Grand Central Station Is Getting a Cool New Wine Bar — Complete with Wine Growlers for Commuters

City Winery's three wine and food concepts will be a welcome refuge for the thousands of travelers who pass through the historic New York station everyday.

Manhattan’s only working winery won a bid to open its 13th location in the historic Grand Central Station, where the brand will debut a wine growler exchange system for commuters on November 21.

The news brings a much needed wine bar to the transit hub for 250,000 commuters daily, nearly 70% of whom depend on Metro-North to travel to and from the city ⁠— including me recently. I can attest that despite its 35 food vendors, the station has few options for a worthwhile glass of wine when you’ve missed your train by two seconds. 

“By lack of choice, beer has become the easiest vessel to fill, put a brown bag around it, and take on a train,” said City Winery founder Michael Dorf of considering these commuters when he landed the coveted space. “Everyday you have people lug that glass of something to drink as they transition from work to home.” 

His team imagined that it would be ideal to offer mini wine bottles as an alternative and researched cans and other vessel options. “The problem with the American wine industry’s vessels is none of it is truly sustainable or really reusable,” said Dorf. “That’s how we came up with this growler program.”

The music fan who opened his original urban winery in Manhattan in 2008 has plenty of experience testing new ideas. His original vision for selling barrels to bankers who could be part of the process and develop their own label was thwarted by the financial crisis that year.

“That evolved and morphed quickly into both a concert space, which was my backup to sell booze, but then to really move it into a by-the-glass program,” explained Dorf. “It’s not officially straight from the barrel … we move it into stainless steel kegs and then we mask the tap behind beautiful wooden barrel heads, but the idea is: It’s never seen a bottle. We’re able to serve wine very fresh, very efficiently, and frankly very sustainably.” In 14 years across 12 locations, he estimated they've served 2 million glasses of wine that didn’t use glass bottles.

Dorf explained that this saves dozens of semi loads of glass from being shipped from Mexico or Germany to California, and while concertgoers tip the scales going through a nonstop supply of Riedel glassware, the format reduces carbon consumption. He admitted the United States’ 5-cent incentive isn’t enough to stop people from throwing away glass bottles so City Winery is offering $5 for returns. The 375 mL bottles fit about two glasses of wine for about $15 each so if commuters catch on, they’ll have two $5 glasses of wine to enjoy on the ride.

“You return three of them and you have a free bottle of wine. Grand Central offers us this opportunity to make a pick up and return ⁠— a true filling station ⁠⁠— concept,” said Dorf, noting that regulations prevent alcohol container refills, but City Winery will sanitize and reuse returned bottles. Nine varieties of wine, including Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir, will be available in 375 mL and 750 mL bottles for $15-$35.

“We’re really the first serious reuse bottle program in the country,” said Dorf. “And while we’re a small, tiny wine company, hopefully this concept can catch on with bigger companies and distributors and other locations. A transit hub certainly is a real easy one to get the model to work.”

Not to mention a great place for the wine on tap format, which will accommodate 190 guests at City Winery Grand Central with two tasting bars among the venue’s signature live music (and events like Bordeaux and burger pairings). Perhaps most appealing to locals who’ve seen many concepts (like Claus Meyer’s Great Northern Food Hall and fine dining restaurant Agern) come and go in this space is the inclusion of housemade grab-and-go offerings at breakfast, lunch, and dinner venue City Jams, and dinner at a 75-seat farm-to-table, reservation-only restaurant called Cornelius.

“We’re trying to be utilitarian and utilize the space that’s been given to us,” said Dorf. “Not everyone can sit and have a glass of wine everyday, but maybe they want to take a growler to go and a bag of corn nuts and risotto balls. I’m super excited about my homemade protein bar. That’s what I want for breakfast with a cup of coffee.”

City Winery reusable bottle


After many early morning train rides, alternating between the three or four breakfast vendors with long lines and service that’s seemingly oblivious to the reality that customers are racing train times, I cannot express how welcome this is. City Jams will open at 6 a.m. on weekdays and Dorf assured me there will be a sense of urgency. “We’ve never really been in a transit hub, but the City Winery concert facility is closer to a transit hub than a relaxing setting anyway. You get 350 people coming in within an hour of showtime ⁠— that’s rush hour in our venues. So we’re used to pushing a lot of food out, a lot of wine and drink, and having as quick a service as we possibly can. We’re pretty well-suited for a transit hub and a rush hour mentality.”

The whole concept will celebrate Grand Central history, a treat for locals and visitors alike. “The MTA was looking for us to take down some of the obstruction so you could see the beauty of the old waiting room. We actually have re-created and utilized some of the waiting room furniture so that it has that,” described Dorf, adding that the restaurant ⁠— named after Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad tycoon who pioneered Grand Central Depot ⁠— will feature art from former eras. 

“We looked at the space that we were able to win and said, ‘OK the previous users put a lot of money into a huge, world-class kitchen.’ They spent many millions of dollars building a kitchen that connects to a pretty intimate restaurant,” said Dorf. “Cornelius is certainly a more relaxed experience; it’s a sit-down, destination restaurant.”

Executive chef Zachary Bondy is developing dishes that pay homage to what he calls “first class train travel at the turn of the 20th century,” such as oysters Vanderbilt and filet Oscar, using local ingredients like Hudson Valley Ranch. The restaurant will have a wine list of about 200 bottles from City Winery’s cellars to complement its proprietary wines that aren’t made to age.

“We’re a company that’s focused on terroir. When you’re getting a glass of Pinot Noir, we’re telling you where exactly it’s from,” said Dorf. “We source from three main areas in the United States for Pinot: Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, and Willamette Valley. We work with really great farmers, vineyards, and wineries. We’re privileged to be able to purchase their grapes.”

And that AVA will be displayed on each growler label. The self-proclaimed scrappy entrepreneur using hydropower in the Hudson Valley and saving the planet from millions of corks has yet to see if New Yorkers will return the glass bottles, but he’s betting on like-mindedness.

“Fifteen years ago, I wanted a music joint where I could hold my Rolling Rock in one hand and enjoy some music,” Dorf reflected on his original concept, the Knitting Factory. “When I go to a grab and go, I prefer to have that homemade, really good looking protein granola bar that’s hand wrapped vs. the packaged processed one. That’s going to be my go-to. I want my hand crafted wine from a place that actually knows where the grapes come from vs. a cup with a foil top that’s maybe really convenient and I’m going to throw away… I’m hoping there are enough people that care about these things similar to me and that it connects.”

He has this wine deprived commuter on board.

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