Among all the understandable fears surrounding the COVID-19 coronavirus right now, New Yorkers faced a dilemma this weekend: Should the city’s residents offer their characteristic solidarity with those in the hospitality industry, by continuing to dine out in restaurants and bars (albeit under capacity caps), or should New Yorkers instead adhere to the strict government guidelines calling for social distancing?
Come Monday morning, that decision was made for them. In a joint decision announced by New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, all bars and restaurants within the tri-state area were forced to close for on-premise service, and instead pivot to take out and delivery only, effective 8 p.m. ET. This included the sale of alcohol, providing each container was “accompanied by the purchase of food,” per State Liquor Authority guidance.
For bars and restaurants, that announcement brought a glimmer of hope amidst unprecedented trying times. But it also raised new questions: First, how quickly can a business that primarily deals with guests inside its own four walls scramble to become a take-out and delivery operation? And second: How can they do so while still offering the hospitality that defines the industry?
At La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, one of the city’s leading wine bars located in Lower Manhattan, managing partner Caleb Ganzer and general manager and wine director Sam Stoppelmoor started working on a solution as soon as they heard the news.
Starting Monday evening, the bar will offer its complete wine list online — for delivery or take-out — with a 25 percent discount. The bar’s staff will take care of all deliveries, which they expect to offer within a limited area throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.
“We’re keeping as many people [working] here as we can,” Stoppelmoor says. “Taking care of our team and our community is the No. 1 priority right now.”
As part of its new role as a wine delivery service, La Compagnie will deliver a curated selection of four “delicious and rare” wines for $95. Ganzer is currently recording an accompanying “Wine BootCamp” video, which will run on the bar’s YouTube channel and provide an educational guided tasting of the wines. (La Compagnie usually hosts regular educational Wine BootCamps at its Nolita location.)
The bar is also offering a limited selection of food from its Coco Catering menu, along with paired wines. At the time of writing, one such option includes a portion of burrata along with a bottle of Sancerre and a bottle of Malbec for $50.
The team is also discussing other ideas, including things like happy hour and even a “Somm on Call” service. For the latter, Ganzer and Stoppelmoor will make themselves available to receive calls for one or two hours every day, to suggest wines people should pick up from their local store based on what they’re cooking that evening. (They’re planning this as a free-of-charge service designed simply to share their expertise.)
“This is about keeping the industry going, but it’s also about all the people who are having to work from home for the next however long and [helping bring] peace of mind,” Stoppelmoor says. “We’re just trying to keep the vibe up.”
Meanwhile, at Please Don’t Tell (PDT), a notable East Village speakeasy that’s notoriously difficult to get into during normal times, general manager Jeff Bell is preparing to sell cocktails to go.
PDT is offering six single-serve cocktails (a third of its menu) for $12 each. Included on the menu is the bar’s famous Benton’s Old Fashioned, which pioneered the now-common practice of fat-washing spirits. (In this case, the Four Roses bourbon that offers the base of the cocktail is infused with bacon fat.)
As well as single-serve packaging, drinks will also be offered in 16- and 32-ounce servings, and priced accordingly. All drinks will be batched and prepared so they can be consumed straight from the bottle.
“We have enough inventory to do 600 to 1,000 cocktails today, and we’ll see how things go from there,” Bell told VinePair on Monday afternoon. “We never planned on PDT being a ‘to go’ business, but we’re making it happen.”
Far from this being a “fire sale,” the drinks will be delivered in attractive packaging bearing custom-made labels, and accompanied by garnishes. “We’re putting as much effort into it and making this as nice as possible,” Bell says.
Bell hopes thirsty New Yorkers will embrace the situation, so he can provide his hourly-paid staff with a financial cushion — especially as they may eventually have to register for unemployment benefits.
“Hopefully people are generous as hell with their tips,” he says. “I want to be home with my family, but at this point, I have to put all the resources and energy I can into doing this, so that I can help our team out, and so the business can come out on the other side.”
Balaboosta, a West Village restaurant offering Middle Eastern cuisine, is also preparing for a temporary period as an alcohol delivery service.
“When I heard the news this morning I immediately started editing the menu to make it suitable for takeout,” general manager John-Paul Quattrone says.
Starting this week, from Wednesday to Saturday, Balaboosta will offer take out and delivery between 5 and 10 p.m. Along with a reduced food menu, the venue will offer proprietary cocktails by the pint, 12- and 16-ounce bottles of beer, and full bottles of spirits for off-premise sales. The restaurant is also slapping a 50-percent discount on its wine list.
While the restaurant currently offers food delivery through third-party platforms like GrubHub and Relay, customers wishing to order alcohol will currently have to call the restaurant directly. (A banner on its website also urges customers to consider ordering directly in any case, as it avoids the fees associated with online services.)
For Quattrone, just like Stoppelmoor at La Compagnie and Bell at PDT, this unique situation provides the chance not just to help his staff, but to continue serving the community.
“We’ve got a tremendously loyal neighborhood crowd and we want to stay engaged with them,” he says.