Most bars in New York won’t even let you near their olives (fine, we’ll stop asking), much less a weapon that could inflict serious damage in the hands of the unskilled. But Long Island City’s The Baroness, a relative newcomer to the nightlife-devoid blocks surrounding Queensboro Plaza, has introduced NYC to the art of sabrage, or wielding a sword to lop the cork off a champagne bottle and look impossibly cool while doing it. That’s right, The Baroness not only keeps a weapon in the bar—it encourages you to try your hand at it.
Owner Mélanie Lemieux, a trained sommelier and Long Island City resident, noticed the lack of nightlife options within a ten-minute walking distance from Queensboro and set to remedy this dearth in quality watering holes. She and husband Kyle Radzyminski opened The Baroness on Crescent Street in November, stocking the wine list with bottles to represent the major wine-producing regions of the world, in a range of price points. While wine bars can be notoriously stuffy, the duo decided to keep the vibe of the wine-and-beer-only hangout decidedly laidback.
“Once we opened, I wanted something really casual,” says Lemieux. “We’re trying to do basically a second living room for residents around the area.” This home-away-from-home features a dark wood bar and shelving crafted from reclaimed materials, plenty of candlelight and low lighting, and a portrait of Lemieux’s great-great grandmother, a French baroness in the early 1800’s, restored in color through the magic of Photoshop.
Lemieux also throws back to her roots with one of the bar’s most unique selling points: sabrage. “It’s a very French tradition,” she says. “Napolean was very fond of that. It was a way of celebrating.” To slice the top off their purchased champagne bottles, brave partakers are given roughly three tries, to reduce the risk of the glass shattering and ruining the bottle (“sacrilege,” says Lemieux). And yes, it has to be champagne: not only does the French tradition call for French bubbly, but the actual craftsmanship of champagne bottles make them ideal for being on the losing end of a sword fight.
To use your three attempts wisely (after signing a waiver, of course), it’s time to get in fighting form. “Basically, they way I describe it to people that seems to work a little better is, I tell them they have to punch someone,” Lemieux says. “You have to be careful that people don’t try to kill it. Just punch it a little. Like you’re angry, but not too angry.”
So far, those looking to sip some bubbly (or at least blow off of a little steam) have ranged from birthday groups of 20 slicing open a few bottles to a local couple that rushed in right at opening to get their hands on a bottle of their own. One couple even drove up from Staten Island just to sabrage a bottle, before hopping right back in the car and driving home.
And while the sabrage may get all the hullabaloo, The Baroness has offerings for those that get a little clumsy around sharp objects. The open kitchen slings out artisan cheese and meats as well as crispy flatbreads, including a rotating weekly special ranging from a flatbread version of the Cuban sandwich to the cheekily named Rabe Lowe, with broccoli rabe, rabe pesto, copa, tomato, and Romano cheese.
Further cementing its status as your second living room, The Baroness also hosts Sunday movie nights using a screen projector in the back. Less like your own apartment is the newly introduced Wednesday night Broadway-style karaoke, hosted by actual Broadway alums and featuring piano accompaniment. Another thing you probably don’t have? Bacon bowls (literally, bowls made of bacon), which will be just one of the selections on the brunch menu when it starts up on January 25, along with unlimited mimosas or sangria for an hour (or two, if the bar is feeling generous). But Lemieux’s always willing to try something knew, even when it comes to messing with people’s go-to vino.
“I feel like we sell too much of the chardonnay, because I feel like some people are afraid of trying new stuff,” says Lemieux. “So I’m getting rid of the Chardonnay. I think people need to learn new styles. There’s so many great options out there.”