by Laura A. Russo
Bacchus would be pleased.
Five years after The Grog Shop closed, Roosevelt Island finally has a wine shop. Island Wine & Spirits opened in October at the old Grog Shop location, 605 Main Street, with a vast selection and knowledgeable staff, catering to connoisseurs and novices alike.
The bright and airy space, managed by Salim Issa and Amanda Rodriguez, boasts an expansive variety of wines and spirits, including wines from at least 15 countries, more than 20 different kinds of bourbon, over 25 vodkas, and a well-curated selection of single-malt scotches.
The shop opened just in time to help residents celebrate a bit more brightly over the holidays, and enthusiasm has not waned throughout the long winter, according to the store managers.
“It’s great to see the community’s excitement,” says Issa. “People really like coming in and seeing what we have.”
The pair welcome residents into the shop with gusto. “We want people to come in and talk to us. This is not just a transaction, we want to be an anchor in this community,” Rodriguez says.
Issa adds, “This is not your average liquor store, where you walk in and someone just points you in the direction of something. We really like getting involved in helping people make a selection.”
Rodriguez, who has five years’ experience managing wine stores, says that she takes customer interaction seriously. “It’s not just about a bottle of Cabernet, but when I get to know you, then I know what to recommend when we get new products. The next time you come in, I want to hear if you liked it, what you thought.”
Issa feels just as strongly as Rodriguez. Growing up in the industry – his family has been in the liquor business since 1992 – he stresses the importance of the store being community-oriented. “It’s not just about making a recommendation, but about education and building relationships with Island organizations.
“Residents are definitely learning about different [wine] regions and varietals. It’s great to help them expand their knowledge and try new things.”
One of the ways that Island Wine & Spirits is fostering new and old oenophiles alike is through regular tastings at the store. “Tastings offer people the opportunity to take a chance on something they would never think to try,” Rodriguez says.
A recent tasting featuring a wine from Chateau Saint Paul was especially popular, selling more than 20 bottles.
What else are Islanders buying to imbibe? “Islanders are really expanding their palettes,” says Issa. “Italian wines seem especially popular lately – varieties like Chianti and Montepulciano – and more and more people are branching out into different kinds of bourbon.”
Tastings are not the only way that Island Wine & Spirits is increasing their presence in the community. The store is also forging relationships with Island nonprofits like the Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance.
Kristi Towey, Chair of the MST&DA Gala Board, found the staff of Island Wine & Spirits a big help when planning last month’s event.
“The staff was very receptive when approached,” she said, and although the event’s licensing requirements limited the extent of their involvement. “They were happy to give us advice, and provided great information.”
Towey also turned to the staff for help when selecting gifts for members of the Gala Committee.
“They helped me choose a really nice bottle, then wrapped and presented each beautifully,” she said. “The shop is absolutely a necessity. This island needed a wine store. They have a great range of prices and products, and are very accommodating.”
Island resident Rey Castro agrees. “We’re just so lucky to finally have them on the Island.”
As the weather warms up, residents can expect even more from Island Wine & Spirits. The store already offers free delivery throughout the Island, and is also planning to launch a website later this year to further expand its services, allowing residents to place online orders and see real-time inventory.
When asked what Islanders should know about Island Wine & Spirits, Rodriguez stressed the importance of the residents themselves. “I love engaging with our customers. The interaction is so important, and all day I get to talk about what I am passionate about.”
“In the end,” says Issa, “we really want to serve the community.”