176 7th Ave. (betw. W. 20th & 21st Sts.)
If Bar Veloce sounds familiar, it’s probably not because of its wine. On June 16, 2002, a deranged gunman armed with a sword and three pistols burst into the wine bar’s East Village location and held more than 40 staff and customers hostage, spraying them with kerosene and threatening to ignite them with a barbecue lighter. The standoff ended when two women jumped the gunman, officers stormed the premises and the perpetrator was shot by a policeman.
It was a grim episode in a history characterized mostly by success. Bar Veloce soon reopened and now boasts three downtown venues. In addition to the East Village space, there are locations in Soho and Chelsea. On a recent visit to the bar’s sleek Chelsea space, the mood was jovial, the wine was flowing, and the crosstown location’s night of violence seemed to have receded from memory.
Like the other outposts, the Chelsea Bar Veloce’s decor is sexy and chic. A long bar extending the length of the space faces an exposed brick wall mounted with splayed and backlit wine racks. Raised tables seating group of four or six are positioned against the opposite wall. Thought has clearly been given to details: hooks just beneath the bartop accommodate bags and coats, angled mirrors on the upper walls afford sneak peaks at the bar’s other patrons and Italian cinema plays on a flat-screen TV in the back.
The service at Bar Veloce is old-fashioned in the classy sense of the term. Busboys wear pale blue jackets, black ties and hats, and on the night of my visit, the bartender/sommelier wore a crisp black suit and fashionable thick-framed glasses. The clientele skews young, mostly twenty-somethings. Or maybe it’s just the dim and dewy lighting, which erases lines and causes each patron’s skin to glow.
The focus here, of course, is on wine, and they don’t mess around. The menu includes sparkling wines from $40-$225 per bottle; white wines from $32-$40 per bottle; and reds from $32-$120 per bottle. I asked the bartender to recommend a dry white, and he answered with condescension: “They’re all kind of dry, so maybe you could be more specific.”
I chose a glass of the Vermentino, which he described as “herbal,” and the menu describes as “medium-bodied, floral, with rosemary and fennel notes.”
Next I tried a glass of the Vareij, described as “light and lively with blueberry jam notes” and characterized as a “biodynamic wine.” Bio-what?
“I’m not sure what it means,” the bartender said this time. “It’s how they grow the grapes, I think, tied to cycles of the moon.”
Bar Veloce probably wouldn’t be the best choice for dinner, but the menu does include a generous selection of sandwiches, salads and other small plates if you’re in the mood for a meal. I tried the prosciutto tramezzini, a three-layer finger sandwich with mozzarella, tomato and basil pesto. The bread was satisfyingly doughy, and the flavors nicely complemented one another.
I’ve been to Bar Veloce a number of times, and the place is always abuzz with laughter and excited chatter. As friends have remarked, it’s the perfect place for a blind date. Discussing the sometimes ridiculous wine descriptions is a nice ice breaker, and if things look promising, you can extend the evening with a panini or two. It’s great to see that one ugly evening back in 2002 didn’t knock the Bar Veloce family of venues permanently off the tracks.