Inside Air’s Champagne Parlor in New York City you’ll find something surprisingly special lining the walls of the bathroom.
I don’t typically tell people to check out the bathroom of a new bar. It’s not exactly the most normal (or cool) way to recommend something I’m excited about. But I really can’t help myself when it comes to in New York City.
Running up the stairs from the bathroom on my first visit, I went over to Ariel Arce, the sommelier behind Air’s, and very enthusiastically told her, the person who came up with the idea for this, “You have in the bathroom!”
For the uninitiated, Drops of God is a manga, or Japanese-style comic series. It’s about a Japanese beer salesman who finds out in his estranged father’s will that, in order to inherit the estate of his father (a renowned wine critic with a vast collection), he must correctly identify and describe 13 iconic wines. The series captured the experience of drinking wine in a smart and fun way and became a huge hit not only in Japan but worldwide. And thanks to a somewhat steady English translation (some volumes haven't been translated), I got very into Drops of God—and so did Arce.
She first discovered it a few years ago at , a wine producer who creates “underground, high-end Champagnes made from only one vintage from one terroir from one grape,” as she describes. It happened to be featured in Drops of God, so someone sent the salon the pages where they were featured and it landed in Arce's hands during a visit.
“When I got it, I was like, ‘This is the coolest thing ever. I have to get this,” she says.
As she was opening Air’s, Arce instantly knew what she wanted to do with the bathroom of her bubbles-focused bar: wallpaper it with Drops of God. Growing up in a family who loved celebrating everything, she was surrounded by bubbly. But it wasn’t until she was working at The Office under chef Grant Achatz, that her love for Champagne bloomed.
“I tasted my first insane Champagne Krug, and that was it for me,” says Arce.
She went on to work at Pops, a bubbles-focused bar in the Chicago, then moved to New York City to open Birds & Bubbles, the Riddling Widow, Air’s Champagne Parlor, complete with a manga-ified bathroom, and, next month, a Japanese-style listening room and sake bar underneath Air's. Arce ordered all four translated English volumes of Drops of God, but soon realized the parts mentioning Champagne had somehow been edited out. So, she went down an internet researching rabbit hole to figure out which volumes in Japanese included them, tracked them down on eBay and spackled them alongside the English spreads on the walls. And on top of the toilet, there’s a stack of the English copies for reading. Clearly, it was quite the ordeal to make Drops of God, the bathroom edition, a reality, but for Arce, it was worth it.
“The beauty of this series is this guy who doesn’t know anything about wine and is thrust into this world of wine,” she says. “The books are so good at conveying that emotional connection to wine.”
And like me, other people, point out the walls to her, too.
“They’re like, ‘Oh my god, Drops of God,’ and there are some people who come in and say that it’s funny,” says Arce. “You can look at that wall in the bathroom and, if you’re really knowledgeable about wine, find bottles that are really rare and special in those pages or, if you don’t know anything about wine, you see the series is fun and silly.”
So, if you happen to be wandering around the West Village in New York City, go to Air’s Champagne Parlor—or even better yet, go on a Sunday where their happy hour features something either featured in Drops of God or something of that level and “that’s literally not making us any money because it should cost $150 instead of $30,” says Arce. Oh, and don’t forget to go the bathroom.