Ylli Ferati has been bartending for nine years, the last six years of which have been spent full time at Fiori D'Italia, his family's restaurant.
"I grew up in the restaurant world," Ferati said.
Ferati's grandfather first came to Anchorage to work on the slope. On his off shifts, he helped run Today's Pizza, along with a friend of his. Ferati's father took over Today's Pizza about the time that Ferati was born.
In 1995 Fiori D'Italia opened on Tudor Road and the Old Seward Hwy. Two years later, Fiori D'Italia made the move to its present location, tucked away in Spenard, at the old Garden of Eatin' restaurant. Ferati says that about 90 percent of his customers live in the Spenard area.
"It is all Spenard neighborhood people. They come in on their fat tire bikes, or they're walking their dog... and come in for a beer or two and walk back home," Ferati said. "For our business being in a neighborhood, we have no sign anywhere on the road. You have to come to Fiori because it's a destination. When people come to the bar, they know my mother, they know my dad."
Thrillist just recently named Fiori D'Italia the best whiskey bar in Alaska. It was the local clientele that helped Fiori D'Italia gather over 300 bottles of whiskey for their collection, the largest known whiskey collection in the state. There's so many bottles at Fiori D'Italia that Ferati can't find room for them on the shelf.
"It never was like that. We always had a big spirit collection. We'd get guests coming in and they'd ask, 'hey, can I get a bottle of this or a bottle of that?' If it's available, we'll bring it in," Ferati said. "All of a sudden, everybody had their own bottle at the bar. So slowly, the collection just started growing. It wasn't even about having the most of anything or whatever. It was that your local neighborhood bar had your special bottle."
Ferati wasn't always so fond of whiskey, or even alcohol.
"I was like, 'oh whiskey, what's the big deal?' But it was when I had a sip of Balvenie 12 year DoubleWood, that was what made me start liking whiskey," Ferati said. "I think I have to like this stuff to be able to sell it, because I'm kind of that honest bartender. If I don't like something, I'm going to say I don't like it."
For Ferati, the dream bar in Anchorage isn't downtown, it's in Spenard, where he says the connection to the people is better and the atmosphere is different.
"You know how everybody wants, it's the desire, to have a bar downtown. It's the hip area, this and that. I think in Alaska, downtown is not it," Ferati said. "I think Spenard has the most... It's colorful. There's something about Spenard that just, I don't even know, I can't explain it. There's so much character you know, and just the people. There's different walks of life here. You got the middle class, the higher class, they all live in Spenard. Spenard just has a flair about it... Can't doing anything without the people, and couldn't do it without all the Spenardians."
Ylli is hosting a cocktail contest at Fiori D'Italia. The winner of the contest gets their cocktail on the menu for one year. More information and entry rules can be found on their Facebook page.
Words by Victoria Petersen / Photos by Young Kim