Fond Remembrances Follow 'Inoteca to Its Final Service
'Inoteca (98 Rivington Street, 212-614-0473) needs wine drinkers.
Open since 2004, the restaurant started last night's service with 1,300 bottles in total, each one of which needs to be drained to dregs before Sunday morning at 4 a.m. when the doors will close for good. "We're hoping to get through it," co-owner Ethan Richardson says. "We're opening some crazy stuff by the glass that you'll never see."
And much of it is being offered at a steal: 'Inoteca tweeted a picture of a trio of La Casa wine bottles with the caption, "The Barolo sure went fast! Moving on to '97 Caparzo Brunello. $35 a glass." The restaurant will continue to publicize deals on its rarest and priciest wines on social media, and the discounts will deepen in the coming days.
Social media is also how the eatery announced its plans for closing: "After nearly 11 years, we at 'inoteca have decided to return the space to our landlord," reads the press release posted on Facebook.
"Obviously life marches on, although it's sad to go for sure," says Richardson. "But we're trying to make this as much fun as possible. It's bittersweet, but hopefully we'll see all our old friends this week."
The closure's the fourth in a row for chef and restaurateur Jason Denton, who reportedly declared bankruptcy in 2013. Counted among the shutters are 'ino (West Village), 'inoteca Liquori Bar (Gramercy), and Betto (Williamsburg), which all closed in 2013. Surviving ventures include Corsino Cantina, a similar corner restaurant in the West Village; Indie Food & Wine, a café inside the Film Society of Lincoln Center; and a full-service catering company, Denton & Co.
It seems, though, that Denton has also parted ways with Corsino: When the Corsino reservationist was asked if Denton was available to comment, he replied: "Jason Denton's no longer related to the restaurant." Indie Food & Wine, however, took a message for him.
'Inoteca opened in the summer of 2004 with a simple formula: The door was open late, the wine list was long, and the menu of shareable Italian small plates was (relatively) inexpensive. That's what made the trattoria an early favorite among WD-50 waitstaff and others in the business even as the surrounds grew increasingly slick. (And in honor of its long history with back-of-house and front-of-house staffers, the restaurant's chopping an additional 10 percent off of the bills of industry professionals this week.)
Before Denton's restaurant landed the lease, the corner was featured on the cover of the Beastie Boys' 1989 album Paul's Boutique. Ethan Wolff, a Brooklyn-based writer who lived in the building next door from 1997 to 2011, says that prior to 'inoteca, there were a string of failed bars and an excellent Mexican restaurant. "The Lower East Side was not quite ready to support anything that was next-level," he says. "Then 'inoteca came in, and they had finally hit the right timing for that corner. You could always go and get an interesting bottle of wine that you didn't know about and good food to go with it...'Inoteca felt like a compromise. It was a West Village direction, but it wasn't one that interfered with the Lower East Side in the way that Spitzer's or Steve Madden did. Now there are so many places like it."
In the early days, Wolff recalls, 'inoteca had an opera singer perform to entertain diners. "I would be sitting in my room, and I would hear this very deep long operatic song followed by huge applause," he says. "I thought, if that's the worst 'inoteca has as my downstairs neighbor, I can deal with it."
While the Lower East Side has morphed considerably, things at 'inoteca have changed very little over the years. Gael Greene wrote in 2005, "...you can count on a cheerful guide to the cellar list, underground prices ($4 to $15), and savory starters (like beets with orange, mint, and hazelnuts.)" That popular beet dish is still on offer today for $12.
Customers have been clogging the phone line with their fond recollections since the Facebook post went up. "It's been overwhelming," Richardson says. The co-owner started as a waiter at the restaurant in its first year when he was pursuing a graduate degree in philosophy. He later became the general manager and a partner in 2006. "I got drawn in," he says, adding that the ownership team is trying to help displaced servers get new jobs. "They've been very good to us," he says. "We feel bad."