The culinary identity of New York’s Lower East Side has long been rooted in its history as a first stop for immigrant communities. Katz’s Deli and Kossar’s Bagels & Bialys are remnants from the area’s Jewish heyday, while Wu’s Wonton King and Spicy Village speak to the more recent growth of Chinatown. But not since the German beer halls of the mid-19th century has the area had a distinctively local drinking scene. However, a recent crop of wine bars, largely but not exclusively focused on natural wines, has made the Lower East Side a destination for the vinously adventurous.
‘I think the history of it starts with The Ten Bells, which opened there in 2008,’ says Zev Rovine, founder and owner of Zev Rovine Selections, an import company specialising in natural wine. ‘So that’s been there a long time, but in the past three or four years another six or seven have opened.’
The Lower East Side is a destination for the vinously adventurous
This part of the neighborhood has yet to experience the influx of towering glass and concrete that has turned other parts of the city into a generic urban landscape. As a result, these spaces are quirky and individual in their layout and character. The wine bars cluster around two intersections: The Ten Bells and its neighbours all lie a block or two from the corner of Broome and Orchard Streets. A wine bar crawl is eminently doable, each bar within a five-minute walk of the next. ‘I would probably start at The Ten Bells,’ says Maria Rust, owner of Somm Time, which opened across the street from The Ten Bells in 2020. ‘Then hit us, go to Skin Contact, and then go over to Dimes Square. It’s very easy to hit everyone.’
Dimes Square is a small patch of real estate that has received an inordinate amount of press of late. Named for Dimes, an organic, health-focused restaurant that pioneered its way into the area, the square – well, a triangle really – benefitted from street closures during the pandemic that turned it into the trendiest gathering place for skateboarders, TikTokers, and the uber-fashionable. Young and social media-savvy is the rule, but there are plenty of exceptions. Whether that’s your scene or not, it makes for great people watching while you sip on a glass of Pet Nat or orange Gewürztraminer.
The 7 best wine bars on the Lower East Side in NYC
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In 2016, Somm Time opened as a retrofitted Irish bar in Midtown, before moving south to its current location in the Lower East Side during the pandemic – initially as a pop-up in what had once been a bakery. Now it’s a permanent fixture in the Lower East Side, and it lives up to its name, attracting sommeliers and other members of the trade with wines that lean on the geeky side, but that aren’t dogmatically natural or obscure. Expect to find wines from both classic and up-and-coming regions. Food offerings are more extensive than elsewhere, ranging from snacks to more substantial items: the daily pasta is always a sure bet, as is the cacio e pepe pizza.
254 Broome St; sommtimenyc.com
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The Ten Bells
The seed from which the local natural wine scene grew, The Ten Bells’ rustic, crowded space has earned it a reputation as one of the best first date bars in the city.If things go well, you can move on from a couple of glasses of Domaine de l’Ecu Muscadet and $1 oysters, to bottles of Duchêne Collioure paired with charcuterie, croquettes and more. The front bar area can get claustrophobic, but the spaces further back better accommodate groups.
247 Broome St; tenbellsnyc.com
More than an addendum to the restaurant of the same name around the corner, Gem Wine eschews the term ‘natural’ in favour of ‘low-intervention’, but the results are much the same. There’s no wine list per se, so based on your preferences and depending on what’s open that night, staff might recommend a glass of Austrian Cabernet Franc from Christian Tschida or an orange wine from Slovenia’s Dario Prinćič. The small plates menu offers a low-investment chance to sample the food of former wunderkind chef Flynn McGarry (he might only be 23, but he opened his first fine-dining restaurant at the age of 12), with a focus on vegetables rather than animal proteins. Gem Wine is walk-ins only.
116 Forsyth St; gem-nyc.com/gem-wine
Eben Lillie, co-founder of Skin Contact, literally grew up in the world of low-intervention wines – his father is the co-founder of industry stalwart Chambers Street Wines in Tribeca. The long narrow space invites conversations with the bartenders, who are well-informed on their offerings. As the name suggests, Skin Contact prominently features orange wines from all over. It also offers a strong selection of grower Champagnes and Pet Nats such as the Alice L’Estrange Cracklin’ Rosie, where skin contact and bubbles collide, as well as an impressive range of Loire wines.
76 Orchard St; skincontact.nyc
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A retailer rather than a wine bar, Orange Glou nevertheless fits quite comfortably into the local scene. Its sole purpose is to sell orange wine – in fact, the licence doesn’t permit it to sell anything else. Offerings accordingly range from familiar names like Austria’s Gut Oggau to more obscure bottlings. Sommelier Doreen Winkler and partner Jack Wan founded Orange Glou as a wine club for that purpose in 2019, and as the pandemic eased, they found they needed a retail outlet for more spur-of-the-moment sales. While not formally an on-premise outlet, they host many events and tastings, often highlighting orange wine’s unexpected gift for food pairing.
264 Broome St; orangeglou.com
From the founders of Le Crocodile and Bar Blondeau – two spots in perennially hip Williamsburg – Le Dive is inspired by the Parisian Tabac, but with an added emphasis on natural wines. That inspiration keeps things simple, and pretensions low: expect a short list of well-thought-out wines that changes regularly, and an eminently snackable menu – oysters, steak tartare – with just enough substance, if you’re hungrier. The corner location offers a great view of Dimes Square, especially when it’s warm enough to sit outside.
37 Canal St; ledivenyc.com
A sleekly retro, mid-century-modern space on the south side of Dimes Square, Parcelle began life as an online wine shop. It was only post-pandemic that founder Grant Reynolds opened the bricks-and-mortar location. Go for a bottle: Reynolds’ sommelier pedigree has earned him access to a deep list of heavily allocated classic, mostly European wines, priced with a flat $30 markup over retail. If Coche-Dury isn’t in your budget, there’s a list of under-$30 wines as well. And if you like your selection, order a case to be delivered to your home the following day.
135 Division St; parcellewine.com