If you’ve ever considered opening a cafe, restaurant, or bar, it doesn’t take long to realize the many obstacles in your path. Add to that the challenges of an unprecedented global pandemic and the realities of doing business in New York City, and, well, almost anyone could think twice. But that hasn’t stopped coffee industry veterans Shriver Tran and Jaime Hodgkin, whose enterprising café and natural wine bar, High Low, opened in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood on May 18, 2020. , just as the pandemic was starting to rock the city.
In New York City, the effects of the pandemic began with partial capacity until March 20, when the city ordered the shutdown of non-essential businesses. Food service was allowed to continue, with entrepreneurs Tran and Hodgkin supplying their neighborhood with bottles of wine, craft beer, coffee and South Asian-inspired pastries. These were long days for the owners, without much outside help; they pour your drinks, brew your coffee, cook the food and bake the pastries. You might find one or both at the store every day of 2020.
Bushwick is full of exemplary natural wine stores like Foret, Henry’s and Irving Bottle, and High Low has found its place – and successfully – in an already crowded market by keeping a much smaller and very neat bottle list. There weren’t any “bad” bottles here. The wine offerings are led by Hodgkin, a titular beverage professional with evident passion, who treats every bottle sold with care and attention. I once walked in to find a bottle of Ruth Lewandowski’s Feints, a wine I’ve always had trouble finding, sitting there like a regular bottle.
As the pandemic progressed into the summer and the number of COVID cases was highest, the cafe persevered to debut with Sey Coffee, served on an AV ABR Modbar, and provided bottled cocktails. The staggering 16 faucets behind the bar remained intact until July, when Brooklyn regulations were adjusted and allowed businesses to build seats in the parking spots in front of their businesses. That inch of wiggle room came with the requirement to serve food with alcohol. This pivot gave Tran’s vision for modern Vietnamese a chance to shine, with dishes including clam dip and beef jerky alongside organic appetizers like Faccia Brutto’s Amaro Gorini.
In October 2020, the COVID positivity rate reached 5%, which threatened the progress of the reopening. The reopening of stage 4 meant the return of gymnasiums and museums. The New York governor’s office rejected Mayor Deblasio’s offer to shut down non-essential business again, just in time for Tran’s mother from Sacramento, Calif., To visit and host a pop-up pho party in the city. ‘High Low backyard. Warming pho, a vegan version of Bum Bo Hue Chay, and snacks like egg rolls were served with crunchy natural wines including Pretty in Pink from Co Cellars. Tran’s mother’s food was a hit; the pop-up extended his residency by nearly three months.
Finally, over a year after their initial opening, New York City lifted the state of emergency on June 15 and High Low Beverage Company began serving guests indoors for the very first time. They opened with five cocktails, 12 beers and four non-alcoholic offerings. The excitement and joy of the reopening also came from a drastic change in policy: New York businesses were given 24 hours’ notice to stop their alcohol programs. Restaurants and bars across town were saddled with thousands of dollars in unsold wine. For High Low, that meant cases and cases of wine were on their way and distributors said it was too late to cancel the order.
Natural wine bars in Bushwick aren’t hard to find: you can find a favorite like Claus Presinger’s Puszta Libra at the new The Ten Bells and Momento Mori’s Brutal at Ops less than a mile away. But High Low is considered a favorite among industry insiders because of its sense of connection: closer to the spirit behind these wines, to moms traveling the country for their children, and to taste makers like Hodgkin and Tran. . If you sit at High Low long enough, you’ll see friends from Sey Coffee, Stumptown Coffee, Variety Coffee, and Daughter drop by after their shifts for a hello and a drink.
More recently, New York regulations backtracked: From August 16, indoor dining will be limited to fully vaccinated guests or negative tests will be required. For High Low, that means they need to verify a paper record of their vaccine, the Excelsior Pass, or verification through the NYC Safe app. You never get bored at this little Brooklyn coffee and wine bar, where the ups are high and the lows are low. It’s High Low for you.
Kathy Altamirano is a coffee professional and freelance journalist based in New York City. This is Kathy Altamirano’s feature debut for Sprudge.