Big news for fans of thoughtfully crafted cocktails: The skills of a certain Francesco Lafranconi are back on the menu in Salt Lake City.
The award-winning mixologist is the brains behind an extra-special cocktail menu, appearing now at Flanker Kitchen + Sporting Club’s latest intimate pop-up, Paradise Parlor.
Lafranconi was born and raised in the bar business in Aviano, Italy, and his career has been a globe-trotting series of postings. Notable names on the resumé include Gleaneagles in Scotland, famous host to many a world dignitary. His itinerary has also included Harry’s Bar in Venice, birthplace of the Bellini and haunt of famous carouser Ernest Hemingway.
Accolades for his work run the gamut of global prestige — everything from a place in Bartender magazine’s “Hall of Fame” in 2005 through to winning the Bacardi-Martini Grand Prix World Final. I could go on and on, so suffice to say, the man has world class chops when it comes to wielding a cocktail shaker.
It was at age 28 that he made the leap across the pond, landing in Las Vegas with a career at alcohol distribution giant Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. Various Sin City appearances later, Lafranconi ended up as impresario and owner of Mr. Coco, a destination cocktail lounge inside the mammoth Palms resort. Under his direction, the bar was named Eater.com’s best Las Vegas bar of 2019. No small beans in a town jammed to the slots with lofty bar programs.
COVID-19 then changed the entire game, affecting casinos and experiences across The Strip and beyond. The master mixologist, a year later, joined a nascent Carver Road Hospitality team — the group behind Flanker Kitchen at The Gateway, at 6 N. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City.
Most recently, Lafranconi helped open Starchild, the rooftop bar that peers out from the 27th floor of the NYC Civilian hotel. Like everything in his back catalog, it’s already receiving rave reviews and getting spots on “best of New York City” lists.
Back to Salt Lake City, though. Last month, Lafranconi kicked off the opening of his Flanker pop-up bar experience, Paradise Parlor. It’s set to run every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday night into the summer.
A word to the wise, it’s by reservation only.
You might recall a similar ephemeral setup last Christmas, when Flanker dressed every square inch of their private cocktail room, The Parlor, with festive razzle-dazzle. This time around the theme is tiki, and once again, the company has gone all in.
It’s a 1960s fever dream of beachside Hawaii. All that’s missing is the ocean breeze.
The space is artfully lit throughout in arresting pops of red, blue and green — as guests are gazed upon approvingly by custom Elvis artwork. Every microscopic nook and cranny of the space is filled with detail to explore. The local designer for the room took six weeks to conceptualize the setting, I’m told. No expense spared, as “Jurassic Park” founder John Hammond might say.
A small light bites menu takes off from where the lei bedecked staff leave: Spare ribs with hoisin, wonton chips, crispy shrimp, crab rangoon, chicken pineapple skewers and more. Items are available a la carte, and the whole collection can be ordered as a pu pu platter to share.
And, of course, there’s Lafranconi’s curated menu of tiki-informed drinks — more than 10 creations, each presented in a range of larger-than-life vessels. The Tahiti Takeout comes tableside in a Chinese take-out box, pineapple pieces float atop a seashell in the Cursed Mermaid Lagoon.
From the moment you walk through the door, it’s one of the most unique sensory experiences in Utah right now.
Keep your eyes peeled on Flanker’s social media accounts, as the star bartender himself will return during the course of the bar’s limited run. In his stead, an expertly drilled team that will deliver Lafranconi’s curated menu three nights a week. Lafranconi’s catchphrase is, “We’re not drinking, we’re learning.” This sure beats any book learning as far as I’m concerned. Grab reservations, this will book out fast.
Editor’s note • Gastronomic SLC and The Salt Lake Tribune are partners in a content-sharing agreement.