe’s Kerry Diamond, Zola founder Shan-Lyn Ma, and BentoBox CEO Krystle Mobayeni all investing in this location.
Pelka, who also owns a public relations agency, started the Riddler in San Francisco drawing on her experience working for Daniel Boulud. This New York location is a bit of a homecoming for her, now that she splits her time between NYC and SF.
“New York has really always been home for me. It’s where I learned about what it is to work at the best restaurants in the world,” Pelka says. “There’s not a better time to be opening than in fall when you want to hunker down in a beautiful restaurant with cool people, good lighting, and a bottle of Champagne.”
The Riddler is open daily from 5 p.m. to midnight.
Correction: November 7, 2019, 11:55 a.m. This article was corrected to show that tater tot waffles are not yet on the menu, but will be when brunch starts.