Skip to Content
Features

Old Fashion Cafe Brings Modern Italian Cocktail Culture to NYC

Appetito introduces brothers from Puglia, master mixologists and bar owners, who have brough Italian cocktail culture to NYC.

The Iacca brothers (L to R): Gianluca, Antonello, and Piero at Old Fashion Cafe in NYC.

The Iacca brothers (L to R): Gianluca, Antonello, and Piero at Old Fashion Cafe in NYC.

Antonello and Piero Iacca came of age in the Italian bar business. In 1998, when the brothers were 11 and 8, respectively, their parents and uncle opened Old Fashion Cafe in Taranto, Puglia. This, though, was not your typical Italian ‘bar” — the ubiquitous storefront, open from morning through early evening, catering to daytime tastes, similar to an American café or coffee shop. Old Fashion Cafe did serve caffe and pastries in the morning, panini and pasta at lunch, small bites throughout the day, aperitivi in the afternoon and casual dinner fare, but after the last meal or digestivo had been consumed, the bar came alive in the concept of a trendy American nightspot, with the positive vibes informed by stylish cocktails and upbeat music.

It is believed that the Iacca family, through their nighttime endeavors, had invented modern Italian cocktail culture.

“We were immersed in this business from a very young age,” Piero says. “And it literally changed our lives.”

Both brothers, debonair and amiable, became master mixologists and experts in the fledgling field of Italian spirits. They embraced the idea of being inventive, creating cocktails beyond the standards of amaro & soda or the ubiquitous spritz. They understood the need, using the highest quality ingredients, to inform their cocktails with technique, passion and showmanship.

After 10 years in Taranto, now fully established and abetted at home by a younger brother, Gianluca, the elder Iacca boys set their sights on new destinations to actuate their inspiration. They traveled to London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Milan. And then they visited a friend and former colleague in New York.

“We knew as soon as we arrived, that we wanted to be a part of this,” Antonello says. “We wanted to show the world the new generation of Italian mixologists and the culture we helped create in Italy.”

In 2016, Antonello came first to conquer New York. He worked in an Italian restaurant and bar with a speakeasy in Flatiron. He sharpened his skills behind the bar, learned restaurant management and improved his English. He moved on to another Italian restaurant in Midtown. Piero, in 2019, began splitting his time between Taranto and New York, making sure Gianluca was learning the family business at home. The brothers did a months-long consulting gig in LA before returning to New York.

All along, the accolades had been rolling in from Italian institutions such as Gambero Rosso (2005 BAR D'ITALIA) and Bar Giornale (Italy's second best cocktail bar). Difford's Guide named Antonello BEST NEW ARTIST in 2020, and Piero, recognized as a world-class bartender and regularly ranked among the Top 10 bartenders by Bar Giornale, was a finalist in the Diageo Bar Academy competition in 2016, and he will be a finalist once again in 2024.

The Old Faskion Cafe team from Puglia (L to R): Alessandro Acquabeve, Antonello Iaaca, Piero Iaaca, Gabriele Rotunno.
The Old Fashion Cafe team from Puglia (L to R): Alessandro Acquabeve, Antonello Iacca, Piero Iacca, Chef Gabriele Rotunno.

It was after the stint in LA that the brothers were ready to launch Old Fashion Cafe in New York. And then the pandemic arrived. Antonello and Piero decided to remain in New York since the situation was just as bad in Italy, and they sensed a unique opportunity in their adopted city.

“We love New York, and we were getting our energy from the city,” Antonello says. "That was the worst time in the New York for the pandemic, but we were not going to give up because people are going to leave, but New York always comes back. And we wanted to be here when New York came back.” 

Spicy Lover cocktail
The Spicy Lover cocktail at Old Fashion Cafe in New York City.

They trained their sights on SoHo, where the historic sophistication met their vibe. They had a particular idea with regard to space as well. “We wanted a small place where you can control everything and give top quality service and atmosphere. In a bigger place, we couldn't do what we do," Antonello says. "I used to come to the space we found when it was a different restaurant before. We arrived to see the place right after it closed, and as soon as they opened the door, we said, ‘It's over. This is the one.’”

The garden level retail space at 110 Thompson, between Prince and Spring, adorned on the aqua-gray facade with a plunging flower box, has cafe seating, and is entered down a small set of stairs. There’s a communal table on the left and tabletops along the right wall, under green arches and blue touches reflecting a Puglian aesthetic. The decor, minimalist and chic, is a blend of Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and Pop Art.

The interior dining area of Old Fashion Cafe.
The interior dining area of Old Fashion Cafe.

Center stage is the bar, tucked into the back left corner and elevated like a stage under Broadway bulbs. It is here where the master mixologist brothers and their colleague imported from Puglia, Alessio Bevilacqua, dazzle with their skills, highly original concoctions and twists on classic Italian cocktails (read the menu here). There is the performance art of mixology, shaking and flipping and stylized pours, but also the incorporation of house-made syrups, flavored ice spheres, and even bubbles to top drinks tableside.

And these bubbles, conjured from a gun often playfully wielded by the team, can be found floating around the joyous room, among the music and the lights, in the hours well after a traditional Italian bar would be closed.

Through a curved corridor, illuminated in red neon lights, is the open kitchen manned by another Apulian import, Chef Gabriele Rotunno, who serves breakfast all day, small plates informed by the sea and mountains, two pizza variations, and a beloved Ragu Bolognese among a well-rounded and underrated menu (read the full menu here).

Started as a concept under a previous generation in a southern Italian coastal region, Old Fashion Cafe, despite its antique name, has brought modern Italian cocktail culture to America.

“This is what we imagined,” Piero says. “And now it is real.”


110 Thompson St., NYC, 646-484-5681, @oldfashionnyc, oldfashioncafenyc.com

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Register to continue

See all subscription options

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Appetito

How To Apply for the S. Pellegrino Young Chefs Academy Competition

Applications close this week for the prestigious culinary competition that has become a springboard for launching chef careers.

June 17, 2024

Exploring the Coastal Charms of Cesenatico in Emilia-Romagna

Our correspondent discovers Cesenatico, a gem on Emilia-Romagna's Adriatic coast that is rich in heritage, charm and cuisine.

June 17, 2024

Sunday Shop: Omega Juicers, House of Amao, Alice

Morgan Hines seeks out the best in not only food and drink but style, housewares, and more. Welcome to Appetito’s Sunday Shop!

June 16, 2024

Lambrusco Spritz Season Starts Now

Take Emilia-Romagna’s famed fizzy red wine, add more bubbles, and you have a refreshing spritz that’s suddenly on-trend!

June 14, 2024
See all posts