Ryan Rogers, owner of Feast BBQ and Royal’s Hot Chicken, will partner with longtime friend and chef Andrew McCabe to open Bar Vetti in 2017. The relaxed Italian restaurant will be located on the first floor of 800 Tower City Apartments in Old Louisville, and serve light breakfasts, self-service lunches and full-service dinners. It’ll seat 50 inside and, when the weather’s warm, 55 outside.
Rogers hinted at the concept a few months back when he posted photo tweets of a pile of pizza and Italian cookbooks. Ever since he and McCabe have hammered out a loose menu featuring wood-fired pizzas, fresh-made pasta dishes, panini and more.
McCabe, a veteran of Harvest, Proof on Main and legendary Chicago restaurants such as Blackbird and the Michelin-star-rated L2O, will serve as Bar Vetti’s executive chef and co-owner. Rogers, operating partner and co-owner of parent company HiCotton Hospitality, will extend his role as hands-on overseer of Bar Vetti, two Feast BBQ locations and Royals. The men are backed in the project by silent investor partners.
Rogers said Bar Vetti has long been on the HiCotton “timeline and master plan of projects we want to do in Louisville. We have some really great Italian restaurants already doing other styles of Italian food, so we’re trying to do a style we don’t have in Louisville.”
That means a more casual setting for seasonally rotating, chef-driven dishes he’s seen in other markets, especially in California and New York.
“I’d really call it classical Italian, but not American-Italian, heavy and with a lot of red sauce,” he said. Expect the menu to be compact and centered on small plates. “We saw a real void for the kind of food we want to do, so we’ll bring a variation of our own and provide that at a really high level.”
If that sounds vague, it’s by design. Rogers’ style is to keep the final lineup largely secret until the restaurant’s opening. It also allows him and McCabe to keep experimenting and changing and tweaking until then.
At least he did say the pizza will come from a Neapolitan-like dough that, once baked in the 900 F oven, will still be thin but crisper than the Naples standard.
(FWIW, Garage Bar’s pizza is the only thing close to Neapolitan style in Louisville. And you have to go to Cincinnati (A Tavola) or Lexington (Smashing Tomato) to find anything remotely similar.)
Part of what drew Rogers in to the deal was the $11 million investment being made in the 286-unit apartment building known for decades as The 800 Building. In addition to unit upgrades, its owners are adding a rooftop pool and penthouse-level fitness center and clubhouse. Such amenities, Rogers said, will attract the kind of professionals he believes will appreciate not only a restaurant right in their building, but its urban setting. Once renovations are finished, he expects more than 350 people will reside there.
“We also wanted to be there because that part of town needs a mid-tier restaurant,” Rogers said. “On one end there’s 610 (Magnolia) and Buck’s, and on the other end there’s Juanita’s Burger Boy, Slice and Old Louisville Tavern. There’s nothing in the middle that’s a little more upscale, but still a place people might feel they could go to twice a week.”
So what’s in the name, Bar Vetti? It’s a slightly complicated story.
Among the ruins of Pompeii, which was buried under the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, was a home that was excavated nearly two millennia later. It was named the House of Vettii, and within it were marble statues, detailed wall frescos and an ornate garden. That’s concept’s Italian lineage.
But Vettii’s resurrection also is a tribute to the rebirth of the 800 Tower and Vetti (yes, the spellings are different), but also an acknowledgement of the neighborhood bar-restaurants so common in Italy. Rogers explained it this way.
“In Italy, in all these tiny communities, the bar is the neighborhood meeting point, a place that’s open all day,” he began. “You get coffee in the morning, see your neighbors there and catch up, and you might get lunch. But definitely after work, before you go home, you’d stop by and get an aperitif before you go home for dinner. That kind of place is what we want.
“Only instead of going home, you’d stay for dinner.”