By lowering prices and making guests feel at home, Ariel Arce of Air's Champagne Parlor hopes to make Champagne an everyday drink.
Air Champagne Parlor
Credit: Gary He

There’s something seductive about a night at Air’s Champagne Parlor. Maybe it’s the plush purple cushions. Maybe it’s the caviar. Or maybe it’s the allure of drinking bubbles on a low-key weeknight.

Located in New York City’s West Village, Air’s sits atop of owner Ariel Arce’s other space, Tokyo Record Bar. While downstairs is about sake and izakaya — tasteful grunge with a live DJ — upstairs is all sparkling wine and french fries. The goal here is elegance without pretension: a neighborhood spot that works just as well on Valentine’s Day as it does for after-work drinks with that friend you keep cancelling on. And that’s exactly what Arce, a 30-year-old Champagne obsessive whose personality is as bubbly as her drink, wants New Yorkers to understand: Air’s isn’t a place for special occasions.

“It’s just a local joint,” Arce says. The bar next door that happens to serve bubbles instead of beer.

Arce’s self-proclaimed love for luxury developed while she was working at Grant Achatz’s Chicago speakeasy The Office — back when it was still a well-kept secret. There, Arce had a top-notch wine list, an award-winning cocktail program, and a massive selection of rare spirits at her disposal. Yet what intrigued her most was Champagne. It started with buying one bottle to taste. Then buying a few. Then buying hard-to-find vintages.

“I found myself super invested in this product that I didn’t know a lot about,” Arce says, which is why she then went on to work at the family-owned Chicago bar Pops for Champagne. Over the course of two years at Pops, Arce tasted around 2,000 bottles of Champagne. She figured out what she liked, but more importantly, she figured out how to talk to other people about what they might like.

Arce’s learning process also led her to discover that consumers typically see Champagne as something to be saved for holidays and weddings, something that’s too expensive to drink with food like nachos or wings. Arce realized that she disagreed, and she wanted to change the narrative surrounding Champagne. So she decided to come home.

In July 2018, Arce is one year into a decade-long lease, and her only plan is to keep pushing forward. “I want people to drink wine with me for the next ten years,” she says. Getting guests to drink is easy. It’s getting them inside the space that’s the challenge.

During her first several months in business, Arce’s biggest obstacle was proving that there’s a difference between this Champagne parlor and the many wine bars that seem only to care about a bottle's prestige. About four months in, Arce made a change that helped shift the bar’s focus from cost to community: she rewrote the entire menu, pricing all of the wines at retail value. “We have done our best to take price out of the equation so that people can come drink a bottle of quality-driven wine and not spend an arm and a leg for it,” Arce says. Currently, bottles range from $28 to $825.

Once someone is enticed enough to come in and sit down, the servers at Air’sall women — saunter over and ask questions:

“Do you like something dry? Do you like something fruity? Let’s run through a flavor profile of fruits.”

“Do you like savory, like toasted nuts, or sweet, like butters and creams?”

“Do you like something with more minerality or more earthenness? Do you even know what those things mean? Let’s talk about what that means.”

By communicating in a language that is relatable, Arce and her team can educate their guests. “We can all understand what a McIntosh apple tastes like,” Arce says. “You can’t necessarily understand what the terroir of Chouilly tastes like because what the hell does that mean?”

“If I ask you what you think of when you think of Champagne, you’re probably gonna see a yellow label. Veuve Clicquot. Or Moët. Something you give as a gift because somebody knows how much it costs,” she continues. “But that’s not fair to you as the consumer.”

By creating an environment where Champagne coexists comfortably with pizza, where the wine list is composed of small-scale producers and a single bottle doesn’t cost a month’s paycheck, Arce is working to provide an experience that is casual, fun, and — dare she say it — fair.

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