Eating + Drinking

A Seat at the Table: Air’s Champagne Parlor

Our effervescent Secret Culinary Insider pops into the West Village’s newest champagne spot—and may never leave.

Photo courtesy of Gary He

We might be exiting rosé season and barreling toward red wine again, but if you stop to think about it, the craving for champagne is driven more by mood than temperature. The champagne mood? Festive. Always festive. That’s good news for Ariel Acre, the unnervingly young owner of West Village newcomer Air’s Champagne Parlor—and it’s good news for you, too.

The sliver of a room is located on MacDougal Street, the block anchored by the historic Provincetown Playhouse (right before the street turns hellaciously touristy). The space feels light, welcoming, and personal. It’s clear that Acre designed it herself based on what she loves rather than following the dictates of a decorator (or Pinterest). That feminine living room vibe makes for a combination of huddles across blue velvet slipper chairs and bubbly conversations at the few larger tables and silk-covered settees in front. That the weeknight clientele consists primarily of girl dates should come as a surprise to no one; the date-dates happen later in the evening (and week). If I were a man, I’d consider becoming a regular.

There are a few cocktails on the menu, but really? If someone in your group isn’t into the bubbles, perhaps start her off with a WWBMB (What Would Bill Murray Do?), a devilish glass of champagne on ice with a spritz of lemon. Or opt for the $40 club tasting: three glasses of the sommelier’s choices to ease anyone into the game. The well-edited bottle and glass selection goes from indie to blockbuster, presented with finesse.

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Me, I can’t have enough fizzy stuff in my life. I was happy to see that the weekday Parlor Hour, Tuesday to Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m., offers three pours of entry-level sparklers, paired with several snacks from the hors d’oeuvres “cart” for just $30. (The kitchen is in the basement, right next to where Air’s new sake bar is about to open; I’m not sure how that cart figures in.) The list spans the world, not just stopping in the Champagne region. The night of my visit, the focus was on the Iberian Peninsula. I was treated to glasses of organic Azimut Cava, 12-month-aged Mata i Coloma, and a chipper sparkling rosé from organic Portuguese producer Filipa Pato that I’d recently eyed at my local wine store. The young woman pouring my glasses was knowledgeable and clearly into explaining what made each producer special, which was a treat—but then again, I’m a champagne geek. If you just want a celebratory glass without the exposition, perhaps give a gentle signal.

The evening’s treats included a simple string bean salad with fried shallots, a deviled egg with trout roe, and crostini with spicy ’nduja sausage and sweet dried fig. The food is rustic and enthusiastic—and this may not be the point, but it was nice to have something better than bar nuts to absorb the booze.

As Cuban music played in the background, Acre stopped by each table to say hello. While she might seem young, she is steeped in bubbles, having opened Birds and Bubbles and the Riddling Widow in NYC after working at Grant Achatz’s high-concept cocktail bar, The Office, in Chicago. After she asked what I thought of the pours, we chatted about cult grower Champagnes by Agrapart and Christophe Mignon, whom I’d just learned about from one of the city’s best sommeliers. From my perch at the end of the bar, I’d been eavesdropping on the table next to me as they selected the night’s first bottle (they were already regulars and would clearly be popping more than one cork), and I was happy to hear that Acre had steered them toward Ulysse Collin, another indie darling. I joked that maybe if I stuck around long enough, they’d order a bottle of Selosse—a rarity and, at $370, one of the steeper offerings on the very fairly priced list, even at the vintage end—and give me a taste.

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Photo courtesy of Gary He

Maybe it was because of my enthusiasm, or maybe it’s just what they do at Air’s Champagne Parlor, but, like the table of regulars next to me, my server gave me a taste of a special Moët bottling, the Chalk 2002, which is said to reflect the limestone of its surroundings. (In another nod to champagne-geekery, Air’s uses wineglasses rather than champagne flutes, as they’re supposed to bring out more of the flavors.) As much as I had enjoyed my cheap and cheerful pours, a sip of this rich, toasty, tight-bubbled champagne was like going from earbuds to front row at Carnegie Hall. It’s not something I would have ordered for myself, as I’m less into the conglomerate-owned stuff, but it certainly whet my appetite for delving deeper into the list. It was a smart move on Air’s part: I’ve already scheduled a friend date there. A business meeting, too. And who knows? Maybe next time the table next to me will send me a glass of Selosse. This year, I might skip red wine season entirely.

We can take care of your rezzies