Note: Bar Henry Bistro closed in 2012. It became an Austin, Texes-themed place called ZirZamin.
Every trend has to begin with one brave establishment trying something for the first time, and having it catch on.
Have you ever visited a place and said, I hope everyone starts doing this? That’s what we said about the wine list at Bar Henry Bistro, which opened in November on one of the few remaining desolate patches of Houston Street.
About that wine list: it’s in two sections: Market and Reserve. On the Market section are 110 bottles, skewing mostly European. For any of these, you can buy half the bottle at exactly half the price. There is a respectable selection of half-bottles, and you can still buy half of those (basically one glass) at exactly half the bottle price.
The half you don’t drink is taken out to the bar, and if no one wants the half-bottle, it’s sold by the glass. Management is betting that there won’t be much waste, and so far it seems to be working. I ordered a glass of 1991 Domaine aux Moines Savennières. Few restaurants would carry that wine by the glass, and at $78 I probably wouldn’t have ordered the full bottle. But it was available to try, because someone had ordered half of it the night before.
There is also a more expensive reserve list (bottle prices mostly in three figures), and these aren’t available by the half-bottle, but as that Domaine aux Moines demonstrates, those who want to explore the market list will find plenty to tempt them. I followed it up with a terrific $7 glass of sherry. (Full disclosure: a second glass of the Domaine and another half-bottle at dinner were comped.)
During the winter, the bar is also serving an obscure cocktail called the Tom and Jerry ($14), recently profiled in the Times, made with eggs, brandy, whisky, warm milk, cinammon, and nutmeg. It’s great for a cold night. The eggs need to be prepped in advance, and even then it’s time-consuming, so they’ll only make a fixed number of them per evening—generally 10 on a weekday, 15 on the weekends. At the beginning of the shift, the numbers from 1 to 10 (or whatever total) are written on the mirror and crossed out as they’re ordered. Once the last one is made, that’s it for the night.
The menu is a bit simplistic, with just five entrées ($16–29), and one of those is a burger. There are about a dozen appetizers and bar snacks—nothing over $14. Indeed, the menu seems to be designed for bar grazers. We enjoyed everything we tried; nevertheless, we had a sense that the food wasn’t as ambitious as the wine list.
At the bar, I snacked on Roasted Almonds ($3) and Marinated Olives($3). A Ceviche special ($9) and Short Rib Tacos ($12; below left) were unmemorable.
We both had the Manhattan Steak ($29; above right), an aged New York strip from Pat LaFreida, the gold standard in beef these days. It was as good as I’ve had outside of a steakhouse, with a recognizable dry-aged tang and a deep exterior char. French fries ($6) were perfect.
We have no idea if the wine program here will catch on, but it strikes us as a fairly low risk for the owners. Most restaurants these days charge out wine bottles at triple the retail price, and of course they don’t pay retail, so they aren’t losing money even if they’re occasionally left with a half-bottle that doesn’t sell. But I don’t get the sense that that’s happening very often, and meanwhile they’re pulling in customers who probably wouldn’t go out of their way for the bistro menu alone.
The dining room is done up in white tablecloths and red velvet chairs supposedly rescued from the Plaza Hotel. Reservations aren’t taken, but we had no trouble getting seated at 7:00 p.m. on a Friday evening. The bar fills up quickly, though. Don’t forget to bring a sweater: the restaurant is in the cellar of an old townhouse, and it gets cold down there.
Bar Henry Bistro (90 W. Houston St. between Thomson St. & LaGuardia Pl., Greenwich Village)