It’s a kaleidoscope of colors and, nearly, a case of sensory overload walking into K & D Wines & Spirits: 1,500 different bottles, in all shapes and sizes, line shelves from floor to ceiling.
K & D has been serving — and lifting — spirits on the Upper East Side since 1934. The current Madison Avenue location, just below 94th Street, is two blocks south from the original storefront. It’s been run by Richie Klein and Andy Klugerman since 1995. Their fathers, Artie Klein and Erwin Klugerman, ran the store from 1962 until the boys, childhood friends who had started work at the shop as delivery boys, took over.
“I love it ... the people, the product,” Richie Klein said. “If you have to work, a wine shop is not a bad place to be.”
A black-and-white photograph from 1939 hangs on a wall near the cash register. It’s President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s motorcade riding right past the then-5-year-old shop. FDR, of course, was a friend to wine purveyors everywhere, marking the beginning of the end of Prohibition in March 1933 by signing a law that once again permitted the manufacture and sale of low-alcohol beer and light wines.
Klugerman began working full time at K & D in 1982 and learned that good service is paramount. “We were always a ‘keep them happy no matter what’ organization,” he said.
“If a delivery is, late for example, ‘Quick, put it in a taxi,’ they’d say,” he said. “That was how they were back then. A lot has changed but that philosophy remains the same.”
One change is the huge increase in the available wine selection. In the early days the shop had just six wines from California in the shop, Klugerman said. These days, K & D stocks several hundred wines from the Golden State.
The wine sellers received a big boost in the late 1970s when The New York Times’ wine columnist called K & D “The great hole-in-the-wall wine store.” The columnist, Terry Robards, gave a specific shout out to a Cellole Chianti, which sold for $2.59 a bottle. That bottle now sells for $19.99.
On the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, Courtney Conner, 55, dropped in to make her selections, as she has been doing since 1978. “I usually ask the staff for recommendations as they are so knowledgeable and friendly,” said Conner, who often shops with her 14-year-old cocker spaniel, Bubba. She’ll eventually settle on the newly arrived George Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, released each year on the third Thursday of November.
Ask him, and Klein will tell you his top pick is a Californian, a Caymus Vineyard cabernet sauvignon. Klugerman is partial to France’s Burgundy region.
“I love the travelling around the world for wine,” said Klein, who has visited vineyards throughout the West Coast as well as parts of France, Italy and elsewhere. “It’s a passion and it makes it easier to talk to customers when you’ve actually seen the hills where certain grapes have come from.”
Klugerman appends a toast: “I wouldn’t want to do business anywhere else in the city.”