Wassail Cider Bar Closes on Orchard Street After Three Years

Image from Wassail's Facebook page.

Image from Wassail’s Facebook page.

The Orchard Street restaurant and cider bar, Wassail, closed its doors at 162 Orchard St. for the last time just before the new year. Now the owners, Ben Sandler and Jennifer Lim, have posted a farewell message on their social media channels and website.

Here’s what they had to say:

We opened Wassail in spring of 2015 with the goal of sharing a beautiful thing that we love, made by people we admire immensely. We wanted to open peoples’ minds with the range of cider to be had, and to bring fine cider into the mainstream. It was New York City’s first dedicated cider bar, serving fine vegetarian fare in the Lower East Side. What could be more unconventional and ambitious? We are immensely proud of what we were able to accomplish in our period of focus. It will be a lifetime of self-reflection for us to determine what we could have done differently to achieve sustainability; Wassail’s last day was December 30, 2017. It has been our honor and privilege to have met so many of you, and to have shared our excitement with you.
Given its unique concept, Wassail attracted quite a bit of media coverage when it opened three years ago. The owners had done well with another restaurant, Queens Quickshaw, in Astoria. So they weren’t novices in the food service industry. In a February 2015 interview, they talked with Eater about the reasons for choosing the Lower East Side for the cider bar concept. Sandler said at the time:
Since it’s the first cider bar in New York, we wanted it to be iconic in some way, and really relate to the neighborhood. We started with the places that we related to really well, because a business is an expression of who you are. Jen and I, when we first moved to the city in 2005, lived about five blocks away from here. It was the first neighborhood we lived in in New York. Our partner, Sabine, has also lived in the LES. So we all felt a strong, personal connection to this neighborhood more than any other. That was a big factor. You also have to look at where a place like this will be successful — things like foot traffic, hotels, and density of residents all have to be considered. The good thing about the LES is that of New York passes through this neighborhood at some point.

Wassail was located on Orchard Street, in the middle of the block between Stanton and Rivington streets. It’s true that several new hotels are nearby. But foot traffic? As many restaurant operators found out before the Wassail crew, the nighttime crowds in the area (“Hell Square”) are primarily interested in drinking cheap beer and “drunk food.” The big sports bar, Hair of the Dog, is located just a few doors away. There are exceptions (Contra, Wildair, etc.) But as a general rule, this part of the neighborhood is inhospitable to elevated restaurant concepts.

Several potential operators have considered taking over the Wassail space, but nothing has come to fruition. It’s a big space, about 2,000 square feet, plus a full basement.