Grapperia is Quite Nearly a Great Bar

Great drinks and a focus on local rarities help the Lawrenceville spot, which could be among the city’s better bars if it ups its game on atmosphere and food.

photo by sean collier


We’re all friends here, right? So I’m going to make a confession.

I’ve ordered grappa cocktails for years without quite knowing what grappa, umm, is. (Don’t tell Hal B. Klein.)

Whenever I saw a grappa-based offering on a cocktail list, I was compelled to try it. I was usually pleased with the results. When a friend saw me do just that at Acacia a few weeks ago and asked what exactly I was ordering, I pivoted to another subject before she could notice that I had no answer to give.

Fortunately, Grapperia has a definition on its wall. And its menus. (It’s brandy made from the pomace left over from winemaking. Not that I needed to tell you that, of course.)

The grappa offerings at the Lawrenceville bar are voluminous, as is the selection of amari (a category of bitter, after-dinner spirits better known as digestifs); a decent number of other after-dinner liquors (think Limoncello or Sambuco) are available as well. If you’re a fan of these drinks on their own, Grapperia is a godsend; if you’re curious, this is where to start. I’m even more of a novice on amari than I am on grappa, so my server guided me to a lovely introductory drink with recommendations for more specified research to come.

Grapperia really shines, however, at turning its signature product into cocktails. The Dom Collins (chamomile-infused grappa, lemon juice and prosecco) was as refreshing a take on the classic as any I’ve tried. I want it in pitchers on a hot day. The floral LaVanda (lavender-infused grappa, green pepper honey and lemon juice) was definitely not for those who like subtlety in their cocktails, with an almost perfumey taste; I like the sweet stuff, though, so I was an unabashed fan.

I was less impressed with the grappa-free cocktails offered; a bourbon drink I tried, the Fallen Angel, was a less satisfying experience than just ordering any decent whiskey neat. I’d like to see Grapperia excise this segment of the menu altogether and focus on the fine work they’re doing with grappa. There are plenty of nearby places I can go for smart cocktails, but only one that boasts this specialty, so why not focus?

Simplicity is the order of the day with Grapperia’s simple food menu; over a pair of visits, I tried their cheese plate, meat plate, spiced walnuts and giardiniera, enjoying each offering. I’m fine with limited selections, as these are more meant to accompany your drinks than serve as a robust segment of the experience. I only wish that a meal-size collection of the same items would’ve been offered; everything seems plated and priced for a la carte sharing rather than hoarding. And I am nothing if not a food hoarder.

Grapperia’s only real drawback is in atmosphere; I trust they’ll find what they’re going for, but at the moment, they haven’t. On one visit, the soundtrack consisted of an obtrusive mix of indie hip-hop at unnecessary volume; on another, I’m reasonably sure I was listening to a Paul Simon Pandora station (this time at too low a volume). A bit more thought into the soundtrack would go a long way, as would more thoughtful layout; low lighting and some wood are all that prevent Grapperia from basically being an unadorned corner room.

Even with those minor flaws, though, it’s instantly a destination, particularly for a nightcap; with service until midnight Tuesday-Thursday and 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, it’s a perfect place for a wind-down drink at the end of a night out. Grapperia is already good; with a little work, it could easily be great.

Categories: After Dark