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.

Life is Good in Brooklyn

I’m a lucky guy. I get to share with you a little story about my friend Peter Levinson and his lovely wife Robbin. Their story takes place on a fairly quiet street a few steps away from an even quieter cemetery in the Windsor Terrace section of Brooklyn, NY. Their home is a red-bricked row home adorned with beautifully weathered cerulean wooden garage doors and charming yet distinguishing blue and white striped retractable window awnings.

Here in this home live two people who have not only been life mentors but design mentors as well. I owe this entire site to Peter as he has single-handedly helped to develop my understanding and appreciation for all things design. Without him, I might not know Bob’s Furniture from Le Corbusier or Helvetica from Times New Roman; this is the crux of the very special gift that Peter has bestowed upon me. I met Peter seventeen years ago and he became a key component to making me who I am today.

While in my sophomore year at the High School of Art & Design in 2004, my school partnered with software developer Adobe and the American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA) to create the Adobe/AIGA mentoring program. The goal was to partner a select group of high school arts students with mentors who were working in the field they aspired to work in. At the time, I had dreams of becoming a prolific graphic designer and so I was paired with Peter Levinson who had been running his own graphic design agency out of his Brooklyn home for about fifteen years. Admittedly, as a seventeen-year-old kid from Queens, I had no idea what I was going to talk about or do with a 40 something year-old man with a wife and kid. Surely, he felt the same way when learning of our pairing. Little did we both know that our pairing would continue on for the next seventeen years of our lives and have an exponential impact on my life.

We began to meet once a week, after school, for lunch or coffee and we’d just walk and talk. I talked about me, he talked about him, I asked a lot of questions about his job, art and design and he did his best to cultivate meaningful answers. We went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Guggenheim, The MOMA and most importantly The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in which I later became very involved.

I had my first Polish meal with Peter at Neptune, my first cappuccino at Café Reggio, and my first cold hot chocolate at De Roberti’s in the East Village. I loved the village and on our many after school treks around town, we would often start there and begin what was essentially neighborhood walking tours. While we walked and talked, Peter would point out interesting New York architecture, funky typefaces on old signs, and local institutions like the New York Central Art Supply store that had been in business for decades. We would sometimes duck into furniture stores where my eyes would light up as he enlightened me on Eames chairs, Nelson clocks, and Noguchi tables and lamps. He exposed me to a world I instantly connected with and not only opened my eyes but, changed my eyes. I’ve never looked at any physical form the same since.

Peter and Robbin’s Brooklyn abode effortlessly reflects an easy, quiet and non-conformist artsy of a laid-back Brooklyn family with a truly developed style. The space has air as well as an air. I describe it as quiet artful non-fuss elegance, Robbin describes it as “a reaction against French Provincial furnishings!”

Strings Attached 

“A wonderful soundtrack for their lives.”

Peter and Robbin are a musical pair. Robbin fiddled with the mandolin for awhile, while Peter gets on with his guitars. Their son Matt is quite musical as well, which makes them quite the musical family. Throughout their home, the sound of the guitar adds a wonderful soundtrack to their lives..

“A seal about sea and a dog about land.”

Selkie is the Orcadian dialect word for “seal” and is rooted in Orkney Folklore about mythical creatures that appear to be seals in water but take a human form on land. Selkie’s smooth somewhat iridescent fur is indeed seal-like making it quite probable that she is a seal about sea and a dog about land.

Kitchen Blues…

The very vintage kitchen is a mix of charm, color, history and old plumbing for the family and so, it’s slated to be renovated in the near future. I will personally miss this staple blue hued cove of culinary development.

Bed, Bath and Beyond

Sleeping above your office is surely the way to the top!

The second level of the home is an amplified minimalism where the functions of sleeping, cleansing and separating from others take center stage. A vintage bathroom with a very necessary skylight and an uber retro shower “room” continue the flow of charm.

A Brooklyn Botanical Backyard

An organic source of pride and joy for Peter and Robbin is their backyard garden. Evidence of their shared love for horticulture grows green right out of the ground in the form of Ferns, Grasses, Hollyhocks and Joe-Pye weed among others. The garden reflects the purposeful minimalism seen in the interior; manicured but not overly so. It’s a great spot to catch some rays, play some chords, sip some tea and breathe some air.

And The Living’s Easy…

Peter and Robbin are great examples of how style is your own, style is developed and how style can be easy when you have a partner that fits your style. I continue to learn a great deal from these two as my phone calls never go unanswered and my questions never go undiscussed. Being a mentor is about being there for someone, providing guidance and example. Peter has done this and so much more over the years and continues to remind me that life isn’t easy but life is good!

The End.