The NYC Steakhouse That Features Some Of The World's Rarest Wines

When a New York City restaurant stands the test of time, it's for good reason. Maybe it's the food, or the location, or the ambiance. Maybe it has an incredible wine list. Harry's Restaurant, a Lower Manhattan mainstay since 1972, has it all. But despite its grilled-to-perfection steaks, historic setting, and old-world charm — all of which contribute to Harry's longevity — it's the founder's extensive wine collection that makes us sit up and take notice.

Located at One Hanover Square, a stone's throw from Wall Street, Harry's occupies the basement level of a historic three-story building dating to 1854. Established by Harry Poulakakos, a Greek native who emigrated to the United States in 1956 with a plan to continue his family's tradition of beekeeping, Harry's exists today because of a chain of events that changed the trajectory of Poulakakos' life. When he realized supporting a growing family as a beekeeper in Brooklyn would be a challenge, Poulakakos picked up a job at a restaurant on Broad Street. By the 1960s, he was working at Wall Street's legendary Delmonico's, saving money until he could open his own place. And while his experience at Delmonico's may have helped shape the old-world steakhouse menu at Harry's, it was his personal interest in wine that led to the astounding collection the restaurant routinely draws on to create its wine list. Or should we say wine lists?

Buy it, you'll like it

During his early tenure at Delmonico's, under the tutelage of then-owner Oscar Tucci, Poulakakos began learning about wine. "Every day, we'd open a bottle," Poulakakos told Food & Wine in 2022. "And for six or seven months, I would go to bed with a [wine expert] Hugh Johnson book." Without even realizing it, bottle by bottle, Poulakakos began building what is now an extensive collection of more than 30,000 labels. Along the way, he developed an affinity for wines from the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France. And he landed some noteworthy deals in the process. In the early 1970s, Poulakakos secured a few cases of 1961 Chateau Haut-Brion for $180 per case. (That's the equivalent of about $1,400 in 2023). That same vintage today — if you can find it — retails for well over $3,000 per bottle. Another early purchase, 1966 Pétrus Poulakakos bought for $10 per bottle, is valued at more than $3,500 per bottle today — and Poulakakos still has two bottles tucked away in his climate-controlled cellar.

His method? "I buy wine because I like it," he told Food & Wine. That simple philosophy has paid off many times over, often because he's been able to purchase underrated wines and hold on to them for years, if not decades. He also steers clear of auctions in favor of purchasing directly from tried-and-true importers and, in some cases, straight from French vintners.

A generous spirit

Many of the wines Poulakakos purchased over the decades simply because he liked them, eventually show up on the wine list at Harry's. But only when the time is right. And in the more than 50 years since he opened Harry's, Poulakakos still insists that offerings in the mix include a varied selection of good, reasonably priced wines. "Pricing for me was always a problem," he told Food & Wine. "I never wanted to take people's money just to make a profit on it. I always want people to enjoy what they're drinking and to charge them a fair price." To that end, Harry's offers two wine lists. Standard offerings comprise a selection of about 75 wines, some priced as low as $14 per glass. Ask for assistance from the sommelier and you're likely to get a peek at the 2,600-label list reserved for serious connoisseurs.

A few years ago, Poulakakos turned daily operations over to his son, Peter, who works beside Harry's sommelier, Jacob Daugherty. While Daughtery does most of the buying now, he still relies on the elder Poulakakos for advice and memory when it comes to moving specific vintages from storage to the wine list. Wines like the Domaine Armand Rousseau Poulakakos purchased in 1999; it was finally deemed ready for the wine list in 2022.