Few neighborhoods in America possess as much cultural importance as New York City’s East Village. Its historical roots run deep—Peter Stuyvesant, the New Amsterdam colony’s first official, lived on Bowery. Later centuries saw wave after wave of immigrants move to the area; and in the sixties, venues like the Filmore East, a stage for Jimmy Hendrix and The Grateful Dead, made it a mecca for the counterculture, hippie lifestyle. Later, musicians gave birth to punk rock, while actors and writers created experimental theater. The list of notables who have resided there is impressive. They range from William Burroughs to Iggy Pop, Lady Gaga, and Daniel Radcliffe. Sadly, the area declined during the suburban exodus of the 70s and 80s, when its streets became grimy and its park became host to hard-core drug culture.
Today, the East Village is a very cool place. The slightly lower rents and small spaces allow for many indie restaurants, galleries, and fashion stores. Bars play a role in the vibrant hospitality scene. On any warm weekend, locals and visitors deliver an energy overflowing into the streets, helping make New York one of the world’s go-to destinations.
The Winding History of Ella Funt
In another sign of the East Village’s renewal, the backers of the natural wine bar Ella Funt and architect/designer Annabel Karem Kassar, have chosen to walk this rich historical path, linking colorful bygone days with the hip present. Their space on East 4th Street has a long and, some would say, sordid past. From the ’30s to the late ’60s, long before right-wing legislators worried about such things, it was Club 82, a burlesque drag spot frequented by Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn, and Salvadore Dali. The latter named one of the performers Ella Funt, and the name stuck. Later, it became a ‘disco’ where Blondie honed her craft and the New York Dolls performed. Its final incarnation was as a gay movie theater.
Rather than gut the space and make it a minimalist Nordic esthetic, they have gone out of their way to envelop the two dining rooms and bar with an East Village remake of the walls of Les Templiers, a legendary restaurant in Collioure, France, filled with Modernist work. The local art adorning the walls, as if to channel Ella Funt, the drag queen who performed in the basement, is quite erotic.
Juliete Dos Santos’s Journey
Ella Funt describes itself as a “neo-bistro with a unique take on French cuisine.” So, it makes sense to have a sommelier from Paris, Juliete Dos Santos. Over a glass of Clandestin, a wine from Catalonia, she described where her passion for all Biodynamic and natural wines came from. “For some strange reason, wine was always a woman’s responsibility in my family. Food was too, and that is why I care deeply about pairings. Wine was always on the dinner table, and it was important to get it right.”
Her route to New York, sommelier, and general manager was a bit circuitous. She left her home in the west of France to pick up an MBA, then traveled to Korea for an adventure before returning to Paris, where she went to Mention Complementaire, a hands-on school for the equivalent of a Master’s in wine. That led to a series of jobs in Paris wine bars. Her growing reputation brought her to the attention of Lounes Mazouz, Ella Funt’s primary partner.
“For some strange reason, wine was always a woman’s responsibility in my family. Food was too, and that is why I care deeply about pairings.”
“I met Juliete while dining at Le Servan, one of my favorite restaurants in Paris,” Mazouz says. “I saw how incredibly comfortable and enthusiastic she was while advising on and serving wine. Her knowledge of classic and organic wines, which I intended to bring to Ella Funt, was spot on. Juliete was interested in moving to New York, so we quickly agreed she would join the Ella Funt team, and here we are!”
Leading Venue for Biodynamic and Natural Wines
By the glass, only Biodynamic and natural wines are served. However, Juliete reserves a few slots from the 60-bottle list—with a goal of 120 bottles by the end of the year—for organic wines from very select growers, producers, and distributors like Jenny & Francois, Polaner, and Steven Graf, whom she trusts. The list is 60% white, which includes orange wine; the rest are red.
Despite her nationality, Juliete is not at all French-centric. She sources from all the major wine regions.
When asked about natural wine’s inconsistency from vintage to vintage, or even bottle to bottle, she countered that this is not an issue because she chills all the wine in the cellar. “I do not keep them cold. I keep them fresh, and, importantly, I only pour wines I have tasted.”
The patrons at Ella Funt are there for the food, wine, and ambiance. Like many New York City restaurants, a level of affluence is needed. A dinner tab for two can reach the $200 range. Thus, Juliete feels the need to deliver an educational experience. She wants the takeaway to be, “Wow. I never had a wine like that.”
So, the East Village continues to reinvent itself. Currently, thanks to Ella Funt, it is the coolest place to eat “neo-bistro French-inspired” food while drinking the most interesting Biodynamic and natural wines that a true wine professional can source.
In her own words, here are Juliete’s favorites, all available in the U.S., and why.
Juliete’s Favorite Wines at the Moment
Whites: Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay
- Terra Vita Vinum, Anjou Blanc, “Grandes Rogeries” 2019: I hope to always have this wine in our fridge. This amphora-aged Chenin Blanc has it all: the citrus, the quince, the light honey flavors, and most importantly a bright and sharp spine characterized by its chiseled finish.
- Pattes Loup, Chablis Premier Cru, “Butteaux Mise Tardive” 2018: My list would be incomplete without a nice Burgundy Chardonnay. Crisp minerality, elegant white flesh fruits, and light smoky finish makes this cuvée your perfect everything white wine.
- Donkey & Goat, California, “The Gadabout” 2021: This crazy Chardonnay, Picpoul, Marsanne, Vermentino blend won my heart as a surprisingly accessible wine. A mouthful of Rhône Valley flavors with a California touch. Round stone fruits plus sharp citrus results in the balance I want.
- Al Di La Del Fiume, Emilia Romagna, “Fricando” 2021: This lightly macerated Albana grape is smoky, umami, and juicy with delicious tannins and (my favorite part) opens up beautifully throughout the first third of the meal. Yes, first third because there is no way such a bottle would last an entire meal!
Reds: Cabernet Franc and More
- Matthieu Barret, Cornas, “Billes Noires” any vintage: Rhone wine of my dreams. Deep, intense flavors and jammy fruits, licorice, blackcurrants, leather, and black olives aromas. Velvety tannins, long finish. Elegance and composure. As we say in French, “Tout y est!”
- Château de Béru, Épineuil, “Hauts Dannots” 2019: Another masterpiece from Athénaïs de Béru. It is of course fruity but also spicy and displays great mastery in oak aging. Balanced and always fresh.
- Domaine de la Butte, Bourgueil, “Mi-Pente” 2020 (or any of their reds, really…!): Anyone who knows me knows how picky I am with Cabernet Francs. But what can I do when a drop of Jacky Blot’s Loire Valley wine hits my lips? Simply enjoy its peppery, fruity, and perfectly earthy flavors.