The Great Barry Wine

As an early twenty-something, night school college student at The Fashion Institute of Technology back in 2007, I was already well on my way to jadedness. Still hopeful about my future and potential prospects, I was otherwise bored to death about most things. The people in my circle were mostly starting to seem like clones of one another and the diameter of that circle showed no signs of radical expansion.

It was the beginning of my fall semester and I, an Advertising and Marketing major, walked into my branding 101 class at 6:00pm on a Thursday evening, tired from working all day and praying the professor knew more than I did, or was at least entertaining enough to keep me awake until 8:30pm.

There, in this class of mostly other twenty-somethings sat this older gentleman with all white hair tossed and curled, wearing all black accented by dark violet low-top Dr. Martens. I thought to myself “that’s unusual, oh well maybe he’s observing the class or getting a degree late in life”, I turned my attention away and carried on with trying to stay alert. The professor, about whom I remember no details at all, came in, explained the basics of something I’d been doing professionally for two years at that point and I struggled to look interested until 8:30.

Fast forward to two weeks later and that older gentleman is still in the class. I noticed but wasn’t shocked as it seemed to affirm that he was probably pursuing a degree and not a member of the administration observing our professor’s performance. The professor announced that there would be a group project and he will be assigning us to teams. “Great!” I thought, “just what I fucking need, a night school group project to work on after an 8-hour work day”. The professor assigned four people to each group except there was an odd number of people so our group got five; the odd man in was none other than the older gentleman I’d wondered about. He introduced himself as Barry Wine and after an awkward assigning of roles, we all began to discuss ideas. I don’t remember the project and it’s not really important but what was interesting is that all the ideas that Barry kept offering were completely unlike the run of the mill ideas that we were passing around. Everything was just a bit more wild and unconventional and I kept thinking “how does his brain even think of these things?”.

At the end of the class I walked up to Barry and said “I don’t mean to pry but I’m just really curious; are you pursuing a degree? Why are you in this class? He replied “Oh, oh no, I’m just trying to learn a little more about branding so I’m taking this class”. “Ah” I replied, “I totally get it, that’s cool. Can I ask what you do?”. Barry looked me in my eyes and with a soft smile he said “when you get home tonight, Google me”. My bottom lip slightly dropped in a bit of shock and I said “oh, okay, yeah, i’ll um do that” and we walked out of class and parted ways.

So, I Googled him, anxiously anticipating what I might find that would elicit such a mysterious invitation from the white haired man in my branding class. Up came article after article from the New York Times to Town & Country magazine profiling Barry Wine as a legend and icon of the restaurant and food business. These articles were discussing his apparently extraordinarily influential restaurant, The Quilted Giraffe which shuttered its doors in the early 90’s. Barry and his restaurant were lauded as beacons of the food business and the NYT even profiled his homes in Upstate New York. I couldn’t believe what I was reading in part because of how I came to find the information and second because I was a major foodie and this guy knows and loves food at the highest level, it was fascinating.

The next week, after class was over, I went back to Barry and said “so I Googled you”, Barry with that same soft smile replied “Oh yea?”. I told him all the things I found and that I had one-million questions. He laughed and said “why don’t we go grab a drink and I’ll tell you all about it”. We walked out of the building and Barry suggested we go to his place as he lived nearby in Chelsea. I was a bit reluctant because I didn’t know him and it was Chelsea after-all so this could end poorly but, it was raining and I oddly trusted him. I was not prepared for what I was about to see.

We walked a few blocks south and a few blocks west to this massive luxury building complex which was impressive enough on its own. We walked in, Barry being greeted enthusiastically by the doorman, we got into the gold plated elevator and Barry hit “PH” and we zoomed to the top floor. Okay, now my expectations were set for some fancy smancy, luxurious penthouse apartment but as we turned the key to his apartment, that’s not quite what I saw. As I entered into what was essentially a large studio apartment house sitting on the roof of this building, my jaw became permanently locked in the open position and my eyes began moving around my eye sockets in a wonderment I’m not sure Disney could provoke.

I didn’t know where to look first. There were paintings and art everywhere, naked mannequins draped in wire and bejeweled with trinkets and his handmade jewelry. There were mannequins everywhere, on the floor, the walls and even hanging from the ceiling. There were mirrors smeared with graphic notes written in lipstick, very expensive classic mid-century furniture adorned with wild fabrics in colors of chartreuse and violet. Everything seemed expensive and nothing seemed pampered, this place was lived in. Everything was random and not random all at the same time, curated is not even the word. There were books, oh boy were there books. There were books on top of books, organized in the most eccentric of ways, Barry’s face even appeared on the spines of a sequence of books. There was color and light, glimmer and sparkle, texture and depth everywhere I looked. His bed rested in the center of the apartment on a platform made from Japanese bento boxes he kept from his restaurant. I mean, who would think to save something like that and then use it for this purpose?

My eyes couldn’t find a resting place no matter where I turned and I didn’t want them to. Every step deeper into this magical space revealed some eye candy, brain candy, questions upon questions rushed into my brain, pushing out the last ten questions about the last ten things. This place looked like the inside of Barry’s brain and I hadn’t even seen the giant wrap-around roof terrace yet. I probably spent the first 15 minutes in his home roaming about without uttering a single word.

Barry offered me a drink and I needed one. We sat down like we were old friends and I basically said “start from the beginning”. This began the most interesting friendship with a man, I learned to admire and respect and who has done more to inspire me creatively than any other single entity I can distinguish, including the eight years I’d spent in art schools. Over the next few years, I experienced wild parties with captains of industries, experimental projects together and fantastic dinners. Barry was my pal, I was in awe of him.

To give you another quick example of the depth of this guy’s reach, FIT was honoring the work of the legendary David Rockwell of the Rockwell Group during a large evening ceremony one night. I left school that night and texted Barry to see what he was up to and he replied “come over, I’m having a party”. When I arrived, I emerged into a packed house with gorgeous models serving food from trays and I walked on to Barry’s terrace to find David Rockwell himself grilling exotic mushrooms over charcoal. This was the kind of thing that happened all the time!

Fast forward to today and Barry is no less the creative genius he was more than 10 years ago. His homes have gone through changes as the inside of his brain shifts from idea to idea. He has given up the additional studio space on the first floor of his building he used to take the overflow of his handmade jewelry work and provide him space for his larger than life paintings, sculptures and art installations.

Barry is really like no other, his home is a living, breathing organism that changes constantly as it is a direct reflection of the right side of Barry’s brain. He’s a lawyer, turned chef, turned painter, sculptor, mixed media artist, turned jewelry maker and that’s just what I know of at the time of this article. Barry defines reinvention. Between his home and office you will find some of his most radical creations from abstract paintings to wild and unconventional jewelry to massive sculptures made to symbolize the “notorious Russia pee-pee tape”. This is a glimpse into his rooftop home and his ground level office/studio although we could not possibly capture all there is to show you in this post.

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