>> Saturday, October 17, 2009
it's wine bar time, people....
It's fall, and fall is wine season. This begs the question: Why don't we have any wine bars in Forest Hills?
Let me repeat that, because it may have been confusing. WHY DON'T WE HAVE ANY WINE BARS IN FOREST HILLS?
Feel free to fill the comments section with your speculations and postulations. But don't be confused. While technically Q and Danny Brown (and the nearby Uvarara) call themselves "wine bars", they are, in reality, restaurants with good wine lists. Don't get me wrong, a good wine list is a damn sure step in the right direction, but it's not the same thing. A wine bar survives by selling you wine. Having a kitchen is a perk. A restaurant survives by having a menu. Having a part of that menu devoted to wine is its perk.
So why would Forest Hills lack a wine bar? Park Slope has them, Williamsburg has them, Astoria has them. What do they have that we don't? And so I wake in the morning and I step outside and I take a deep breath and I get real high and I scream from the top of my lungs, "What's going on?!?"
The Wine Bars Ain't Cheap Argument: Good wine bars will sell good wine (cough, not Yellow Tail, cough, not Berenger, cough) and good wine typically gets sold for $30 and up per bottle. Maybe wine bars are just too expensive for our poor 'hood? Wait a sec. I saw a Bentley, a Ferrari and a Maserati all on the same day here last week, and those things ain't free. Plus, with the Gardens mansions, the Windsor luxocondos, and the disgusting, gargantuan "homes" north of QB that are so horrendously ugly that I can't decide whether to laugh at them or cry at their existence (seriously, those things are basically architectural litter. Someone should do something about them.), this argument doesn't seem to hold water.
The Wine Bars Are Too Young And Trendy Argument: Wine bars are, apparently, for cool people. Specifically young cool people. Forest Hills, while inching younger, is no Williamsburg or Astoria. There just isn't a customer base. The old would rather eat bad Italian food and the middle aged don't want to hang around with the 20/30-somethings that would make up the bulk of the soon-to-be-tipsy. This makes some sense, but we have two (2!) hookah lounges here. I sure didn't see that coming, but there they are. Someone has to be supporting them and what better atmosphere is there than having a bottle of Cabernet followed up with a little apple smoke?
The Wine Bars Are Kinda Gay Argument: There are, naturally, those who associate wine bars with being gay (apparently gay people like wine more than straight people... and this whole time I would have gone with cosmos ). "Shit, a wine bar? How girly is that? Give me a dive bar with cheerleader posters, an MGD neon sign and a condom machine in the bathroom." While dive bars have their place (rarely) and while I'm the last guy to badmouth a hot cheerleader, I'm way too secure in being straight to concern myself with whether or not some guy who thinks $3 silver bullets are a great way to spend a Friday night thinks I'm gay. Aside from that fact that I happen to think that silver bullets are pretty girly, the "What am I, a homo?" argument is probably coming from the mouth a someone who fantasizes about getting a happy ending from a tranny hooker in Queensbridge. So let's all join hands and disregard this phobic crap. Kumbaya.
The Forest Hills Loves Beer Instead Argument: Maybe Forest Hillians are beer people. Maybe we love pints over pinots, kegs over legs, stouts over syrahs. But wait. Queens used to be famous for beer gardens. But do we have a single one? Shit, there isn't even one bar with an impressive micro-brews or craft-brew menu (and I don't count Bud Light Lime). What we have are a half dozen bars with the same ten mega-breweries on tap and maybe a special here or there. I've been to bars with fifty or sixty beers available, none of which you've ever heard of but where the bartenders can explain the nuances of each one. Belgian, French, German, Czech, British. Upstate NY, Michigan, Washington, Oregon. Chocolate, Cherry, Honey, Blueberry. We seem to have a dearth of places that will serve us what we could get at the supermarket, and that ain't love in my book.
Okay, reasons why aside, where would it go? Sure, there are about half a dozen empty storefronts of varying sizes along Austin Street, and they're fine, but if you're gonna rant like me, you should try to think outside of the box. So here are three locations that I think would work:
One: Station Square. It's got the perfect atmosphere for what a wine bar should be. The cobblestone, the trees, the proximity to the subway, the proximity to shopping., the proximity to my apartment. If only the Christian Science Reading Room would move... I mean, I've never seen anyone actually inside. A prime location that's one step away from being abandoned is enough to make me tear up.
Two: Burns Street. There used to be a convenience store called Bobby O's Stadium Market, run by a chronic-talker and who scared away most of his customers. He'd lurk outside the store and stop people as they walked by. God help you if you had a dog or a stroller. Babies and dogs were like catnip to this guy. If you ever went inside, he wouldn't let you leave. I know. I tried to buy milk once. It took twenty-five minutes and I was the only guy in the store. But anyway, Burns is a quiet street with trees and limited traffic. It's convenient to Austin Street, but being on the other side of the country club, it's somewhat invisible. It would be a perfect spot for a local, hidden gem wine bar. And since wine bars are quiet places, more about talking and jazz than about hooking up and dancing, I don't predict problems with the locals. Plus, it's just a few blocks from The Wine Room of Forest Hills, so delivery would be a snap. Note. This would also be a great coffee shop location...
Three: A renovated Metro Cafe: Metro Cafe, on Metropolitan Avenue, recently changed ownership so I won't review them for a little while. They could turn themselves into a wine bar with minimal effort. Already there are the exposed brick walls, the cushioned chairs, the small tables, the candles, the cutesy wall sconces, the bar. They have a large outdoor seating area that reminds me of the places I've been to in Cobble Hill. Finally, they have a menu that, having eaten there recently, can be easily thrown away. I mean, it's all diner food and bulk wine. If they can talk to a wine store about getting real wine, revamp the menu (ahem, no fried food), throw away the big-screen TV sitting in the corner (wine bars don't host Superbowl parties), and hire a real chef (not a cook) to come up with some small plates dishes, they could be very impressive. But I won't kid myself, this isn't likely to happen. Metro has a ton of loyal folks who go there and hang out for hours smoking and drinking and eating chicken fingers. They spend money there and I'll bet won't like to see their clubhouse shift gears. Let's be honest, I don't blame them. This is a risk, for sure. Will the owner want to take a risk when he's already making money with the status quo?
In the meantime, we will all just have to wait until someone comes along to start something that, if done right, would have, quite literally, no competition whatsoever. But I think it would be successful. Look at Martha's Country Bakery. They have no meaningful competition and are packed late even in the middle of the week.