“I’m an Iowa boy—it’s Retro-seeena,” the Goodwich’s Josh Clark said. “Retro-shenna,” countered his then-business partner, Jake Leslie, in earnest, “because that’s how it’s pronounced.”
This witty repartee worthy of a scene from Seinfeld took place last fall, while the two were consulting on a small, speakeasy-esque bar in the back of Radio City Pizzeria. Neither one is still involved in the project, and Clark has returned to his core business of “stacked-right sandwiches” (Reubenish, you haunt my dreams). But the name has stuck, and the bar is finally opening, at 9 p.m. today.
“It’s a place to get away from the hectic nature of Fremont Street.”~Bryant Jane
Retroscena is Italian for “backstage,” but also for “underhanded,” an appropriate detail that you’ll instantly appreciate as the bar is situated behind the recently refreshed restaurant. After tonight’s soft opening, you can reach Retroscena through the RCP dining room till 11; after that, enter through the back alley behind Park on Fremont (wave to the smokers on the seesaw!) till 2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday. The pizzeria and bar are owned and operated by Radio City Restaurant Group, which consists of founder Elias Ghanem, bartenders/mixologists Bryant Jane and Lyle Cervenka and chef Sean Collins, formerly of Rose.Rabbit.Lie. and Japonais.
As you approach Retroscena, look up to take in the hand-lettered globe sign and the hand-wrought ironwork with a Stardust starburst pattern by Randy Mendre (Jane: “Only neighborhood guys for us!”). Then, as you enter, notice the “living wall” of cocktail-friendly herbs (sage, rosemary, lemon verbena, lavender) by Gaia Flowers owner Peter Frigeri, the JW Caldwell mural with that same starburst design and the walls covered in Fernet Branca posters. Fernet Branca also went into the back-bar stain, a subtle homage to Jamie Boudreau’s shelving stain treatment at Seattle’s Canon bar that included Angostura aromatic bitters. Which is all very fitting as this is an amaro bar, boasting more than 70 varieties of amari, digestivi, digestifs and bitter liqueurs. Jane and Cervenka will make their own fernet.
Inside, caged, etched globe lights hang over the granite bar of two wells and zero guns; club service will reign here instead. On the menu (essentially, a stack of Polaroids), you’ll find $10 cocktails combining amari with rye, mezcal, gin, vermouth, grappa, rum, cachaça and vodka. Vodka also plays the role of jester in a $37 “barrel-aged vodka soda.” This would be Jane and Cervenka’s answer to the Double Down’s Ass Juice, wherein a composed vodka soda languishes in a small wood barrel until some hapless sot orders it, at which time it receives CPR in the form of a-la-minute carbonation. “It’s just a joke,” Jane says. Hey, it’s your hangover.
Fending off that hangover will be Italian-style robata, skewers of yellowtail, grilled beef, grilled veggies, a seasonal pickle and more—none of which require cutlery. These should pair incredibly with the beer program, which is split between the august portfolios of Bevi Beverages (Birra del Borgo, Birreria del Baladin), 12 Percent Imports and Shelton Brothers Imports. Draft beers are just $9, making this the best place in town to try Massimo D’Arrigo’s rarer Bevi beers. Bottles will include just Miller High Life (“The Champagne of beers”) and Quilmes. Says Jane, “I’m Argentinian, so …”
When I visited exactly 23 hours before the doors open to welcome Count Edoardo Branca as the first customer, funky tables and chairs were being assembled to provide the 50 or so seats in the courtyard-style former storage space, now crisscrossed with festival lights and flanked by powerful misters. Red painted brick is set off by pops of color from the living wall, as well as potted trees and trellised plants. “We’ll be doing work till the last second,” Jane says as he screwed a highboy table into its top. “It’s an intimate, beautiful outdoor setting with a very European feel, and we want to really focus on customer service. It’s a place to get away from the hectic nature of Fremont Street.”
Roughly two weeks after the soft opening, the group will celebrate a combined grand re-opening for Radio City Pizzeria, plus grand opening for this little slice of heaven behind it.