Vintage Portals: Historic Italian Wine Windows Offer Socially Distanced Drinks

Born of necessity during the devastating spread of the Black Plague, these deceptively cute little openings were a product of their times, allowing people to purchase glasses or bottles of wine through small openings without interacting face-to-face with proprietors.

Many such examples have been mapped and photographed by Buchette del Vino, a nonprofit dedicated to studying, documenting, maintaining and promoting these historical architectural curiosities.

Their form is often simple and similar: a little wooden door topped with an arch and embedded in a masonry wall, often framed like little paintings or portal. Some doors have long since been filled in, painted over or otherwise obscured, but many are still around today.

In places like Tuscany, such “wine windows” seemed for a time to have outlived their original purpose, remaining primarily as vestigial details. Now, however, they are once again proving popular in a new era of disease-driven social distancing. Many owners used to hand off glasses directly, but times have changed. These days, many sellers do contact-free pours so patrons can hold up their glass and get drinks filled directly from bottles held by servers on the other side of a thick wall.

Italy was hit early both by the plague in the 1600s and again during the outbreak of COVID-19, leading some proprietors to lean into existing wine windows or reopen shuttered ones across the county. In the midst of tragedy, these simple openings offer a degree of community and reconnection in a country on a careful road to recovery.

  1. Rebecca Lieb

    This is how heroin was sold on the Lower East Side of New York in the ’80s, only the hole was a brick removed from the facade of a boarded-up abandoned building.

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