Use or Lose Neighborhood Wine Stores, Industry Night at The Cookery, Batali/Bastianich Goes Bi-Coastal, Mussels at Bistro Rollin

Support your Local Vendor (or Say Goodbye to Neighborhood Wine Shops)

In this day of Fairway Wines, Stew Leonard’s Wine and—get this—Costco (which now offers two labels), Westchester’s neighborhood wine retailers are getting the nasty end of the economic stick.

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I spoke with Steven Fox, manager of Hartsdale Wine & Liquors (216 E Hartsdale Ave, 914-723-3535), who says that, lately, he’s been hearing complaints about his prices. Retail buyers claim that, on major wine and liquor brands, Stew’s and Fairway offer far lower prices than Fox’s store. “Basically, my customers are accusing me of ripping them off and quoting prices from the Fairway Wines flyer.”

Many wine consumers don’t realize that New York State’s liquor laws allow distributors to offer high-volume discounts, which means that smaller, neighborhood shops actually pay more per bottle for many major wine labels. On some bottles, big-box buyers like Stew Leonard’s (which may buy 100 cases of a single Champagne brand in one order) might pay a fraction of Fox’s per-bottle cost. Fox complains, “On standards like Veuve Clicquot, big-box retail—thirty-seven dollars  per bottle—is actually my wholesale.”  Hartsdale Wine and Liquors’ Veuve Clicquot is offered at $44.99, tempting customers to head down the road to discounter Westchester Wine Warehouse (which offers the Clicquot at $39.99). “When I buy Clicquot, I purchase one case—that means that I pay more.”

In contrast to New York’s volume discounts, distributors in Connecticut are not permitted to favor powerful purchasers with discounts. Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk, Connecticut, pays the same for its Veuve Clicquot as does the city’s tiniest wine shop.

In response to the proliferation of big-box wine stores, shops like Hartsdale Wine & Liquors have adjusted their tactics. “We don’t sell Yellowtail, because we can’t compete on the prices. Instead, when someone asks for that brand, we walk them over to a similar wine that’s better and a better value.” Fox notes that small shops can offer competitive pricing on lesser-known wines because, lacking the name recognition of a Clicquot, these wines won’t elicit large orders from wine discounters. “But if a customer is adamant about that Yellowtail, I tell him to go ahead and get the best price somewhere else.”

Though Yellowtail is off the shelves at Hartsdale Wine & Liquors, that doesn’t mean that small shops are gearing their businesses toward oenophiles. At the top end of the buying spectrum, Internet sales are peeling off small shops’ steady customers. Not only do web vendors offer limitless vintages in a few clicks (while bargain-hunting “spiders” like Wine Zap locate the lowest prices), but deep-pocketed online stores are using wine sales as a form of high-yield speculation.

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“It’s a day-trading mentality,” says Fox. “By law, purchasers have thirty days to pay for their orders. So you have larger stores researching vintages and, essentially, buying wines on margin. If these sellers mark up the wine only fifteen percent, then liquidate their entire order online before the end of thirty days, then these guys just made a whole lot of money with zero actual investment.”

So why doesn’t Fox get into the action? “We’re too small. We have a weekly buying budget of six thousand dollars. I’d have to choose between stocking my customers’ regular wines and making a short-term profit on the web.”

“Look, I have an eighty-five-year-old customer who orders a single bottle of gin delivered to her home. So, among our tiny staff, we figure out who’s going to cover the store, and who’s going to drive it over. What do you think we make on that sale? Nothing. But we do it for our customers. And are you going to go to Costco when you want a raffle basket for your local charity? This store is part of the fabric of Hartsdale. People really need to ask themselves whether they want Walmart Wines on every corner.”

Basically, folks, use it or lose it. If you value your neighborhood wine stores, vote with your wallet.

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Pop-Ups Crop up

Taking a page from Top Chef’s pretty Ludo, pop-up restaurants are becoming a buzzword around the county. Part circuit party, part restaurant, these nights offer underground fun for hipster eating.

Industry Night at The Cookery – September 2nd, 10:30 pm- 2am $15 cover, includes food and music
Folks, kennel the kids and call in sick on Friday: DO NOT miss this monthly party. Expect a roomful of restaurant-biz bigwigs straight out of their kitchens, all rocking out cookie style to adrenaline-soaked punk rock and enjoying creative, gutsy food. Last month, we saw Alex Sze of Juniper (and Chef Peter X. Kelly was expected any moment); sadly, we had to leave at the stroke of midnight because we couldn’t crawl to work at noon with a hangover like those cooks. Drat!

Besides providing a drinking spot for local insiders, Industry Nights offer an opportunity for DiBari to branch out of his usual Italian idiom. He’s slinging groaningly good gastro-pub fare like last month’s sea salt pretzels with Fontina fonduta. Friend the Cookery on Facebook to see the entire 11-dish small-plate menu: my picks (and they’re all included) are fried calves brains with apple mustard, duck liver budino with quail’s eggs and date mustard, and crisp butter beans with parmigano, rosemary and truffle honey. All to be savored with the thrash of White Plains’s punk outfit, American Pinup.

Skillet at Grouchy Gabe’s Grill – Sat 25th, 6pm and 8pm seatings; reservations strongly recommended (they sell out)
Full menu and prices available here
This monthly, pop-up restaurant is the brainchild of self-taught chef David Leveen, who carts in food, staff, menu and décor to transform a diurnal deli into a nocturnal party. Skillet’s menu is idiosyncratic, and spans comfort standards and wacky excess. Tuck into a daunting, $28 “WhimpDog” — two burgers with a choice of toppings, two quarter-pound hot dogs, dinosaur baked beans and “Polly’s Potato Salad.” It’s all served in Lodge cast-iron skillets, and includes 2 mini hot fudge sundaes from Blue Pig Ice Cream Factory. Best of all, you don’t have to face it sober – happily, Skillet is BYOB.




 These Mussels Are Beached at Bistro Rollin

Ten million Belgians can’t be wrong. Get yourself a beer and get elbow-deep in this pile of bivalves, which offer the seductions of full-contact eating with a touch of French elegance. The mussels come with your choice of three broth versions – white wine, curry or Provençal – all of which promise a Euro-themed staycation right in your bowl.





Bastianich/Batali Suit Goes Bi-Coastal!

What a train wreck. According to Eater NY, former servers at the Batali/Bastianich/Nancy Silverton Pizzeria Mozza are piling onto the suit that alleges that the high-flying duo took a dip in their servers’ tip pool. I can’t tell whether those staffers are right or wrong (or just trying to get in on the payday), but I will say that this scandal has dredged up lots of unflattering pics of soigné Joe Bastianich. Ouch.

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