Meet & Eat: Gianfranco Verga, Louis 649
"We recently added an amaro page with thirteen amaros and six amaro cocktails. A shochu page is next."
We've already told you a little about East Village gem Louis 649. This week, we join in celebrating the one-year anniversary of their highly successful Tuesday Night Tasting series by chatting with the man behind it all: Gianfranco Verga.
This past Tuesday, in honor of their one-year anniversary, Gianfranco stepped away from the regular lineup of spirits, beer and wine to bring in one of his hand-picked purveyors, Rick Field of Rick's Picks. The packed bar was a testament to interest he has built around the series in one short year, as patrons sqeezed in on a bitter cold night for some free pickles and beer. He took the time to talk to Serious Eats about how it all came to be.
Name: Gianfranco Verga
Location: East Village
Occupation: General Manager, Louis 649
How did you meet your partner, Zachary Sharaga? I was a regular at Louis 649 for a long time before I started working there. At some point, Zach needed a new bartender so he gave me a shot. On my first day, one of our customers fully disrobed and ran around the bar naked. Zach liked how I handled the situation so he kept me on. The rest is history.
What mattered in designing your cocktail program? I'm a straight spirit kind-of-guy, so focusing on the unadulterated spirit, beer or wine was our top prerogative. Each spirit category has its own page—or 6 if you count the whiskey section—and our cocktails are listed by base spirit. Our cocktails are not ornate, no flashy garnishes. And the list is always growing. We recently added an amaro page with thirteen amaros and six amaro cocktails. A shochu page is next.
Tell us about the Tuesday Night Tastings program. Louis 649 has a certain something that charms most everyone who walks in. We thought it would be a good idea to offer the one thing that would make more people walk in: Free Booze! But it came at a price: one would have to listen to some of the most passionate craftsmen in the industry talked about the products that they love the most. Before they could taste them. Very tough.
What have been some of the highlights from the past year? One Tuesday a certain brand allowed guests to blend their own whiskey using samples from three different casks. Then there was Cheryl Lins, founder of Delaware Phoenix absinthe. That was a kind of Susan Boyle moment—this sweet unassuming lady wowed everyone in the crowd with her unbelieveable dedication and charm. Cheryl distills, bottles, labels and even delivers her product all by herself. And then there is Simon Brooking, brand ambassador of Laphroaig and Ardmore Scotch, who sang more than he spoke and filled the room with Gaelic chants and cheers.
You recently added food to your menu. How did you select the items on the menu? We found our favorite bites from the Lower East Side and brought them under our roof. I pick up our food by hand twice a week from the neighborhood gems: Russ & Daughters, Japan Premium Beef, Saxelby Cheesemongers, Rick's Picks, SOS Chefs, Barnyard, Bespoke Chocolates and more.
What are your favorite local hangouts or places you might be considered a regular? Royale, a neighborhood bar with great burgers, I recommend the veggie burger with bacon, with a can of Porkslap beer. Kasadela, great regional Japanese food, get a bottle of sake and the chicken wings doused in black pepper and some nori. Kafana, a Serbian restaurant that transports me to another country every time I go in. And Grape & Grain, though I don't go nearly enough, has a great beer and cheese selection.
Best late-night eats?If I'm home, it would undoubtedly be Sunny & Annie's Deli, arguably the best sandwich shop in New York. Their sandwiches reign supreme and they deliver 24/7. I order from them at least twice a week, and because of this loyal patronage both Sunny & Annie offered me a space on their sandwich wall, one of the proudest moments of my life. Starting next month, Sunny & Annie's deli will serve the Louis 649 Sandwich, a medley of ham, hashbrowns, avocado, jalapeño, fried onion, melted pepperjack cheese and barbeque sauce on a toasted roll. Happy days are upon us.
If you could put together a three course meal with dishes from three different NYC restaurants, what would you include (with cocktail pairings, of course)?
- Appetizer : Japanese-style chicken wings from Kasadela, with a Last Word
- First Course: Fusilli with baby octopus and bone marrow at Marea, with a Tuxedo #2
- Main Course: Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern with a side of Thrice-Cooked Fries from The Breslin. With Fancy Free.