Keuka Café in Forest Hills brings a new wine culture to Queens Blvd… Yes, Queens Blvd.
Before Astoria was trendy… before Long Island City had its first luxury high-rise condos, Forest Hills was Queens’ go-to place for the best restaurants, drinking spots, and nightlife in the area. The traditional point of interest of Forest Hills culinary culture along Austin St. around LIRR and subway stations, even though Metropolitan Ave. Queens Blvd. never been a social destination, more known as a major traffic artery than the rest. Nonetheless, the boulevard now boasts a small wine bar that has grown in popularity amongst locals since opening its doors, bottles and taps more than a year and a half ago.
Keuka Kafe opened in February 2013, filling a local void noticed by the owner, Ollie Sakhno, who has lived in the neighborhood for several years. “Before we opened, this stretch of Queens Blvd. not have a legal ‘watering hole’ for several blocks,” he explained. “People didn’t want to walk far to get to a neighborhood bar, and before Keuka Kafe, they really had to.”
Located on Queens Blvd. between 76th Ave. and 75th Rd., Keuka Kafe is convenient for all transportation making it an ideal destination for people nearby or elsewhere in the city.
Of course, setting up a neighborhood bar is just a small part of Ollie’s endeavors. The Keuka Café concept introduces another feature that’s missing not only in Forest Hills, but in all of Queens. “My wife and I fell in love with the wines of the Finger Lakes region during a visit to Lake Placid a few years ago,” he explains. “This wine is underrepresented in Queens, and I wanted to introduce it to Forest Hills when I opened Keuka Café.”
He’s right. Finger Lakes wines are difficult, if not impossible to find anywhere in the region besides Keuka Café, where about 40 percent of the wine stock comes from New York State (mainly Finger Lakes with some Long Island representation as well). The Finger Lakes vibe is so prominent here that the name of the wine bar itself comes from the northern part of Keuka Lake. Besides New York wines, another 60 percent of the bar’s stock is international and domestic, driven by quality over regional representation.
“I choose wines based on value and quality,” says Ollie. “Finger Lakes wines represent an incredible selection, but I’m very selective about my wine selection. They must be of the highest quality for me to serve them here.” Keuka Kafe hosts a wine tasting on average once a month complete with cheese and meat spreads. Most often the featured wines conform to the bar’s emphasis on New York State vineyards, even though other wines are every now and then brought in.
Keuka Kafe is more than simply a Wine Bar. Small plate menu, meats, cheeses, oysters, etc. This is what Ollie characterizes as “wine bar fare.” What he meant by that was that the food served at the bar was chosen to complement the wines, even although he acknowledged customer demands in the formation of the menu and the selection of wines. “For example, when we first opened, we didn’t have port wine,” he recalls. “People keep asking us if we are carrying port. Now we have four types of port wine available.”
While its main focus is wine, Keuka Kafe also has a selection of bottled and tap beers. “We regularly rotate our selection of tap beers every ten days or so,” adds Ollie. The most featured brews represent NYC and regional breweries following the bar’s emphasis on local business and quality produce. When one selected beer runs out, it is replaced with a new beer, not just refilled. “Our beer following is always fresh,” he smiles.
The menu at Keuka Kafe is designed to complement the wines with dishes named for the northern lake and native Forest Hills landmarks and streets.
While the blade is not overly large, it’s not uncomfortably small and very inviting either. The atmosphere, according to Ollie, is “old school charm, mixed with new world design”. The evening crowd is full of regulars and newcomers, but it is at all times busy. Apart from wine tasting, Keuka Kafe doesn’t have many special events such as karaoke or trivia nights to attract customers. This is a neighborhood place, and folks come from the neighborhood. “We weren’t busy because there was karaoke night,” says Ollie’s wife, Olga. “We are busy because we are open.”
That’s not to say that the bar does not have a following. Keuka Kafe has received a number of positive reviews in the media including Edible queenThat Daily NewsThat Wall Street Journal and even the NYC Tourism Board, amongst others.
The local bar aspect is accentuated by its proximity to 75th Ave. subway station. (E and F trains) only a few steps from Keuka Kafe. Locals come from their jobs or other activities in Manhattan and stop by for a wine or beer and a bite to eat.
If you are ever in Forest Hills, away from the center of attraction on Continental Ave., Austin St. or Metropolitan Ave. take a walk to Keuka Café on Queens Blvd. The bar is located at 112-04 Queens Blvd, Forest Hills, NY 11375. Tel: (718) 880-1478 or online at: www.keukakafe.com