The third weekend of October marked the 15th annual Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival presented by Capital One. Held each year, NYCWFF welcomes over 400 food and drink purveyors to showcase their wares and welcomes guests to eat, drink, and be merry. The Festival ran from Thursday through Sunday in venues throughout the city to support God’s Love We Deliver, a charity that cooks and delivers medically tailored meals for people living with severe illness in NYC.
I packed my notebook, a bottle of water, and my appetite and hit some of the festival’s VinePair-sponsored events. Here’s what happened.
Disco and Drinks
My friends and I never pass up a dress-up opportunity, so we put on our best ’70s-nostalgic attire (flared pants, sequins, platform shoes, suede jackets) before heading to Center415 for Disco & Drinks. Once we got there, we walked through an entryway spangled with silver streamers and mirrored disco balls. It was a scene basically begging to be the backdrop for a photo of our retro looks, and we were happy to oblige.
In the main room, we were greeted by Ben Soffer — a.k.a. Boy with No Job — whose company, Spritz Society, was serving up cans of low-calorie, low-sugar, low-ABV sparkling cocktails. We sipped those as we strolled around and snacked on glittering BlissBomb “disco ball” donuts, soba noodles from Nudibranch, and caviar canapes from Prince Street Caviar that made us feel especially fancy. One of our favorite food offerings was Tipsy Scoop’s booze-infused ice cream in flavors like vanilla vodka cake batter and tequila Mexican chocolate, topped with rainbow sprinkles and gummy worms.
Meanwhile, women dressed like disco balls (all with mirrored jumpsuits, some with disco-ball heads) danced hypnotically in front of mirrors at the El Tequileno booth. As high-energy DJ duo Disco Sauce put their contemporary spin on disco, the dance floor filled up with twirling ladies filming TikToks and a ballroom-dancing couple who stole the show. I was struck by the mixed demographic — but not surprised that people of all ages and stripes love to try creative cocktails, eat snacks, and groove the night away.
The sun shone on the Hudson River as I walked around Hudson River Park’s Pier 76 on Saturday afternoon. The weather put everyone in good spirits, and there were spirits aplenty — 818 Tequila, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Malfy Gin, you name it. While the liquor, wines, and beers flowed, a Coca-Cola truck dispensed Coke products from a built-in vending machine, and La Colombe Coffee and Zoa Energy Drinks served non-alcoholic drinks from neighboring tents. The food tents also offered something for everyone, from Veroni Italian charcuterie and Goshen Kimchi to plant-based Babybel cheeses and Oaxacan grasshopper tlayudas from The Black Ant. I did a lap and saw a few unexpected sights: a clown on stilts at the Coney Island Brewing Company camp, and a humongous Toyota canopy, under which guests beaded their own bracelets and got portraits taken of their auras.
The combo of sunny weather and bustling tents really put the “festival” in NYCWFF — think Coachella, but with fewer live bands and more highbrow hors d’oeuvres. Still, the event was not devoid of its own brand of rockstars — it featured culinary demonstrations from the Food Network’s star chefs, who cooked on a stage presented by Liebherr Appliances surrounded by jumbo screens and cheering audiences. The Kitchen star Jeff Mauro helmed the penultimate demo. I hadn’t lined up for a spot in the official audience, so I watched from behind a bush as Mauro cracked jokes and got to work making “the world’s longest chili dog ever made at a food festival.”
I bet they don’t have those at Coachella.
Battle of the Boroughs: A Cocktail Showdown presented by BACARDI
Back at Center415 on Saturday night, lines of guests snaked around the place, eagerly awaiting the Battle of the Boroughs. While standing in line, I picked an apricot-colored Crayola crayon to cast my vote with (voting is serious business at NYCWFF). As I walked in, I noticed that the silver streamers and disco balls of the night before had been replaced by an elaborate faux-bodega (fauxdega?) scene, BACARDI’s Tequila Cazadores’ Mercadito, complete with crates of pineapples and shelves of hot sauce.
The main room was decorated with mock subway signs for each NYC borough. A graffiti wall served as the backdrop for photos with two of the Try Guys, Keith Habersberger and Zach Kornfeld, who hosted the event. The pair sipped drinks, danced around a little, joked with guests, and struck high-drama poses for photos. I regret that I didn’t “Try” the cocktail the “Guys” concocted, a mojito infused with peppercorns and chili oil.
The battling bartenders came out swinging. Gordo’s Cantina of Brooklyn served up a cocktail called Venus in Furs, which blended Bacardi rum with bitter liqueur, sesame, coconut milk, lime juice, and cinnamon grapefruit syrup. Manhattan’s Bar Belly poured Bad Vegans, veggie-packed concoctions composed of Bacardi rum, elderflower liqueur, lime, pineapple, yuzu, cucumber juices, celery bitters, and beet foam. But by the end of the night, Sweetleaf Coffee & Cocktail Bar from Queens had earned the Judge’s Choice prize, and partygoers used their crayons to crown Sally’s Southern & BBQ from Staten Island the People’s Choice.
On Sunday afternoon, with my wrist now full of festival wristbands, I took the elevator up to the 34th floor of the Hard Rock Hotel. I was ushered through a pair of glass doors into the RT60 Rooftop Bar & Lounge, where I was offered the choice between a wine glass or a Champagne flute. I went with the flute, marched up to the bar, and came away with a bubbly rosé by Listal. The bar’s atmosphere was as bubbly as my rosé, packed to the gills with friends and couples chatting. I sat down at one of the few free tables, which happened to be behind a velvet rope until I was politely informed that the table was reserved for the event’s esteemed host, actress and writer Jenny Mollen, whose book “City of Likes” was stacked on tables all around (oops).
The event was as advertised: flowing rosé and rooftop views aplenty. I sipped my rosé on the patios flanking the bar and soaked in the sight of sunlight glittering on skyscrapers. The inflatable flamingo at the Listal table, the pink sunglasses guests were given as party favors, and the several sundresses I spotted all added to the sunny atmosphere. It felt like summer in October, which was a welcome feeling for those of us reluctant to give up on rosé the second a little chill hits the air.
By the time I got home on Sunday night, my belly was full. I felt as connected as ever to the food, drinks, and energy of New York City. And I was ready to catch some serious zzzs. ‘Til next year!
This article is sponsored by the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival presented by Capital One.