Among a string of historic storefronts on Durham's East Main Street—torn down and rebuilt during the Prohibition era—the new Bar Lusconi is luring modern drinkers into a new era of beer and wine.
Narrowly tucked into 117B E. Main St., Bar Lusconi presented a thriving and casual soft opening last night.
It is the second bar by Timothy Neill and Jesse Gerstl, owners of the slick, unmarked speakeasy, Peccadillo, in Carrboro, which opened less than two years ago.
With a well-curated repertoire of international beer and wine, Neill aims to "get the best beer and wine possible," paying close attention to the more obscure.
"Basically, some of our smaller distributors say, 'we have only 10 cases of this,' and we'll just snap them up."
Modest simplicity determines both bar concepts. Just as Peccadillo has become the coy neighborhood bar in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Durham residents can expect to be charmed by Bar Lusconi's hospitality and cozy, candle-lit ambiance.
"Tim does a really great job at making you feel like you've been invited over to someone's home," says Lewis Norton, a longtime bartender in downtown Raleigh who came to the opening. "Except it's more comfortable than that, because it's less of a ceremony. There's an art to making your customer feel that way."
Bartender Dean James noted that the short bar at the back of the narrow, 600-square-foot space is tight, encouraging that personal connection to each customer.
Last night, he and Neill poured wine tableside for service industry friends and curious new customers lounging along the wooden drink rail and at the few, high four-top tables.
Glasses included a 2007 Bender Pinot Noir from Germany ("It's the last of it, so drink up," Neill commented to customers) and an Italian Lini Lambrusco, a full, tangy, sparkling red.
Neill says wine prices start at $42 a bottle, finishing at $86, with beer at $7 a glass and closing out at $27.
Tall, bare walls reveal rustic splotches of white and pale blue, their original red finish still intact as a wide border at the top, leading to a tin ceiling.
"You find the space before the concept is in place," Neill says. "We fell in love with the ceilings, it was all just super beautiful."
The original wood floors contained water damage. What remained of the salvaged wood were tawny, weathered slabs to build the bar, drink rail and all tables. Underneath, a speckled, burgundy red floor was polished and left intact.
As for the name, it is not a deliberate pun alluding to Italy's scandalous former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
"I named the bar after Jesse's cat [the late Lusconi]," Neill jokes. "He wasn't even very fond of him, and I find it hilarious."
Bar Lusconi is open Wednesday through Saturday 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.