Well-traveled Hell’s Kitchen friends are bringing global flavors and local passion to The Purple Tongue — a new West Side wine bar where they hope to spread the same communal, neighborhood ambiance that brought them together.
The restaurant, which opened recently under Manhattan Plaza in the space formerly occupied by Adella, is the creation of locals Otis Banks, Peter Cecere, Marni Halasa and manager Chloe Rizzo, previously of Boca di Bacco. The name comes from a cheeky reference to drinking a bit too much wine — though Peter promised, “You won’t get a purple tongue at The Purple Tongue, that only happens with cheap wine!” — and from the group’s love of the giraffe.
“My daughter was helping me come up with a name for the restaurant,” explained Peter, “and after I told her what I envisioned about creating a place centered around community, she came up with a giraffe — not only because it has a purple tongue, but because it’s a friendly, communal animal.”
The restaurant offers everything from freshly baked pastries for breakfast to slow-cooked short ribs for dinner and is focused on providing patrons with a rich palate of global flavors, stemming from Otis and Peter’s experiences living and traveling abroad in Berlin, London, Hong Kong and Vietnam. Their recipes are constantly evolving, and are “a roadmap of our experiences living and eating around the world,” said Peter, a regular traveler who used to have marketing offices in Hong Kong and throughout Southeast Asia. He recalled “a Chinese restaurant I always used to go to when I stayed there for business. One night I asked them, ‘Would you teach me how to make this dish?’ I got my first impromptu cooking lesson, and I started asking the same question at restaurants around the world.”
The wine program features varieties from small-batch global makers, offered by the glass, bottle and soon, curated wine flights for patrons to find their new favorite vino. For those who don’t know where to start, The Purple Tongue hosts regular “Sip and Learn” nights where guests can enjoy a laid-back evening of wine education from makers (a recent “Sip and Learn” event featured women winemakers and the group plans to shine a spotlight on underrepresented winemakers).
They’re also rolling out a daily happy hour from 4-7pm, a rice-wine shōchū cocktail program pioneered by Chloe and regular live jazz nights featuring performances from Manhattan Plaza musicians.
“We want to make this a home for Manhattan Plaza singers and jazz musicians,” said Marni. “We love having local artists play here and want to employ the artists that live in these buildings.” The local economic support also extends to the restaurant’s stylish dining room, where a gallery of paintings by local artist Ned Martin and a handcrafted purple giraffe by a Manhattan Plaza artist adorn the intimate, thoughtfully designed space intended to take hungry Hell’s Kitchen residents from a business breakfast meeting all the way to late-night wine and jazz.
If the team at The Purple Tongue know what locals want out of their neighborhood wine bar, it’s because they met at one very similar establishment. Otis, a global talent manager for CitiBank, and Peter, a marketer and proprietor of the late, great Red Eye Coffee on 9th Ave and W34th Street, met 11 years ago at local haunt Wine Escape (405 W44th Street bw 9/10th Ave). “We immediately hit it off as friends,” said Otis.
While both were busy traveling for their respective careers, they would regularly float the idea of one day going into business together. “I’ve always been involved in hospitality,” said Otis, who currently manages large-scale hospitality events for Citi talent from around the world. “I even used to work for the Spirit of New York in the 90s. I love people,” he added. “I’ve always wanted to run a wine and tapas bar, because I really believe in the idea of breaking bread with people that you want to get to know or already know. The beauty of having a meal with someone is that it’s a great connector.”
Peter, already enthused by the loyal community he and wife Marni had built at Red Eye Coffee, hoped to open a wine bar where he could also serve Red Eye Coffee before cocktail hour. “I initially got the idea for The Purple Tongue in 2017 — and filed paperwork for a space at W33rd and 9th Avenue, but it fell through,” he said. He then decided to take the concept on the road and open in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam in early 2020, but the pandemic waylaid the project.
Meanwhile, Otis had decamped to Palm Springs after a long quarantine and was considering relocating and opening a restaurant out West, “but Peter said to me, ‘What the hell are you doing? You’re never going to leave New York!’ And he was right,” laughed Otis.
The two friends launched into finding a Hell’s Kitchen space, combing through their extensive knowledge of wine bars and meet up spots to eventually settle on the shuttered Adella. “It was a real synergy for us,” said Otis. “We have both been to Adella plenty of times, and even before I lived in New York, I used to come here when it was called Good and Plenty. I used to fly in from Norfolk, Virginia to see Broadway matinees and my first stop was always Good and Plenty to visit the owner Eileen and have a ham sandwich.”
Throughout the long development and opening process, they’ve looked forward to opening in Hell’s Kitchen, and the restaurant’s location between small, local spots and the bright lights of Broadway is meant to bring longtime New Yorkers and global visitors together. “It’s the beauty of being in New York,” said Peter. “You feel at times that you’re leaving the city just by meeting new people that are coming in from somewhere else — and you never have to leave your own establishment. One night we were sitting here at the bar and between everyone at the bar, tables and the staff working here, I think we had a combination of at least 11 different countries represented.”
Marni added that at a recent jazz night, not only did local musicians, previously strangers, spontaneously join in collaboration, but patrons started conversations with other tables with abandon. “That was the night where I realized The Purple Tongue had found its identity,” said Marni.
“The Purple Tongue is all about what we’ve come to love from around the world, and bringing that back to Hell’s Kitchen after COVID and people being in their cocoons for such a long time — it gives you something to look forward to,” said Otis. “We’re hearing great word of mouth already, and it’s because when you’re here for drinks or dinner or you’re here for the music — you’ll see that your senses are all being tapped into at once.”
The Purple Tongue is located at 410 W43rd Street between 9/10th Avenue and is open every day for breakfast and lunch from 8:30am-3pm and from 4pm for dinner.