Having gotten her start as a line cook at New York’s pizza-centric Co, Natalie Johnson first developed an interest in wine back in 2012 when she began a front-of-house job at the Piedmontese restaurant and wine bar, Sorella, located on the city’s Lower East Side. But she was quick to turn that into a full-time gig. By 2013, she was working a sommelier position at Otto, followed by a pair of stints working under under Jack Mason at Marta and Bobby Stuckey at Frasca—both sticklers for service.
So it’s no surprise, explains PUNCH’s Senior Contributing Editor, Jon Bonné, that Johnson would apply a keen attention to wine service at chef Dan Kluger’s Loring Place, where she’s served as wine director since the restaurant opened late last year. “More than anything, Johnson is committed to maintaining a little beachhead of classicism in the era of New Casual,” writes Bonné of her program at Loring Place, which offers a two-page, concise mix of carefully curated wines. It’s an attitude that’s made Loring Place one of the city’s top new restaurants for wine.
But what does Johnson drink when she’s outside the restaurant? Here, Johnson tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share her weirdest hobby, her favorite bar in the world and the one thing she wishes would disappear from drink lists forever.
Wine director at Loring Place.
What do want to be when you grow up?
Best thing you ever drank:
1988 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet with Bertrand de Villaine last night. I mean, wow, such a high privilege. I’m still processing.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Boone’s Farm out of a sweaty cowboy hat rolled into a funnel in college. My roommate was from Texas and we were tailgating. Supposedly it’s tradition.
First time you ever got drunk:
Sophomore year of high school on Appletinis in my best friend’s basement. I think we broke into her dad’s humidor that night.
If you had to listen to one album on loop for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath; or Billie Holiday, Solitude.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I’m kind of voyeuristic so I love walking through Greenwich Village at night and glancing into lit windows.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Perfection is not a possibility. Simple to know in theory, but this is actually very difficult for me to commit to understanding and accepting.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
I don’t know if it counts but I’m making my own Barolo Chinato right now.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
I just bought an old beat up Raleigh city cruiser and named her Miss Tootsie (she’s chocolate brown). Favorite stops are: Hi Collar for iced coffee, Rusty Knot for a Mai Tai or the West Side bike path for some river views.
Your favorite bar, and why:
My brother is a very talented bartender and lives a few blocks from my restaurant. If he has the night off I’ll go to his apartment for snacks and cocktails after work.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
The bar at Marea a few years ago for Christmas Eve lunch—the food, the drink, the time and place and person.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Dim sum, and I’ll require all those who participated in creating the hangover the night before to join me.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Um, pretension. Or frosé.
The last text message you sent:
“Yes. Yes to it all.”