The Quintessential Oenophile Hangout
Turks and Frogs is located at 323 W 11th Street between Greenwich and Washington in the West Village. It is open from 4PM – 1 AM on Sun & Mon, 4PM – 2 AM on Tues – Thurs, and 4PM – 4AM on Fri & Sat with availability for private parties in the back room. For more information, visit http://www.turksandfrogs.com/. Call 212-691-8875.
Considered by many to be New York’s first wine bar, Turks and Frogs has matured and evolved—like so many of its best bottles—into a sparkly West Village gem. The kind of place locals are almost magnetically drawn to, and that jet-setting visitors make explicit annual pilgrimages for, it’s worn with the stories that give it such a singular, special vibe. Now, six years into its existence, it’s taken on a whole new sense of life: one that combines its hard-earned expertise and growing wine program with the fashionable, literati crowd and boho-chic décor that gave it its original reputation.
The long, narrow space at Turks is nothing if not cozy, a byproduct of owner Osman Cakir’s personal touches and the living room-like furniture scattered throughout. Here, by the window, a few worn French amphoras line a shelf—relics from the original antique store that Cakir, a Turkish fashion exec turned pottery collector, opened fresh after emigrating from Istanbul. There, in the back, a grandfatherly couch that was once the cornerstone of his office may as well come to life with its stories of excited marriage proposals and great NYC novels coming to life. Each nook holds countless relationships in its crevices, reflecting the years of artistic, literary, and underground city edge that the spot has boasted since its inception. It’s a magnetism that’s alive at any point of the day—be it during the bar’s quiet daytime hours or through the flurry of activity at night.
But the Turks and Frogs that Villagers know and love has been a long process of evolution: a dream within a dream that formed by surprise and took off with just a fraction of its eventual parts. Though instantly acclaimed, largely for its bohemian feeling and unexpected antique store-cum-wine bar flair (an accidental transformation if there ever was one), Cakir and his crew used their first few years of operation as a small-scale social experiment, getting to know the cool West Village crowd and their tastes. What emerges now, six years later, is a perfect balance between sophisticated and comforting, accessible and underground—a spot that knows and caters to its wide clientele’s tastes with acute precision and panache.
In that vein, Cakir and the Turks crew make constant visits to the city’s best wine purveyors, aggressively sourcing just the varietals and profiles they know their followers will enjoy. The list has become expansive—not only in its thorough treatment of Turkish wines that range from Kavaklidere to Emir, but in its affordable, international by-the-glass and bottle programs that excel in both taste and price. In keeping with its laid back approach, the list is especially user-friendly, with categories based on tasting notes rather than geography or varietals. Not only is it easy to choose well on the first try—it stays easy to choose after two or three.
To accompany those selections, a menu of Turkish meze and sandwiches offer plenty for nibbling, ranging from tart cacik yogurt spread to sweet and silky babaganoush. Pita arrives toasty and warm, faintly buttery, the perfect complement to hummus and vinegary grape leaves. A cheese plate from Murrays—the majority of its samplings originating in Spain—continue the Mediterranean theme with their accompaniments of Turkish apricots, jams, and grapes. A must try, if just one is to be chosen, is the Mercimek Kofte, a plateful of pink-hued lentil balls flavored with the freshness of parsley and red pepper—some estranged Turkish cousin of tabouleh and arancini. And for dessert, crème brulee infused with Turkish coffee grounds puts an ethnic twist on a classic favorite.
We sampled the above and can vouch for it. Some of the best meze in town!
For those who don’t drink, Turks imports juices from Turkey, including sour cherry and apricot nectars served in wine glasses to look just like their alcoholic counterparts—one of the most elegant accommodations that point towards Turks’ personal, warm hospitality. Board games and backgammon sets on the tables—they encourage the opposite of most NYC spots’ tendencies to turn the crowd as many times as possible per night, slowing down for an extended breath of fresh air. It’s just what New Yorkers need amid question-swirling times: a place to unwind without consequence, and the escapist feeling of faraway hospitality to be shared among friends.