It was a concept a decade in the making.
Translating to “workshop” in Italian to represent the bakery, pasta, butcher aspects, the Washington D.C. waterside complex Officina serves as a three-story love letter to Italian culture. Masterminded by Executive Chef and Owner Nicholas Stefanelli who works in tandem with Beverage Director John Filkins, the space is part market, part café and part trattoria.
But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Officina is its Amaro Library, a meticulous collection of vintage and modern amari, all cultivated from the entire globe and brought under one roof. “Amaro is special because of its unique history and connection to Italian gastronomy,” says Stefanelli, the acclaimed restaurateur who is also behind the lauded, Puglia-inspired D.C. favorite Masseria. “Many Amari were started by pharmacists throughout Italy basing their recipes on local botanicals as a way to cure a variety of ills.”
According to Stefanelli, the crown jewels are the rarer bottles, many of which are no longer in production. “They provide unique history of a producer or region and allow us to offer our guests a glimpse into the past.”
For Stefanelli, scoring them isn’t always easy. “We find the rarer spirits through traditional avenues such as a broker or auction. We have also brought bottles back from Europe.” In addition, finding new stock is also a family affair. “About six months ago we obtained several bottles of vintage Campari and Spirits, when my Mom bought an older home and found a stash of spirits in an old kitchen cupboard.”
A highlight in the collection of rarities is a 60s-era bottle of Green Chartreuse, which was produced by Carthusian monks until the late ‘80s and purchased by Stefanelli at auction. “The bottle we have is from between 1966 and 1973,” he notes. “Unfortunately, the prices on Chartreuse have skyrocketed since and make it very difficult to buy and put it on a spirits list for a reasonable price.”
For Filkins, he usually favors the Alpine style of Amari. “ These Amari tend towards the more bitter side and often utilize ingredients found around the Italian alps, so my vintage favorites are Sta. Maria al Monte and Braulio, both from the 1970’s.”
The biggest prize in their Amaro adventures, however, is educating patrons and making new fans. “Most patrons are excited or at the very least curious,” says Stefanelli. “They’re eager to learn and ask questions and we have a great team at Amaro Library that helps to each guest to navigate the styles of Amari and find one they will enjoy – even if it is in an Affogato.”