Veloce Club,17 Cleveland Pl, at Kenmare St. Rating: 4 Ls
The original location of Bar Veloce, a sleek Italian panini-and-wine bar in the East Village, is a touch cramped, but in that “oh well, it’s an East Village bar” kind of way — you don’t mind bumping your neighbor’s stool because your neighbor’s kind of cute and it’s a pretty good entré into conversation anyway. A second location in Chelsea kept the same menu but smartly added a bit of legroom. The third incarnation has had a curious history: it opened in Soho a few years back, but closed soon after. The owners retained the lease and a couple of restaurants occupied the tiny half-lot space before Bar Veloce moved back in around early 2008. A year of reshuffling and redesign later, it has reopened as Veloce Club.
The concept and menu are mostly intact, but it’s certainly the sexiest Veloce to date: dimly lit, making ample use of black leather, and under the seductive gaze of a rougey portrait of George Washington (is anything hotter than a Founding Father?). The original bar, which once stretched the whole space, has been halved to make way for banquettes. But the wee space is easier to take when seated at the bar — the front of the room just makes any feelings of claustrophobia more vivid. The banquettes are uncomfortable and too close to those on the opposite wall. One feels a bit exposed.
The wine list is commensurate with the size of Veloce Club. It’s limited to a couple dozen varieties available by the bottle, half-bottle and glass, with most glasses hovering around $10 and bottles averaging $60. The cocktail list is all Italy: the Manhattan ($12) is made with Punt e Mes and two drinks feature the house specialty, the grappa-lite Veloce Liquore. Other Italian standbys round out the menu, like an Aperol Spritz and what might be the best Bellini I’ve had in New York — they wisely use a super-fresh white peach puree when most lounges phone it in with bitter, bottled juice.
A brief menu of spuntini, panini and desserts are unadventurous but wholly satisfying — a salty prosciutto plate is just the thing to cut through a syrupy cocktail, and a dish of marinated olives is perfect to nosh on between sips of Prosecco.
Veloce is in equally cramped company: on the same block, La Esquina’s street-level counter packs ‘em in tight for tacos and Ed’s Lobster Bar serves up stone crab in a narrow space. If there’s anything Manhattanites are good at, it’s making do with small spaces (is it any wonder we fetishize the Container Store?). And Veloce Club mostly succeeds at that — cramming an excellent selection of liquors and wines and comestibles into a tiny area with panache and impeccable service.