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The Cherry on Top

Time & Space

The Cherry on Top

Posted on 04/06/23

Cerise Zelenetz is a Vermont-raised, Paris-taught, New York-based artist whose thoughtful and coy illustrations have been featured throughout several publications such as The Paris Review and The New Yorker. Her Bushwick-based natural wine bar, Cherry On Top, continues to receive numerous reputable accolades as well. Cerise grants us a peek into her world of food, wine, and art.

Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist?

I grew up always making art for fun, and never really considered the end goal of becoming an "artist" as something separate from the process. When I was little, my dream was to be a shoe designer and I drew shoes all day, imagining the space I'd one day open with a cafe in front, and shoe store filled with my design in the back. In high school, I pivoted towards apparel design which led me to apply to design university in Paris. It was there that I discovered my true passion was storytelling, whatever medium that takes. I think I'm most drawn to art because there are so many channels your idea can take, and so many mediums to explore. So to answer the question, yes I think I always knew I wanted to be an artist but I didn't know where that would lead me. I still don't really know which is the exciting part of thinking creatively.

What are some things that have most informed your work?

Moving to Paris straight after high school in Vermont, to study art changed my entire way of thinking about artistic process and creation. It molded how I approach making work today, which in turn shapes the work itself. My parents were both raised in New York and moved to Vermont to raise my sister and I, and I also think that contrasted experience of nature vs. city inspires a lot of my work as well.

You mention in your bio that your “work resonates with both satire and emotional undertones” - When did you “discover” your illustrative voice?

I think I'm still always discovering it, but it was actually when I quit my job as a fashion copywriter that I started drawing for fun again. I started posting imagined portraits with little written histories on my instagram and that's really what started my career as an illustrator. I've never been very censored in my method of making or sharing my work and I think that way of letting the work lead me, ultimately lead me to discover my voice.

How long have you been involved with wine(?) and when did it become an integral part of your life?

Living in Paris got me into more of the culture around wine. The experience of sitting and sharing ideas over a bottle with friends was a really impactful ritual for me. It was through my illustration though, that I broke into the natural wine world. I started creating menu designs for different restaurants throughout the city, and made great friends in the industry through that. I also started bartending when I became an illustrator as most of my days were spent working alone, and I wanted something more productively social to do to balance that out. Creating a wine bar was never something I thought I'd do, but when the opportunity came up it just all made sense and fit together. There were so many aspects of designing Cherry that aligned with my past experiences of being a designer, writer, bartender etc., and so much potential for storytelling that really excited me. For me, wine is more about the culture and connections surrounding it, and that's what I really wanted to highlight with Cherry On Top.

Where did the idea of Cherry On Top come from?

We had the space set before I came up with any concept, but the idea was always to be a rooftop bar. I wanted to highlight elements of travel and collection, but didn't really know how that would manifest itself until I woke up in the middle of the night one night and Cherry On Top just popped into my head as the perfect name. My name, Cerise, means cherry in french, The space used to be the factory for Oddfellows ice cream, and with the rooftop, it all fit together. Once I had the name, everything else became clear from the colors, to the furniture, to the plants and menu.

Do you have a favorite time of day(?) or times where you feel most creatively motivated?

Even since opening a bar and working late nights, I really am, and always have been a morning person. I think my best ideas come before my brain is fully awake and I can just create without overthinking.

What is your favorite wine and food pairing?

Very difficult question. I don't know if I really have a favorite, but right now I'm dreaming of a simple, crisp vinho verde on the beach somewhere in Portugal with a mountain of fresh seafood in front of me. It all depends on the moment and who is sharing in the experience with me. A simple baguette alongside the cheapest red table wine can be the best pairing if you're sharing it over a captivating conversation with someone you love.

Some images taken by Braxton Brown.