By Tammy Scileppi
Even Grinches and Santa-haters can’t say no to having some holiday fun this time of year.
Everyone’s welcome at one of Astoria’s hippest hotspots, Sweet Afton, where the mood is mellow, the food memorable, and the drinks are always flowing.
The gastropub’s popular Holiday Market promises to be a good time, according to founder Christine Haber, who organizes the annual event, now in its ninth year. Stop by Sunday between noon and 5 p.m. to discover an irresistible selection of one-of-a-kind and handcrafted finds by local artisans at reasonable prices that would surely turn even Mr. Grinch’s frown upside down.
The beloved bar, which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2019, has become a true neighborhood destination for work by local artisans.
“I’ve lived in Astoria for 20 years and if you rewind a decade to the time when Sweet Afton opened, there really weren’t local spots like this where people would congregate the way they do here. It was one of the first gastropubs in the neighborhood, and it set off that trend here,” Haber said. “So many relationships have been created at Sweet Afton – it connects people. I worked as a server when the bar first opened and many of the vendors were customers, or people that I met through working here who’ve now become friends.”
Each holiday season, vendors offer their wares at the market. About a dozen artisans will be selling jewelry, ornaments, clothing, artisanal cocktail ingredients, handmade purses and wallets, paintings and other artwork. Featured products will include feminist tote bags by Cricket La Lou Totes, Astoria-themed calendars by AJ the Awful and handmade wooden cutting boards and lamps by JTwoodworks.
Haber said her vision was to start a unique market featuring local creatives’ offerings.
“As an artist (I sell the I Heart Astoria line of hand-printed apparel and totes), I was so frustrated with participating in markets that were impossible to get into, paying $100 just to get a table,” she recalled. “When you’re new to the neighborhood or new to selling your wares, you’re worried about making your money back. You might not even make a profit if the public doesn’t know your work yet.
Many customers, residents and their families, as well as visitors come out to support the market. It’s always a fun day. The group Caroling for Charity comes in to sing, and brunch is served all afternoon. You can browse, shop, and enjoy a breakfast burger and a hot mulled cider.
Brunch service will continue until 4:30 p.m. Sunday, with hangover-curing classics from “Chopped” champion Nick Testa, like the Benny Burger (poached egg, hollandaise, crispy potatoes, Canadian bacon, frisée) and bar director Mike Di Tota’s elevated cocktail menu, with choices like arugula-topped Bacon Bloody Mary (made with bacon-infused bourbon), hot spiked cider, and The Upstate (brown butter-washed bourbon, pear, cinnamon, orange blossom water, bitters).
“Vendors who sell with us know that they’re going to do well, as it’s a really vibrant, well-attended market. Artists who are new to the neighborhood or to selling their work, can get their products in front of a big audience. It’s a great place to launch a new business,” Haber said.
Emily Toxie Keating and John Keating of Astrid Paper & Home are excited about selling their work at the market; this will be their second year.
“This is a fun market for us because of the festive atmosphere – you might catch us with a beer or two to celebrate one of our last shows of a very busy season,” John Keating said.
Crafting artisanal tonic syrup with natural ingredients for cocktails or nonalcoholic drinks, is Michael Haber’s passion.
Haber’s Tonic Co. currently supplies more than a dozen bars and restaurants across New York City and their Astoria-made product is used in many of the cocktails served at Sweet Afton, The Bonnie and The Penrose. This year will mark their seventh as a Holiday Market vendor.
“This is a chance for us to draw attention to the amazing artists and artisans that live in this neighborhood, and it’s a special day for people to get together before the holidays.”