A Wine Lover’s Tour of the Met Museum

It’s easy to understand why the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a world-renowned cultural destination. Home to works of art spanning more traditions and time periods than you can imagine, there is something for everyone. Fans of Egyptian art can head to the Temple of Dendur. Impressionist lovers will be entertained for hours in the European Paintings wing. And for those whose cultural passions tend more toward a rare bottle of Burgundy than a priceless piece of art — believe it or not, the Met has something for you as well. Something besides the rooftop bar, that is.

Yes, that’s right. While you may not think of the Met as an oenophile’s dream, it is a treasure trove of pieces that pay homage to the grape-based beverage. And that more than makes for a fun afternoon, even for wine lovers who may not appreciate art in quite the same way. Today I’m thrilled to guide you through some of the museum’s best wine-themed pieces, along with some neighborhood spots inspired by them where you can enjoy a real-life glass of your favorite red, white, or sparkling afterward.

The Head of Dionysos (Gallery 236)

There’s no better way to start a wine-themed art crawl than by paying homage to Dionysos, the Greek god of Wine and Divine Intoxication. So, when you arrive, head immediately over to the Asian Arts wing and look for the sculpture of his head. If you’re not sure how to identify it, it’s the one with grape leaves in the hair. Naturally.

Of course, a god-inspired piece of art deserves a god-inspired wine bar afterward. And while Eli Zabar is not a god of the classical Greek variety, he is considered by many to be the god of the quintessential New York brunch. He also happens to have an evening spot called Eli’s Essentials and Wine Bar not too far from the museum. It’s the perfect way to end the day if you are looking for a classic.

Still Life with Apples and Pitcher (Gallery 820)

I love still life paintings, so a still life that also features a glass of wine feels downright indulgent. Even if you’re not as enamored with still life paintings as I am though, you will still appreciate the beauty of this piece by Camille Pissarro. It screams — or rather, whispers, “quiet Saturday afternoon with a glass of wine overlooking the garden.” Just looking at it will make you feel calm. If you need additional incentive, it’s also one of the few still life paintings done by the artist.

For those who want to carry the calmness over to happy hour, head to Heidi’s House by the Side of the Road. Inspired by a poem of the same name (minus the Heidi), it’s one of those rare bars in New York that actually has an intimate, small neighborhood feel.

The Vine (Gallery 700)

This sculpture by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth is the most creative tribute to wine on the list. While at first glance it may appear to be nothing more than a woman holding foliage in an impressively elegant manner, upon closer look you’ll see that her elongated body resembles a grapevine working its way toward the sky. That also happens to be what she’s holding. It’s so meta it will blow your mind.

To keep the meta experience going after the museum, head to Pil Pil, a Spanish wine bar with a ceiling that is covered in — yep, you guessed it — vines. Order some tapas and Rioja when you get there. You won’t be disappointed.

Wine Vessels (Gallery 207)

It’s important for oenophiles to appreciate the history of wine-drinking as much as present-day viticulture. And there’s no better place to do that than Arts of Ancient China, where you’ll find wine vessels dating as far back as the 13th Century B.C. Like many wine containers over the years, the vessels served a practical function — serving wine (in this case to the wealthy). They were also used in burial rituals, however. Indeed, the ancient Chinese thought it was just as important to enjoy wine in the afterlife.

While the modern wealthy don’t drink out of bronze vessels, they have been known to frequent fancy bars, and there is no shortage of them near the Met. If you’re inspired to grab a drink somewhere nice, head to Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel.

The Intoxication of Wine (Gallery 552)

Finally, this sculpture by Clodion captures so well the pure joy that comes from being perfectly intoxicated. Carefree and affectionate, the two figures are having the kind of fun we all endeavor to have every time we pick up a bottle of wine.

If you’re in the mood for something equally fun after your art tour, head to The Penrose. While it’s not a wine bar, they do serve an impressive selection of wines by the glass and bottle. And it’s lively without feeling like a college frat party, especially if you go in the afternoon or early evening.


Photo by Ralph Hockens

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