From their expansive patio overlooking the Town Branch Creek to the multilevel industrial-chic setting, Goodfellas Distillery is reinventing the traditional pizza joint by adding craft cocktails and a highly social atmosphere. Long known for their hefty New York-style slices, which attract long lines among the late-night crowd at the original Mill Street location, Goodfellas Distillery offers an extensive drink menu featuring hundreds of different bourbons, and a Prohibition-style speakeasy cocktail bar. After the success of their Wiseguy Lounge locations in Cincinnati and Covington, founders and former high school buddies Eric Boggs and Alex Coats knew the time was right to bring the concept to their hometown.
The newest addition to Lexington’s ever-growing James E. Pepper Campus on Manchester Street was once the distillery’s boiler room. Known as “Building 13”, the 5,500 square foot facility would draw water from the creek and receive grain and coal via train (the tracks still crisscross the patio). The coal was then loaded into the gigantic hopper, which remains suspended over the bar.
Boggs explained that when he and Coats first looked at the building, there were no windows, no roof, and a gravel floor. He and Coats designed the renovation along with architect Rebecca Burnworth, using as many of the original materials as possible. For example, the patio is lined with reclaimed brick pavers, stamped with a variety of Kentucky locations. The original 105-foot smokestack is now a VIP area with suspended Edison lightbulbs and circular banquette seating.
One of the most impressive elements of the design is the second level mezzanine that overlooks the entire space. It was added using the existing steel framework, with the intention of keeping the same look and feel that it may have had in 1930’s. “We always tried to keep the focal point going up,” said Coats. They added a steel spiral staircase leading up to the area, which is outfitted with leather sofas, a pool table, oversized windows, and exposed brick. The space can be reserved for small gatherings of 15 or groups of up to 70 people.
Boggs and Coats selected all of the light fixtures, with assistance from Cindy Olson at Kentucky Lighting & Supply. Always preferring to support local businesses, they partnered with George Gatewood of Longwood’s Antique Woods and a local mural artist, Mike Martinez, for other decorative elements. They explained that since all of the Pepper Campus buildings are owned by individuals and not a single developer, owners are taking a lot of pride in making the district the best it can be.
The structure adjacent to Goodfellas will be the revived James E. Pepper Distillery, which will manufacture their namesake bourbon once again. And a new trailhead for the Legacy Trail is under construction across Manchester Street. When completed, it will reportedly link Pepper Campus to downtown. Additional parking across the street is coming soon as well.
Goodfellas Distillery has a quick service concept, so customers can drop in and get a slice if they’re hungry or pressed for time. Or they can sit down and order a whole pie to be brought to the table. “You can also walk up to the bar and order pizza or drinks, so it creates a very social atmosphere,” said Coats.
“When you’re here, you often run into people you know or meet new people that you normally wouldn’t in a typical restaurant environment.”
He added that since they don’t have designated reservations, tables tend to move quickly, so customers can come in any time they want and have a beer; before long, a table will open up.
Their award winning cocktail menu is the brainchild of beverage director Bill Whitlow, who developed the beverage program at their Over The Rhine and Mainstrasse locations in Cincinnati. “Bill came here to get our beverage program rolling and really introduce Lexington to the craft cocktail scene,” said Coats. “There are a few craft cocktail bars here, but nothing like we are doing.”
Bar manager Mike Abbott is on-site at Goodfellas Distillery and is passionate about creating exciting cocktails made with locally sourced ingredients. A hands-down customer favorite, he said, is the Mexican Shakedown. “It’s a play on a traditional fizz, using small batch tequila instead of gin and our house-made rosemary simple syrup.” He explained that since our senses of smell and taste are so closely related, they use a spring of fresh rosemary, which is torched and placed in the drink as a garnish. “Once we light one, we know we’re about to make eight more,” he said.
When asked what excites him most in the food and beverage world, Abbott said, “I love the movement where people are doing fresh, simple food, but with perfect execution. It might just be mashed potatoes and buttermilk fried chicken, but if it’s executed perfectly, there is no need to doctor it up. So we always look for minimally processed ingredients, and we try to buy local as much as we can.” Coats added, “It can be challenging with the volume of ingredients we use, but we have a great food purveyor who knows about quality ingredients.”
After myriad lessons learned over eleven years in business, Coats and Boggs knew the time was right to take their restaurant group to the next level. Coats explained how the idea of the Wiseguy Lounge evolved. “When we first decided to branch out of Lexington, we opened a multi-story location in Covington, Kentucky. It featured craft cocktails, 400 bourbons, and prohibition style drinks. It has a back staircase, so we decided to put a speakeasy on the second floor. We called it the Wiseguy Lounge but we didn’t market it: people would just stumble across it, and many didn’t know it was there. But over time, the popularity grew.” Two years later, they opened the same concept in Over The Rhine. Wiseguy Lounge has been rated one of the Top 50 Bourbon Bars in America for the past three years by Four Roses and The Bourbon Review Magazine, in addition to many other awards.
With the new location and more on the way, Coats and Boggs are showing no signs of slowing down. They give plenty of credit to their team, including general manager Tony Arthur and Director of Operations, Matt Falco, for helping them operate successfully day after day. “We are both Lexingtonians,” said Coats, “We love our great state of Kentucky, but my mother’s family is from Long Island, so we also have family ties to New York and to New York pizza. That’s why we decided to do a New York style pizzeria with a bourbon bar concept.” Boggs added, “We have known each other since high school, and our parents taught us from a very young age, if you’re going to do something, do the best you can.”