Winding down (or up) with wine

You don’t have to saddle up to visit The Red Pony — though a fashionable pair of riding boots might be a nice touch.

The cozy wine bar — which opened in Rye this past December in the space once occupied by the Rye Smoke Shop, a city fixture — offers a sociable space for patrons to unwind. It’s not a go-to spot for sports fans during the height of their respective seasons, but it’s certainly a destination for chitchatting with friends after the workweek (or work day). 

A glass of Pét Nat Rosé at The Red Pony. Photograph by Danielle Renda.

It’s hard to miss the corner bar, with its large picture windows overlooking downtown Rye’s Purchase Street.  Norwalk-based owner Cai Palmer has created a warm, laid-back vibe and eliminated the pressure of committing to a full-course meal by focusing almost exclusively on beverages, with the option to order a few bites. 

When WAG arrived on a Friday night around 8 p.m., the bar was buzzing with activity, chatter and, most important, laughter. It was a place we felt welcomed into immediately.

The Red Pony offers a selection of more than 20 international wines and sparklers. We sampled a Pét Nat Rosé from France that is as light and bubbly as Champagne and is accompanied by a knowing menu description that reads: “On Wednesdays, we drink pink. And Thursdays. And all weekend long. Every day, really…” The wine proved satisfying — as expected — with a crisp, extremely refreshing taste that was slightly sweet, slightly tart. 

Also on the menu is a selection of cocktails, humorously (and appropriately) referred to as “Clarktails” after Clark Moore, the general manager. Moore, a longtime mixologist who previously worked for Harper’s in Dobbs Ferry and Juniper in Hastings-on-Hudson, creates sophisticated beverages by looking to seasonal ingredients for inspiration. His cocktail list includes an ode to The Dragon Coaster — the near 90-year-old iconic wooden roller coaster in Rye’s Playland Park. The drink contains cachaça, a distilled Brazilian liquor similar to rum that is made from fermented sugarcane juice; Uccelli, a natural- colored blue bitter from Brooklyn; L.N. Mattei Cap Corse Blanc, a bittersweet Corsican aperitif; and Dragoncello, an Italian liqueur made from French Tarragon and mixed with honey syrup and lemon juice.  

Moore is quite adventurous with flavor. He recently shared via the bar’s social media about his Philly Cheese Steak Clarktail, a “beverage” made with peated bourbon (a bourbon that’s similar to Scotch and whiskey), Annie’s Mac and Cheese mix — yes, cheese — beef stock and a whole raw egg. WAG passed on this one — we prefer the sweeter tastes. For patrons, Moore will whip up beverages according to the customer’s request, within reason, in addition to those listed on the menu.

Cheese and charcuterie. Photograph by Danielle Renda.

We were interested in sampling different kinds of cheeses — not as a beverage but rather on a board. So we ordered a tasting of three (Spanish goat cheese, cheddar and Fromager d’Affinois) alongside two cured meats (salami and prosciutto), crostini and mustard and fig jam spreads. The Fromager d’Affinois — the evening favorite — has a creamy texture and taste similar to Brie.

The Red Pony, which accommodates some 40 people, is adjacent to Wine at Five, Palmer’s wine shop, which moved from 4 Purchase St. The idea is to allow patrons to sample the wines at The Red Pony while offering the option to purchase these same wines next door.

Though the bar’s name bears no connection to John Steinbeck’s novel “The Red Pony,” it was indeed inspired by literature. Palmer is a fan of the Western-set “Longmire” TV crime drama, based on Craig Johnson’s books. Throughout the series, the characters frequent The Red Pony, a tavern in Wyoming that serves as their “watering hole.” 

Luckily, the Eastern Red Pony is far classier — and much more tame — than the Wild West.

The Red Pony is at 53 Purchase St. in Rye, and Wine at Five is at 1 Elm St. in Rye. For more, call The Red Pony at 914-481-4220 or Wine at Five at 914-921-5950 or visit redponybar.com or wineatfive.com.

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