Cork Enlivens Downtown

Andrew T. Gallagher, Standard-Times special. Alicia Racine carries an order of Lobster Trio to a table in the downstairs lounge of Cork, the new wine and tapas bar in downtown New Bedford.

New Wine and Tapas Bar Enlivens New Bedford’s Downtown
Cork, a Wine and Tapas Bar, Offers a New Way to Socialize in Downtown New Bedford
By Jennette Barnes, Standard-Times Staff Writer

Step into Cork, New Bedford’s first wine and tapas bar.
Inside, the eye glides smoothly over dark wood and exposed stone walls.
Other nightspots hang their decorating schemes on colored pendant lights over the bar. Not here. Cork has the lights — in red — but they accent a richly designed room.
Opened three months ago in the newly renovated Joseph Taber building at 90 Front St., opposite the downtown waterfront, the lounge and bar occupy the basement and first floor.
A second-floor condo will eventually be used for private functions under the name Celia’s, after Celia Tommaselli, who owned the condo briefly after Peter DeWalt renovated the building. Mr. DeWalt continues to live on the third and fourth floors.
Right now, Celia’s has no liquor license and doubles as food preparation space and an office for Cork owner Richard Cardoza.
The first floor houses the main bar, where private tables are arranged alongside a long, bar-height communal table meant for mingling. Each place is set with an oversized wine glass, a tumbler for water, and heavy silverware rolled in a casual white cloth napkin.
Servers present an 18-page wine list, along with a smaller tapas menu of upscale hot and cold appetizers. As the menu says, tapas is “small plates of creative food.”
Trendy in cities, American tapas was borrowed from the Spanish tradition of gathering at bars to enjoy wine and small portions of food a few hours before a late dinner.
Dishes offered at the New Bedford tapas bar include marinated olives, tuna tartar with wasabi, braised beef with sherry and garlic, and a gourmet cheese plate. Food prices run from $3.50 into the teens.
About 200 wines are available by the bottle, and some by the glass. Glasses start at $4 and bottles around $18. Connoisseurs will find plenty to choose from, too, including the 1990 Chateau LaTour Pauillac for $625.
Since wine and spirits are Mr. Cardoza’s business — he owns three liquor stores — a bar with a vast selection of wines was his initial idea for the 170-year-old stone building sometimes called the “vine building” for the mass of ivy that covered it before the renovation.
The idea for tapas came later.
“What we’re trying to offer is a different style of dining that’s more about tastings than a full, sit-down meal,” he says.
Guests order wine and cocktails first, then plates of tapas to share. Everything is served on stark, square white plates, and servers bring each person a clean plate to make sharing easier.
Mr. Cardoza hopes to create an atmosphere unlike a bar or restaurant. When people eat at a restaurant, they expect to leave shortly after the meal. In a bar they can linger, but they have trouble finding quality snacks to accompany a drink.
Hence, the tapas bar. And hence Mr. Cardoza’s mantra of late: “It’s more fun to eat in a bar than to drink in a restaurant.”
On a recent Thursday night, Cork was starting to come alive by 6 p.m., an hour after opening time. Seats at the bar filled up, and Rep. Antonio Cabral stopped by to see and be seen.
The basement lounge, which was carved out of the earth by Mr. DeWalt’s renovation crew, is a shadowy, intimate room of tables and upholstered seating. It offers all the wines and cocktails of the main bar, with an abbreviated food menu.
Cork offers occasional special events, such as a five-course wine and tapas tasting, a special Valentine’s dinner with a five-course prix fixe menu, and a “night out with the girls.”
Judi Page, 53, an insurance agent who lives in the South End, has visited Cork four times. When it first opened, she would look into the softly lit windows each evening as she drove home from work on Route 18.
Finally she tried the new bar.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s really pretty, really nice. I’m glad the city did this. We need more like this.”
Cork sits a few steps away from two much older bars, the Cultivator Shoals on Front Street and the National Club on Union Street. The opening of the new bar, along with the planned demolition of the Cultivator for condominiums, signals the continuing transformation of that part of the city’s historic district.
Two other nearby bars have changed hands and gone upscale in the last few years, but Ms. Page said the area still makes some visitors uncomfortable because of rough characters hanging out outside some bars.
Tom Bianda and Paula Cabral, a Somerset couple in their 50s, normally go to Providence to socialize but have fallen in love with Cork, visiting eight or 10 times since it opened.
Aside from Adega, the Portuguese restaurant in Goulart Square, New Bedford hasn’t seen the opening of a new upscale eatery in “ages,” Mr. Bianda said.
“The bartender is very friendly,” Ms. Cabral said. “They’re very nice people. They make you want to come back.”
On-street parking can be a challenge, they said, but the Elm Street garage — usually free at night — is a few blocks away at the corner of North Second Street, and Cork offers valet service at the foot of Rose Alley, the small street that runs down from North Water Street.
Contact Jennette Barnes at or (508) 979-4446.
Date of Publication: March 08, 2007

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