An Aperol spritz, the twilight-colored #SponsoredContent drink of the summer, seems like the last thing to order at a cocktail parlor from two of the city’s most heralded chefs. Scooters “tricked out like mini bars” have given away the drink in the Hamptons; Instagram-friendly booths supply them at Art Basel Miami. Merely sitting in the Meatpacking District can feel like a real-life advertisement for one. So wouldn’t it be absurd to order one at Bar Pisellino, the newest project from Jody Williams and Rita Sodi? Such advice would be akin to touting the Miller Lite selection at a $300 sushi spot, right?
Alas, the Aperol spritz is precisely what I’m advocating for here. In fact, it’s quite possible that this light-filled space in the West Village serves the finest city riff on this bourgeois tipple.
Pisellino sells so many of them that it dispenses the drink from a tap, as if this were a beer kiosk at Yankee stadium. The bartender, flaunting a tan vest, fills an ice-packed goblet with the precious liquid. I take a sip. Then I take another. Generally speaking, the chief drawback of any given spritz is that it’s only gently fizzy, and sometimes even a touch flat. Here at Pisellino, however, every ingredient is carbonated together during the batching process.
The result is a beverage with uniformly vibrant bubbles, almost as powerful as those in a bottle of Coca-Cola. This tweak shows the spritz for what it really is: boozy, bitter soda pop. There’s nothing aristocratic about it, nor should there be. In this context, the drink’s shade of orange doesn’t so much recall a Cote D’Azur sunset as it does the Fanta-colored hair on the Philadelphia Flyers’s mascot. If Gritty wore a linen suit, this is what he’d drink. It’s a cocktail that he’d keg stand at a croquet party.
Some bars or restaurants are destinations, others are neighborhood spots, and while a few are both, Pisellino is neither. It is a liminal space, a venue in which to imbibe a low ABV cocktail or three before venturing elsewhere in the mini-empire of Williams and Sodi.
Pisellino happens to offer food as well, from spicy sausage arancini to little prosciutto sandwiches. Those dishes, however, are somewhat besides the point, partly because they sell out quickly and partly because the light menu suggests that Williams and Sodi want you to keep your stomach empty for a proper meal.
See that restaurant across the street, where throngs of people are spilling out the door? That’s Via Carota, the duo’s white hot Italian spot, where the quoted wait is two-and-a-half hours. Humans are also filling the ante room at I Sodi around the corner, where a host says the next available table won’t be for nearly two hours.
Eventually, Pisellino will transform into a daytime cafe hawking sugar-crusted bomboloni. For now, though, it is a chic gateway to (and waiting room for) the West Village.
A minute or so after walking in, a staffer takes your drink order on the iPad ordering system. There are no stools at the walnut bar, which contrasts nicely with the white tile floor; a few benches aside, the interior is a standing cocktail party. Outside, at least 30 black stools are filled with beautiful humans, many of them sipping away at frozen cocktails that don’t come from a machine.
For a sgroppino, bartenders whisk lemon sorbet with prosecco and vodka in large copper bowls, and then pour the white slush into small goblets. The frosty treat tastes precisely like an Italian-American water ice, albeit one that’s a touch more fortified. One could eat it with a spoon.
It goes nicely with a tiny mortadella sandwich, or even better, with a small pile of prosciutto cotto on soft milk bread; its saltiness is checked by a sweet mash of peas and mascarpone. If only they were available more reliably. The sandwiches, along with nearly everything else, can sell out early. Last week, just after 6 p.m., the bar had run out.
I asked a staffer whether there were any plans to make more sandwiches. There were not, he replied, explaining that Pisellino did not have a dedicated kitchen; it relies on I Sodi to make much of the food. Starting in July, Buvette will supply the pastries.
As luck would have it though, the bar received an emergency delivery of arancini one evening. The golden orbs, irregularly shaped and piping hot, yield a bite of creamy risotto and three distinct flavors: taleggio cheese (intensely milky), mushrooms (a hint bland), and ‘nduja (powerfully smoky).
There were also cacio e pepe potato chips, which taste like literally any other potato chips, with a touch of pecorino. But really, if you’re facing a two-hour wait for Via Carota, you’ll eat them anyway, because at this point you’re just trying to slow the flow of alcohol into the bloodstream. I’m told slightly more substantial fare — such as chicken cutlets on white bread — are in the works.
In the meantime, patrons will have to make do with the (excellent) cocktails, like the blend of prosecco, vermouth, and campari that is the negroni spagliato — reliably bitter and refreshing — or perhaps the Alpine, a soothing blend of gin, pistachio cardamom orgeat, herbal liqueur, and lime. The drink tastes of anise and goes down as easily as melted ice cream.
Early press likened the space to a train station bar; indeed, it’s one of the few New York watering holes with an actual working clock.
But for that rather functional comparison to be truly accurate, it would be nice if someone here could quote the specific waits at the sister restaurants. Or a more luxurious touch might be to check in here, with a bartender sending you over to Via Carota or I Sodi when a table is ready. Until that happens, Pisellino is simply a genial place to wind down for an hour outside and to let the Aperol spritz act as your portable air conditioner.
P.S. If you’re a late eater like me, you’ll likely be able to breeze right into Via Carota after 10:30 p.m., sans wait; new patrons are welcomed until shortly before midnight. Anytime before then, I’ve found that the wait can go a touch more quickly at the quieter I Sodi, but…sometimes it doesn’t.