Immediately after walking into Federico’s Supper Club, I am offered a negroni. I politely decline, still shimmying onto a tall bar stool as the evening sun on Commercial Drive streams onto the collection of accolades adorning the restaurant’s windows. “How about a full-bodied red?” the bartender offers. Now he’s speaking my language.
The man of the hour, Federico Fuoco, is running late, so I am accompanied by restaurant general manager and marketing director Brunella Gaudio. Starting off with a hearty saluti, she introduces to me to the surrounding staff one by one, proudly announcing how long they have been a part of the Federico’s team: seven years, 10 years, 15. This isn’t just any Vancouver restaurant.
Supper clubs in North America rose to popularity in the 1930s and ‘40s, perpetuated by the Prohibition era. By tradition, supper clubs are a destination spot to dine and dance; patrons arrive for cocktails and a meal, and stay to enjoy live entertainment after dinner. The menu is usually simple, the atmosphere lively.
Located in the heart of Vancouver’s Little Italy, Federico’s Supper Club has been proudly offering this extinct form of dining since 1998. Live music is played on the restaurant stage every night—often tribute bands, Italian crooners, and even Fuoco himself. “People will go out for dinner and then after they say, ‘Well, now what are we going to do?’ If you come to Federico’s Supper Club you stay the whole night,” Fuoco says once he arrives. “Supper clubs were huge in New York, but they went out of style. I’m finding that the younger demographics are now finding it to be an interesting concept again because they aren’t familiar with it. This restaurant is an extension of who I am: I take after my mom of being hospitable. The second you walk into her house she says, ‘Hi, how are you, and what would you like to eat?’ And you can’t turn her down. We have a lot of people that come two or three times a week, and this has become their second home.”
The menu at Federico’s is designed for efficient, effective service. An a la carte option is available Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, and set menus are offered on weekends. “What we try to do is stick to authenticity and the integrity of the ingredients because that’s what the Italian cuisine is about,” says Gaudio. “Our food is sourced locally and all of our desserts are made here in-house.” We are served a sample platter of assagini: herbed, creamy eggplant meatball, velvety burrata, crostini. Fuoco suits up by tucking a white napkin into the collar of his dress shirt before diving in.
The service at Federico’s doesn’t resemble a hip Gastown spot run by lithe servers in toques and oversized glasses. The front staff here are primarily male and sport black shirts and ties, bringing that old-world feel to life in the Art Deco-inspired setting.
Fuoco is not the first in his family to run a business in this building. In the 1960s, the property was home to Luigi Moka’s Ristorante, a dine and dance joint where Fuoco’s father, Gianni, was the chef and resident musician. Fuoco came full-circle when he opened Federico’s Supper Club in December 1998. However, he doesn’t like to pigeonhole his career strictly to restaurant management. He’s a musician, a performer, and a board member on the Commercial Drive BIA; and after nearly 20 years of ownership, he still loves to take the supper club stage.
“The biggest compliment, for me, is when people come in here and they say, ‘I can’t remember the last time I had such a good evening,’” says Fuoco as we move on to a sample of mushroom risotto and decadent gnocchi with ricotta. “It’s a feel-good environment. People have a feel-good experience, and that means the world to me.”
At the end of the day, this place is about tradition, about good service, about the experience. When I ask Fuoco if there is anything we haven’t covered, he asks: “Can I offer you some dessert?”
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