This Wall Street Steakhouse Is Secretly NYC's Best Place for Wine Fanatics

For the past 50 years, Harry's has quietly added collector and auction-worthy wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, and more to its wine list.

Harry's Cafe, 1 Hanover Square, New York

DPA Picture Alliance / Alamy Stock Photo

The first time Harry Poulakakos spent more than $10 for a bottle of wine, he bought several cases of 1966 Pétrus. He still has two bottles valued well over $3,500, each resting in a climate-controlled storage facility in New Jersey. 

Poulakakos, now 86, has more than 60 years’ worth of jaw-dropping wine collecting stories and bottles. While working as a server at Delmonico's, he secured $180 cases of 1961 Chateau Haut-Brion, which he bought for his own cellar in the early ’70s. He also bought in low on coveted 1998 Bordeaux, a year initially regarded as mediocre by critics.

Unimaginable in 2022, ’70s-era Burgundies weren’t all that coveted, and producers occasionally dosed their juice with sugar, a process known as chaptalization that increases a wine’s alcohol content. “When I came to this country, Burgundy was downgraded because of the way they were making it, so people could drink it young,” says Poulakakos. “They lost the market.”

Poulakakos doesn’t consider himself a trophy hunter — he’s just been in the game longer than most, adhering to a vexingly simple buying philosophy: “I buy wine because I like it,” he told me on a recent afternoon over a bottle of 2011 Domaine Michel Lafarge Volnay with shrimp cocktail and baked clams. 

Although he’s semi-retired and spending much of his time in Palm Beach, Poulakakos was back in New York City this October to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his namesake restaurant, Harry’s. A Wall Street mainstay, Harry’s was the center of 1970s power lunches, appearing in iconic novels like Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, it also regularly hosted the fictional Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, though he drank J&B, not wine. 

With Harry’s, Poulakakos inadvertently built one of America’s great destinations for Burgundy and Bordeaux wines, and his diners — whether or not they have deep pockets — benefit from decades of prudent and consistent wine sourcing and impeccable storage practices. What’s more surprising is that Poulakakos doesn’t buy from auction, where he can’t guarantee the quality. Instead, he buys exclusively from importers and even imports directly from nine or so French producers, including Chateau Cherubin from the Rothschild family.

“You know the provenance is perfect,” says Kari Brandt, a Harry’s regular and vice president of wholesale at importer Frederick Wildman & Sons. “The access to older vintages is really unique. When I go [to Harry’s], I take the opportunity to buy something that has some age on it.”  

With the exception of premium retail shops like Sherry-Lehmann and French stalwart La Grenouille, Harry’s was one of the few accounts buying wine in bulk back when Poulakakos opened the restaurant. “I bought Latour in ’70 and ’71. It was not so expensive those days,” says Poulakakos, who also installed a state-of-the art wine cooler that would light up if temperature rose too high.

That spirit of learning and sharing, coupled with exacting hospitality standards, draws in wine professionals like Brandt to Harry’s. “I don’t want to go somewhere overly stuffy and formal to drink a good bottle of wine. You can go to Harry’s and be comfortable and casual, and eat a burger with grand cru Pinot Noir,” says Brandt, who tipped me off to Harry’s program. “It feels a bit like a secret club where if you know you know.”

There are two wine lists at Harry’s, one with 75 selections that’s initially dropped at tables and includes accessible $14 glasses of Alsatian Riesling and $38 Coravin pours of Brunello di Montalcino. At a dinner this fall, when my party asked for a sommelier, Jacob Daugherty came bearing a book with 2,600 labels. Still, it’s just a fraction of Harry’s collection: there are around 30,000-plus labels held in an off-site storage facility. 

“We order Burgundy and won’t put it on the menu for five or six years, and sometimes longer,” says Daugherty, who’s in charge of Harry’s list and has taken over much of the restaurant’s wine buying. “We’re just putting on some [Domaine Armand] Rousseau that Harry bought in 1999.”

Poulakakos, his son Peter, who now owns Harry’s as part of HPH Hospitality, and Daugherty’s wine team determine when bottles are ready to move from New Jersey to Manhattan's Financial District. Every bottle is precious, so rather than tasting wines to make the final call, they rely on research and Harry’s memory of the vintages. Inventory plays a part too. “If a wine is entering its plateau and we have five cases it will go on the list. If we have two bottles, it may wait,” says Daughtery.

Next, Daughtery sets the price, and Poulakakos, inevitably, asks him to lower it. 

“Pricing for me was always a problem,” says Poulakakos. “I never wanted to take people’s money just to make a profit on it. I always want people to enjoy what they’re drinking and to charge them a fair price.”

Still, drinking great wines at Harry’s isn’t inexpensive; his list, after all, offers some of the world’s most coveted wines, made even more scarce in an age of low-yield vintages, Instagram-famous wines, and international bottle hunters. But Poulakakos never set out to run a club house for the ultra rich, and he and his team have put safeguards in place to prevent trophy hunters from storming Hanover Street and scooping up all the good stuff.

“If anyone goes to Harry’s and tries to buy every bottle of crazy wine on the list,” says Brandt, “eyebrows will be raised.” 

Specifically, to make sure great wine is available to anyone who’s interested (and, yes, ready to splurge), the team at Harry’s ignores occasional requests to move bottles from storage to the list, they never sell wine to go, and managers keep tabs on anyone ordering rare bottles by monitoring tables during service, and making note of repeat guests. "I’ve always been careful,” says Poulakakos. “I want to know who’s drinking very expensive wine.” 

However, high rollers who treat the staff well and are open to experiencing Harry’s full collection — from esoteric gems and lesser-known producers to the occasional big-name white whales — are most welcome. 

But so is everyone else. “It’s a more diverse crowd than just Wall Street. Our restaurant is a lot less boys’ club than the steakhouse stereotype,” says Daugherty.

My dinner companions — one of whom was dressed in a jaguar print short set and the other in her signature sweats — and I shared Harry’s OG beef wellington, shrimp cocktail, baked clams, creamed spinach, hash browns, and a salad. And had we skipped a round of martinis, a second round of wine, or an exceptionally creamy slice of cheesecake (but why?), we would have walked away with a check just north of $100 each for a grand Wednesday night.

Daugherty is constantly on the lookout for value buys, often third labels from iconic houses like Rothschild and Latour whose grand cru bottles can easily range from $500 to $4,000. The night we visited, he helped us to find the best Burgundy we could afford, a 2007 Mongeard-Mugneret Gevrey-Chambertin for $145, plus a glass each of 2019 Burgundy from Domaine Vincent & Sophie Morey in Santenay and 2015 Alessandro Veglio Barolo, bringing our wine spend to $191.  

Even for a restaurant with such a massive collection of aged, rare wines, Daugherty says the main goal of Harry’s is to make you a regular, not to take all of your money in one go. “We’ll give you great service if you get a $50 bottle of wine, a $100 bottle of wine, or a $150 bottle. We want to attract diners who are inquisitive about wine.”

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