Champagne’s Greatest Innovators Have a Bar Named for Them, Finally
Champagne wasn’t always such big business. Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin was just 27 when she became a widow and took over her husband’s struggling wine company, now Veuve Cliquot. In the early 19th century, she went on to lead the biggest disruption in the history of Champagne technology. The young entrepreneur developed what's now known as remuage, or riddling, in which bottles are stored at an angle and periodically turned so that dead yeast gathers in the bottleneck and can be taken out efficiently. The process has become standard (often mechanized), but it was a major innovation at the time. Before Clicquot Ponsardin mastered it, many Champagne makers couldn’t guarantee that their sweet bubbles would sparkle crystal-clear. The future of the industry was uncertain.
Clicquot Ponsardin’s deep understanding of the wine changed the game, and she played a role in establishing Champagne as a luxury product with an international market. If you love to drink the stuff, it’s hard to read her biography, written by Tilar Mazzeo, without feeling a little bit grateful. (After 1810, a very good year, she was the first in the industry to market vintage Champagne.)
Riddling Widow, a tiny subterranean bar that opened recently in Manhattan's West Village, is named not only for Clicquot Ponsardin but for the many French businesswomen who expanded family companies after their husbands died: Louise Pommery took over the house in 1860 and was the first Champagne maker to launch dry, brut Champagne; Mathilde Emile Laurent Perrier took over in 1887; Camille Olry Roederer in 1932; and Lily Bollinger in 1941. They helped make Champagne what it is, cleverly marketing it as luxurious, celebratory, chic. Still, it's important to remember that you don't really need an excuse to drink it.
The bar is one of those owned by Ravi DeRossi, owner of Death and Company, and it differs from many of the opulent Champagne-themed bars that have preceded it in New York. After you reach Riddling Widow by way of a narrow staircase, the tiny room has the worn-out, dreamlike look of a Twin Peaks set piece: a compact, extremely low-ceilinged red lodge with a velvet chaise longue and simple counter seating. Don’t expect oysters. DeRossi, a vegetarian, is currently in the process of making all his bars and restaurants animal-product free, including this one. You’ll find veggie chips and a garlicky dip, a giant bowl of spicy popcorn, warm toasted pepitas, and at least for now, some cheese. All this tempers the fanciness of any Champagne associations while tiding you over until a late dinner. Better yet, the place is open until 2 a.m. (except on Sundays, when it’s closed), which makes it perfectly suited for a nightcap, especially if your idea of a nightcap is a cold glass of creamy bubbles.
The music is not reliably good, but the drinking is. Tanner Walle, formerly of Terroir, put together the wine list and will crouch nearby to tell you about his favorites with great enthusiasm. Whether you want a super dry pétillant naturel from California, or something rich and yeasty and classic from Épernay, there are over a dozen sparkling wines by the glass (starting at $10) and over 30 by the bottle (starting at $40), from refreshing Basque Txakolina and flowery-nosed Crémant d'Alsace to Champagne, along with some beers and still wines.
The monster commercial houses aren’t represented, but you can drink their products anywhere. Trying a glass of something new is what Madame Clicquot Ponsardin would have wanted.
Riddling Widow is at 127 Macdougal Street (West Village); +1 (212) 598-1809