There is no question that Battery Park Wine Bar makes a wonderful addition to its up-and-coming corner near the Gordon Square Arts District. But whether it fits the classic definition of a "wine bar" is largely up for debate. Industrial to the core, scantily decorated, and occasionally boisterous, this is no cozy wine cave, to be sure. And don't get us started on the pool table and Journey tunes.
But if, as owner Mike Graley tells us, the goal was to create an "upscale place to have fun, enjoy a bottle of wine, a few appetizers, and escape the madness of everyday life," well, who can quibble with that? Indeed, the unofficial moniker of this joint is Y.O.L.O., as in: You only live once (so relax and have fun).
The Battery Park development has sold more than 60 pricey new town homes since 2006. Its proximity to the Detroit Shoreway, Lake Erie, and downtown make it one of the most desirable new addresses going. At its center is the historic Eveready Powerhouse, a red-brick building that sports the now-iconic neon-clad smokestack. Inside is where you'll find the Wine Bar and, before summer, another as-yet-unnamed restaurant.
As a longtime wine buyer for Heinen's, Graley has made a living turning regular folks on to delicious juice. While bona fide oenophiles may find the selection too heavily geared toward approachability, there can be no objection to the prices. All 150 or so bottles are sold at just $12 above retail — mostly coming in at between $25 and $45 — making it downright foolish to not go big. By-the-glass folks have less flexibility, with about 15 whites and 15 reds priced largely between $7 and $10.
Opened in mid-November, the Wine Bar still is a work in progress. But there is no reason it should look like one. Housed in a stark brick shell, the place has an uphill battle when it comes to comfort. The choice of poured concrete floors didn't help. But it's the conspicuous absence of rugs, art, draperies, or a fireplace that leaves the room feeling unfinished, not to mention loud and cold. And rather than outfit the roomy adjoining space with cozy low-slung seating, management opted to fill it with a billiard table and its clacking, smacking sound effects.
In appropriate wine-bar fashion, the menu offers a nice blend of grape-friendly snacks, starters, and sharable items. Entrées have been wholly excluded from the menu in favor of meat-and-cheese boards, Mediterranean flatbreads, and a host of creative tapas-size dishes. Chef Dimitris Ragousis, formerly of Opa!, just needs to do a better job executing what could be a very appealing roster of foods.
During one visit, the issue was temperature, with a full half of our items arriving less than warm. A cold and doughy crust spoiled an otherwise pleasant braised lamb and feta pizza ($11). Fragrant cumin-scented lamb-and-veal meatballs ($9) were marred by tepid cores. Perhaps those items were waiting for the chef to finish our toasted cheese ($8), a perfectly crisp and buttery sandwich oozing fig jam and melted Camembert. I'd normally recommend pairing that sammie with the smoked tomato bisque ($5), but we found the smoke flavor bitter and artificial tasting.
On another visit, our issues centered less on temperature than timing. Silver-dollar-size potato pancakes ($6) arrived hot and crisp outside but raw and crunchy within. A towering cone of sweet potato frites ($5) had all the right salt and spice — just none of the snap. The kitchen apparently solved the former pizza problem by formulating a new model, this one square and svelte as opposed to round and puffy. A tiny portion of buttery seared scallops went down fast, but mostly because the $13 dish contained only four quarter-size bivalves.
Graley intends to launch regular wine tastings soon, using a roomy island countertop as his classroom. Here's hoping that the kitchen soon catches up to the wine.