By SHELDON BERMONT / Petaluma Towns Correspondent
“Shaken, not stirred” is James Bond’s preferred method of ingesting vodka, usually in some exotic tropical bar. But here in Petaluma, there’s another option of a decidedly different stripe.
At Graziano’s Italian Restaurant, 170 Petaluma Blvd. North, vodka lovers can pull on knee-length faux fur coats and fur hats, step into a 12-foot by 9-foot “ice” room kept at a frosty 28 degrees and place their orders. It is one of only a handful of ice bars in the U.S. (The others are in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.)
The idea came from Sonia Perrozi, daughter of original owner Graziano Perrozi and co-owner at the time. She was in search of something unique to astound relatives visiting from Italy. Inspired by visiting Nic’s Vodbar in Beverly Hills, she found her answer: a refrigerated vodka tasting room, and she broached the idea to her father.
“At first I didn’t think Petaluma was right for something so unique,” said Graziano. “I didn’t know if the $65,000 in construction costs would be a good investment.” But he gave Sonia the green light and in 2008 they forged ahead.
David Martin of Creedence Construction in Petaluma was called in to handle the design and building, a project scheduled to coincide with a restaurant remodel that same year.
“We wanted to avoid the harsh, commercial look of a walk-in and soften the finished product to create a modern, hip look,” Martin said. “We also lowered a dividing wall inside the eating area to make the vodka bar more visually accessible.”
The Perrozis selected Jerry Rapoza of Jerry’s Refrigeration to handle the bar’s temperature control operation.
“My job was to create a small-scale application to a walk-in freezer, the kind you’d normally see in a grocery store stockroom,” Rapoza said. “The challenge was in finding the four-inch-thick, thermal-paned glass we needed to create visibility from the street and from inside the restaurant itself.”
At night the entire bar shines with an eerie blue-neon-like light.
This year, Graziano’s has launched a campaign built around the ice bar. Monica Perrozi-Jackson, current co-owner, is getting the word out with print and Internet advertising as well as Facebook and Twitter.
A new Vodka Connoisseur Club allows members to experience monthly tastings, and Julie Black has been hired as the room’s designated lead bartender. A faux fur coat is mandatory equipment for her shifts, she quips, “and sometimes I also wear clothes.”
People are dubious at first about hanging out in a 28-degree cooler, Black said, but they quickly “fall in love with the concept.”
Some even brag about it. Perrozi-Jackson tells the story of East Coast customers who regularly claim they have the genetic coding to go without the faux fur, but after 20 minutes of pretending they’re tough, she said, they usually beg for coats.
The tasting room is beginning to draw an ever-widening demographic, with locals and tourists ranging from 21 to more than 90 years old. Black has noticed an increase in tourists stopping for a drink and a photo-op after spending the day touring Wine Country.
The bar serves vodka in many flavors, but Blood Orange, Mango, Passion and X-Rated are the best sellers. And although vodka was originally made from potatoes, Graziano’s features versions made from wheat, corn, rye, rice and, most recently, grapes. All are served over a custom seven-foot slab of glass cut to look like a block of ice.
“There are no soda or water ‘backs’ served with the shots,” Black said, “because any moisture can cause condensation, which can be the kiss of death for our refrigeration system.”
Says Graziano, “It’s an adventure, and now, seeing people’s reaction, I know that Sonia really hit on something.”