An Architect Tours the City’s Sleekest Bottle Shops and Tells Us What He Sees

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Photograph credit: Noah Devereaux
Photograph credit: Noah Devereaux

In honor of our design issue, we asked a pro to deconstruct city wine shop interiors. Steve Hoffman is partner in a burgeoning design and building studio called d/b/A that has created many of our favorite restaurant spaces, including Txikito, Porsena and Mille-Feuille. We sent him to some of the best-looking wine shops in town, and got schooled about the design decisions that drive them. –Ed.

1.POUR: This little shop on an Upper West Side corner has a warm, modern look: big south and west windows and the best designed labels Hoffman has found. Handsome graphics and accessible text make it easy to educate yourself while you peruse the selections. The owners channel their retail marketing background and light the bottles dramatically, like jewelry in a department store.
Pour, 321 Amsterdam Avenue, 212.501.7687

2. SHERRY-LEHMANN: The grand dame of New York wineshops is elegantly dressed in finely finished dark wood and a bracelet of gold chrome. Hoffman points out that the interior references old-world culture: arched cases resembling Gothic windows contain rare vintages, including a bottle of 1880 Armagnac.

How do you tell the highest-end wineshops from the rest? The “floor models” are for display only, and all purchases are brought up to the sales desk via a dumbwaiter from the climate-controlled cellar, where bottles are kept at the appropriate 55 degrees. The staff are knowledgeable, courteous and have the well-dressed demeanor befitting Park Avenue. Oddball curios, collected from 75 years of visits to European vine country, line the edges of the coffered ceilings and evidence the personality behind the polish.
Sherry-Lehman, 505 Park Avenue, 212.838.7500

3. CRUSH: This shop features a unique curving wall that displays bottles laid horizontally, from end to end, in what Hoffman calls a “best compromise” of the proper orientation to store the wine and the need to read the label.
The shop’s feel is sort of cool mod-clubby, fitting to the Midtown location. In the back, a glass-walled cold room—one of the latest trends in wine retailers—houses 2,500 to 3,000 “rare and sensitive” bottles. Its floor is rubber, so, as the owner said, “If I drop a $4,000 bottle of wine, it bounces.”
Crush, 153 East 57th Street, 212.980.WINE

4. MOORE BROTHERS: This shop, which occupies a renovated historic townhouse, went all out with the cold-storage concept and refrigerated the entire first floor store, complete with fleeces at the front door for customers to don as they shop. Hoffman noticed that the concrete floors, exposed steel and metal racks have the no-nonsense functionality of a workshop—or perhaps a winery—but that’s tempered with art by winemakers’ kids, framed and hung as if in a gallery. The shop even hosts a kids’ corner where tots can play while parents shop—indicating the new demographics of wine-buying citizenry. There is no romantic cultural motif, a relief from many other places, and no descriptive tags or labels either, necessitating the welcome engagement of the staff to elucidate your choices. The upstairs event room is only for nonprofits, and Moore donates the space—and the wine.
Moore Brothers, 33 East 20th Street, 212.375.1575

5. BOTTLEROCKET: The playful name sets the tone for this shop whose slogan is “celebration not intimidation.” From the neon sign to the bright-yellow walls to the comical sculptures that crown central kiosks, this store is clever—but it’s also articulate. Wines are organized by location along one wall, stacked on industrial-grade steel shelves, backlit with glowing Plexiglas. Smart map-icon graphics designate the place of origin, describe flavor and suggest pairings, while central kiosks organize the same wines under themes, from “Poultry” to “Green” to “Critics,” and a category simply called “Explore.”
Bottlerocket, 5 West 19th Street, 212.929.2323

6. DESPAÑA: This modestly sized space packs some 400 varieties of Spanish wine and spirits into custom steel shelving that lines the walls in what Hoffman describes as a lustrous U. He says steel is a smart choice over wood: thinner, stronger and allowing for at least an extra 100 bottles. A photo montage of views looking into bottle interiors hangs on the back wall, and a rare collectible of another sort stands in the storefront: a small 1960s motorcycle made in Spain, one of only 10 ever imported into America. Another unique item is on display below the cash register: a traditional clay vessel for the Galician equivalent of grappa, served ritually at the outset of the fishing season in a beach-side rite complete with bonfires.
Hoffman noted that the store, sistered with Spanish specialty-ingredients shop Despaña Foods, next door, represents a trend toward expanding interest in foreign wines with a broader cultural and culinary survey.
Despaña, 408 Broome Street, 212.219.1550

7.PURO: The most modern of the stores Hoffman visited, this shop, which stocks only Chilean bottles, exudes SoHo chic—the high-ceilinged space, made up almost entirely of glass windows, houses dramatic 12-foot-tall pivoting stainless-steel wine racks. Never mind that bottles shouldn’t be stored upright—it’s sexy and draws you in. A plate glass wall at the back looks into the adjoining lifestyle/ housewares/crafts store Puro Chile; as at Despaña, the shop is a de facto cultural ambassadorship, displaying the riches of sophisticated craft traditions in everything from wine and food to handmade textiles and jewelry. To add to the mod aesthetic, three flatscreens in the adjacent shop run a continuous loop of short videos depicting the cultural and geographic beauty of Chile.
Puro, 161 Grand Street, 212.925.0090

8. ITALIAN WINE MERCHANTS: Here, in the low-lit beauty of a rustic, wood-centric interior, you’ll find relatively few bottles on display—this shop offers a tightly curated selection of the finest Italian wines and, as at Lehman’s, all purchases come up from the temperature-controlled cellar below. Admire the antique corkscrews in the glass display case as you sip the complimentary glass of wine, poured for each customer by a salesperson in a finely tailored suit and laid out on a white tablecloth set over an immense table at the center of the room.

IWM boasts not one but two event spaces—one accommodates up to eight for a privately catered dinner among brick vaults, the other can seat two dozen people, with a demonstration-style kitchen, both for rent by private parties, or just for collectors and connoisseurs to “sample the goods.”
Italian Wine Merchants, 108 East 16th Street, 212.473.2323

9. PASSANELLA: This shop across from the old Fulton Fish market evokes its nautical neighborhood with original steel columns, carved beams, sculptural whale vertebrae in the counter, Danish ship lights hanging from the ceiling, and an old cast-iron vault set into the heavy brick wall that serves as backdrop to an elegant glass case holding antique corkscrews and other finds. But other elements recall the more recent past: A ’66 Fiat wagon occupies the center floor; green cabinetry with copper-wire screening reminds Hoffman of an old- fashioned pie-safe cupboard; and the front window displays a vintage Italian racing bike. As for the wine, center tables pair with a selected seasonal recipe in one of the owner’s cookbooks. The back events room, one of the most beautiful in town, showcases the building’s breathtaking grotto-esque architecture.
Passanella, 115 South Street, 212.233.8383




Betsy Bradley

Elizabeth L. Bradley writes about New York City history and culture. She hopes to find Tiffany blue dragees in her Christmas stocking this year.

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