Exclusive: Frank Bonanno will open Vesper Lounge in the former Lancer Lounge space
Frank and Jacqueline Bonanno stand in the gutted Lancer Lounge, which will soon become Vesper Lounge.
When longtime owner Becky Conda was evicted from the Lancer Lounge, the dive bar that resides between Bones and Mizuna, earlier this month, it seemed only natural that Frank and Jacqueline Bonanno, who own those restaurants, along with Luca d'Italia, Osteria Marco, Lou's Food Bar, Wednesday's Pie, Green Russell and Russell's Smokehouse, would snatch up the space, and last Friday, the Bonannos did exactly that, inking a lease on the former neighborhood watering hole, which they'll reopen as Vesper Lounge.
And it's been a long time coming for Frank, who opened Mizuna twelve years ago and recognized the appeal of putting his indelible stamp on a block where his name is synonymous with success. "It's something that Jacqueline and I have been interested in for a really long time," admits Frank, who sat down with me this morning, just before his staff pilates class. In fact, he offered to buy the Lancer on numerous occasions, even offering a partnership to Conda at one point, which she refused.
And while the Bonannos could do another restaurant in that space, they've chosen to keep it a bar, albeit a bar that won't reek of stale beer. "This isn't going to be a restaurant," stresses Frank. "It's going to be a neighborhood bar -- a clean bar -- where our guests and industry folks can come in after dinner or work, have a drink and relax."
That's not to say say that the existing kitchen won't dispense food -- it will -- but Frank emphasizes that the focus will be on libations. "We want this to be like a Cheers bar, so we'll have a few burgers on the menu and some fries, but food is an incidental," he says.
Adam Hodak, who oversees all of Frank's bar programs, will also oversee the beverage syllabus at Vesper, which, by the way, is the original gin martini that was invented and named by James Bond in the 1953 novel Casino Royale. And while there won't be a cocktail list to speak of, Hodak will create a trio of signature cocktails that'll be dispensed from an old-fashioned fountain. "We'll have a really nice well selection, and it'll mostly be a 'you call it' kind of place, but Adam will do three cocktails that will essentially be on tap," Frank notes, adding, too, that the bar will pour six drought beers and have a selection of ten to fifteen bottles and cans. And the prices, he promises, will be low. "We're keeping everything inexpensive."
The space has been all but gutted, and while the Bonannos will leave the front bar intact, they're replacing the back bar, redoing the floors, which will all be hardwood, ditching the pool tables, adding new booths, moving the chairs and bar stools from Mizuna to the new bar (and bedecking Mizuna with new ones) and giving the interior a much-needed coat of fresh paint. "It's mostly cosmetic changes -- the bones are good -- but we're definitely cleaning it up," says Frank. He divulges, too, that they'll add a few televisions and, if Hodak has his way, a classic cocktail table arcade game with Pac-Man, Astroids and Galaga -- straight from the '80s.
He and Jacqueline haven't solidified an opening date, although they hope to open on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, but it's all dependent, says Frank, on the liquor-license transfer. "Becky transferred the license to me, but it takes three weeks to three months to get the official license, so that time frame may be a little ambitious, but that's what we're striving for."
And once they do open, Frank hints that brunch service may be added on Saturday and Sunday. "We're considering doing weekend brunch, but it won't be anything fancy," he says. "It'll be things like pancakes and eggs Benedict and bottomless mimosas." In other words, exactly what every neighborhood wants.
"It's nice to control all of the concepts on one block," concludes Frank, but more important, "This neighborhood has been phenomenal to us, and we want to continue to embrace it by giving the residents a great neighborhood bar that won't break the bank."
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