it's wine bar time people...

>> 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.

So... why?

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.


gmw October 18, 2009 at 7:58 PM  

Sounds like a sad theme: no coffee shop, no wine bar... Maybe your very welcome rants, astute analysis, and nice suggestions could help turn the tide. Or at least remind other disappointed FH residents that we are not alone in hoping for more and feeling like it would be so easy to make things so much better! Thanks for stoking our hope...

Jon Parker October 19, 2009 at 1:03 PM  

Thanks for the compliment!

Part of this whole rant thing stems from a complaint thread on the Queens Central forum that I read. It seemed that they were mainly petty gripes about loud music here and potholes there and various other things that folks without a soapbox were glad to finally get off their chest. I figured that this blog was my soapbox and, while I'll limit myself to gripes about food in the area (rather than the sauna that is our subway station), WTFs and sarcasm, complaints and suggestions, at least the long-winded way I do them, are best suited to a long format, multi-paragraph-with-links uber-rant.

And yes, it seems like a wine bar and a coffee bar would be no brainers. But so would a doughnut shop right next to the subway station. Still, look at the time that the one that's there is taking to open. And they don't actually have to do anything but get doughnuts since they're already completely finished inside. They should have been making money hand over fist for months with that location.

Still, seems to have the do-it-half-assed bug. Aged and Bonfire are new and half-assed. Portofino and Pasta Del Giorno are old and half-assed. PJ Steakhouse is closed because it was half-assed. We have a Ricky's that's only open for two months out of the year and a giant empty Mandee location that you'd think would have become a Crate & Barrel a damn long time ago. It's my desire to see places use their whole ass (for once) that prompts me to make the suggestions that I do. Whether or not anyone pays attention or chooses to do something on the cheap is a totally different issue. I guess time will tell.

Clydeguy,  October 22, 2009 at 3:09 PM  

Agreed! We should have some decent coffee shops and wine bars here in the Hills. Where that piece of garbage Bonfire Grill stands there used to be a wine bar which between their horrible decor and confusion of being a wine bar or a restaurant lead to it's demise. I would say maybe some enterprising individual would think to open any of these establishments but in our hood the only thing we seem to open are stupid trendy clothing stores, useless thrift shops, and for some reason an astronomically high amount of hair stylists! Seriously Google map barber or stylist near Austin you would be amazed!

Peter October 28, 2009 at 10:34 AM  

There was a wine bar on Austin Street until recently. It wasn't that great. It's now Bonfire, which is even worse.

Jon Parker October 28, 2009 at 12:26 PM  

Dude, I have to disagree. I feel that Bonfire is a considerable improvement over its predecessor, Wine Gallery. That isn't to say I'm not critical of Bonfire's flaws, but if you're going to feel nostalgic over a lost restaurant, it should be for Rouge (or at least its brunch).

CattyinQueens November 14, 2009 at 12:03 AM  

Yeah, I'm with you on Bonfire. It's not awesome, but it's an improvement, and they have a decent selection of beers on tap...good seasonal brews too.

But seriously, where are the peeps in this hood that will keep a good wine bar, coffee house, and bar with good taps in business? I can't do it all myself--all my money is going to the 24 hour vet on 72nd.

I'm also concerned that we can't keep a blog going for more than a few years. Yours is about the only one that's still posting w/ some regularity. Unless you count the Wednesday Chef, who's moving...or Forest Hills 72, who's only on Twitter, and not there much. Sigh.

Jon Parker November 14, 2009 at 1:56 AM  


my demography-based theories as to why we can't get a decent wine bar or coffee bar aside, I think it's extremely telling that, despite the bitter negativity espoused by certain loudmouths at a place like Aged, Aged remains popular. Not because its customers have no taste, though not harmed by its proximity to the subway, the fact is, its different. And so would a wine bar be. Different, in this neighborhood, if done properly, can mean plenty of success.

As for the other blogs, I've pretty much given up on them. If they don't start posting by the end of the year, I'll probably take down the links because I think it's tacky to link to a dead site. As for me, I fully admit that I post less than I'd like to. But you'd be surprised how much effort it takes to get people to travel out here to have dinner with.

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