Ariel Arce’s tally of bars and restaurants in a three-block stretch of New York City’s Greenwich Village sits at four and counting.
The 31-year-old established her mini-empire over the past three years, during which she was described as a “Champagne Mogul” by Vogue, and the “Champagne Empress of Greenwich Village” by The New York Times.
“My dad says my mother drank Champagne with me in the womb, so I guess it’s in my blood,” Arce says. Her first bar, Air’s Champagne Parlor, features over 100 bottles of Champagne and debuted in 2017. She later opened Tokyo Record Bar, a basement space where vinyl playlists pair with Japanese-inspired cuisine; Niche Niche, a wine bar-cum-supper club; and Special Club, a retro jazz lounge. All have cemented Arce’s position as host to some of the hottest seats in New York.
Her hospitality style and the experiences she offers speak to the ways millennials drink and socialize. They might want to sip affordable bubbles one day, have a sake-fueled dance party another, and go to a casual wine-tasting dinner or a basement jazz bar the following week. In all instances, Arce has them covered.
Growing up in Hell’s Kitchen, wine and entertaining were commonplace at Arce’s family home, as were her father’s tales of working at classic New Orleans dining establishments Brennan’s and Christian’s during the “heyday of white-glove service.”
Rather than follow in her dad’s footsteps, however, Arce initially pursued dreams of becoming an actor. The 2008 economic crash ultimately steered her away from performing arts and toward the restaurant business.
“I got a job bartending for a catering company. It was the only thing I could get at the time, but I fell in love,” she says. “I took as many opportunities as possible to educate myself and ended up moving to Chicago.” There, she worked for chef Grant Achatz (Alinea, The Aviary, The Office, Next) and had her first “real” Champagne experiences. Two bottles, Champagne Jacques Selosse’s Initial and Krug Grande Cuvée, changed her life. “I didn’t realize it at the time, I just got hooked,” she says.
Following a two-and-a-half-year stint at the family-owned and -operated Pops for Champagne, tasting her way through more than 1,000 bottles, Arce returned to New York. “About six months in, I met a woman who wanted to open a fried chicken and Champagne restaurant,” Arce says. “We called it Birds and Bubbles. Two years later, I partnered with Ravi DeRossi on this tiny little Champagne bar called Riddling Widow, and [eventually] ended up buying the business from him.” Located at 127 Macdougal Street, the space now houses Air’s Champagne Parlor and Tokyo Record Bar.
Arce opened Air’s to introduce drinkers to the traditionally pricey and exclusive wine, serving it at a (relatively) affordable price point, in an approachable space. Nowadays, the concept might sound like a no-brainer, but Champagne’s reputation has changed a lot in the last 10 years. “Until very recently, Champagne wasn’t cool or trendy,” she says.
Tokyo Record Bar followed hot on the heels of Air’s, opening on Aug. 31, 2017. In 2019, Arce introduced Niche Niche and Special Club. At the former, a rotating cast of wine industry professionals pours four glasses of wine each night with a paired menu designed by the in-house kitchen team. “For one night, you get to experience this person’s palate,” Arce says.
The 30-seat venue posts the roster of wine talent one month in advance. Tickets for the two nightly seatings (6 and 8.15 p.m.) typically sell out a week or two in advance, especially the later seatings.
“I wanted to bring together the community of all these amazing people I’d met through my career, and have a real conversation about what’s going on in the wine world,” she says. “Niche Niche is my way of learning from the best.”
Benjamin Kirschner, vice president of sales at fine wine distributor Wilson Daniels Wholesale, hosted an evening in March one week after the venue opened. “What’s nice about Niche Niche,” he says, “is that it embraces the wine world as a whole, not just one segment.” Traditional wine bars may focus on a particular region or style, but Niche Niche succeeds in offering something different every single night.
“With all of Ariel’s concepts, she’s curated experiences that take the pressure off the guest to be an expert and just have fun,” says Ashley Santoro, sommelier and beverage director at The Standard Hotel’s New York City locations. “As a host, you’re working alongside and entertaining people that are there for your story, not to hear about the nuances of Cru Beaujolais. With that, you might just end your night with a new best friend or finding your soulmate,” she says. Santoro hosted an evening at Niche Niche in April 2019.
If she’s not spinning vinyl at Tokyo Record Bar, or pouring vintage Champagne at Air’s, you can count on finding Arce busy on the Niche Niche floor, bussing plates and welcoming guests as if it were her parents’ Hell’s Kitchen house.
“My upbringing, I think, is the reason my places are unique,” she says. “The North Star for each one is very different, but they’re all about being open, being human, and connecting. We want to take care of you like you’re in our home and, because of that, people behave in that way. It creates a very special dynamic.”