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Having a good local bar is key, especially in a city like New York, where cramped quarters often make gathering en masse at someone's apartment impractical and uncomfortable. What makes a local particularly good? Proximity to one's home is essential, but a true local feels somewhat like an extension home—a place you feel perfectly comfortable going by yourself when you want to wind down, where you look forward to seeing the staff (and vice versa), and where there's always a drink to suit your mood.
I am fortunate enough to have the 8th Street Wine Cellar as my local. This three year old spot is the brainchild of Jonny Cohen and Michael Lagnese, who worked together behind the bar at Union Square Cafe. Their Danny Meyer hospitality training shines through at the Wine Cellar, and they've hired staff just as committed to creating a welcoming atmosphere.
Don't let the name fool you—although the Wine Cellar's focus is wine, with a well-curated list of selections available by the bottle and glass, Jonny and Michael wanted to make sure that guests could order a cocktail or a beer as well. They stock a full bar with a subtle focus on whiskey (ask them for their "Brown Book", where you'll find a tasting flight of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons cheekily called "The Pap Smear"). They don't have a cocktail list—Jonny remarked that the Wine Cellar is "not a bar known for cocktology"—but the bartenders make classic cocktails and sometimes create their own variations. You won't find tinctures or a dozen types of bitters along the bar, but a solid cocktail served with a smile (and sometimes even a house-infused boozy cherry) goes a long way.
8th Street Wine Cellar
28 West 8th St, NY 10011 (map) 212-260-9463