With a restaurant scene as expansive as New York’s, city-dwellers have little need for home cooking, let alone the age-old dinner party. Our shoebox-sized apartments boast at most a few seats, and our ovens are more likely storing sweaters than roasting chicken. Yet, in missing out on dinner parties, we’re undoubtedly missing out on myriad wonderful memories filled with delicious food, engaging conversation and endlessly flowing wine. That’s why Ariel Arce, the woman behind Tokyo Record Bar and Air’s Champagne Parlor, is filling this niche with her new 25-seat “dinner party restaurant,” Niche Niche.
A reason to wine
The MacDougal Street spot, located just a few blocks south of Air’s and Tokyo Record Bar, has wine at its very core. Every evening is hosted by a different member of the wine community — Frenchette’s John Connolly, Napa winemaker Dan Petroski, and Grant Reynolds of Charlie Bird, Pasquale Jones and Legacy Records, to name a few — who leads guests through tastings of their choosing and educates them on each. “The whole point of Niche Niche is to create this cultural wine space and to show that the world of wine is so much bigger than the few places and people who dictate what we drink,” says Arce.
The restaurateur began incubating the one-night-wine-host-residency concept at Air’s about two years ago but only started actively thinking about Niche Niche last April. Serendipitously, she found the King Street-adjacent space soon after and began transforming it into an upstairs open-kitchen restaurant and a cellar below.
Niche Niche forgoes the traditional wine list, instead encouraging patrons to go to the numerous refrigerators filled with whites, champagnes and rosés or to the downstairs cellar and pull their own wine. This system is both less stressful for the staff and allows the restaurant to change the wine offerings daily, letting each host add his or her selections to the mix.
Every weeknight, at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. seatings, guests flood the upstairs lounge area, sipping their first vino and socializing with their fellow diners, before filling the 25 bar and table seats around the room. Most of these folks have reservations, but the restaurant always keeps a few spots open to walk-ins. Throughout the evening, they will receive a minimum of four glasses of wine, usually more, all for just $40 and for an additional $40, can feast on complementary dishes prepared by chefs Zach Fabian and Aaron Lirette.
The affordability of Niche Niche is a signature Ariel Arce trait and one that she’s pioneered at Tokyo Record Bar and Air’s. Each host at the new restaurant must stay below the $40 per person price tag and must serve at least four wines throughout the night but is otherwise given free rein. Taking price out of the equation, she believes, allows guests to judge the wines based on their own taste rather than on industry standards. “Sometimes, people think the $60 bottle is just OK but love the $12 bottle,” Arce notes. “People are just doing the thing we wanted them to do, to try all these wines.”
“I see Niche Niche as another extension of myself,” she continues, “and the things I want to create in the world of dining — inclusivity, affordability, and accessibility.”
You can sip with us
While Arce’s restaurants are known for their delicious food and booze, excellent music and innovative concepts, it is the people who work at each who really make the drinking and dining experiences so memorable. Indeed, anyone who has ever visited Air’s or Tokyo Record Bar will tell of great grub and tantalizing tunes, but it’s the people behind the bar, in the kitchen, and occasionally even boogieing on a makeshift dance floor who keep them coming back for more.
“Dining has always put the customer first and can make the staff feel really less than,” Arce explains. At her venues though, the staff come first. “If we can take care of each other first,” she says, “we can take better care of our customers.” It’s this philosophy that gives way to the extremely friendly environment found at each of Arce’s spaces. Staff members aren’t begrudgingly taking orders and bringing diners to their seats, as is the case at so many New York restaurants, but instead are there because they want to be and often have as much fun as the guests themselves.
In fact, Arce only has about three employees who are legitimately full-time; the rest of her team pursue other vocations — photography and DJing, for instance — outside the restaurant doors and spend only a few nights a week working at the Greenwich Village spots. For this reason, the restaurateur has needed to hire just a couple new staff members for Niche Niche, with most of her existing team filling the vacant roles. “Everyone has basically been saying, ‘I’ll take this night, I’ll take this one,’” she says.
Chef Fabian, like most of the Niche Niche team, is a staple at Tokyo Record Bar and Air’s and, while helping Chef Lirette open the new restaurant, has been running between the two spaces since last week’s opening. “If it continues like this, we’ll have to get him a scooter or something!” Arce said with a laugh.
The vibe at Niche Niche is casual and familial, and, thanks in large part to the staff, the meals succeed in recreating the dinner parties that Arce and so many of us enjoyed growing up. “You are literally coming into our home, and we want it to feel that way,” says Arce, though thankfully, without the political disagreements and endless questions about your romantic life. That, she leaves to your own family.
Niche Niche is located at 43 MacDougal St. and is currently open Monday through Friday. The schedules for March and April hosts can be found online, and reservations can be made through Resy.