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It’s Good To Be King

Story Of The King Of Cups Owner, Dino.

Growing up in an Italian family Gives you a really good perspective on food drink and hospitality. And as a child I remember when we would visit a relatives house You always knew that you were going to a home where people understood that food and drink were the best way to express your love to your friends and family.

As a Chicago Born Italian American I had the blessing of growing up in a very diverse multicultural atmosphere, my cousins related to there Italian heritage through and through but A lot of our aunts and uncles on my dad side married people from all over the world thus our Exposure to all these cultures helped expand Our understanding of each other and also Gave us a broad diversity when it came to our pallet.

We were not the typical Italian family That limited our food to pizza, pasta and wine.

My grandma vulpitta loved to explore different Ethnic Recipes when she was planning a meal and cooked soul food just as well as her Italian cuisine , being remarried to an African-American gentleman she made it a point to to learn his cultures cuisine making him a happy man although he preferred pasta he appreciated her mastery of his cultures Delicious food.

When you Were invited to a celebration at an Italians home you were Encouraged to have an alcoholic beverage. I remember at an early age being served a little champagne or Prosecco but then there would added fruit preserved in rum Or some fresh pomegranate, or just a couple cubes of sugar.

And let’s talk about Grandmas rum cake, this moist creamy delicious and potent masterpiece was my favorite as a child. One slice was equivalent to having two piña colada‘s and we didn’t understand why we felt so good after eating it but had a headache later on in the day.

Oh how I miss that wonderful creation The one that grandma Made perfectly but couldn’t seem to teach anyone how to make.

When we drank beer we added limes, salt ,oranges, hot sauce or anything else to enhance the flavor of our peroni , Morretti or papas favorite cheap beer red white and blue.

Fresh piña colada’s, wonderful margaritas, coffees with anisette or grappa or any other wonderful flavor Enhancers my creative family would add we’re always a treat.

What I didn’t understand then was that although it was Not only acceptable To sample these things as a teenager but it was encouraged by the matriarchs on both sides of our family to respect alcohol food and most of all each other when you were celebrating together. The grandmas wouldn’t have it any other way.

I also realized later in life that this was The beginning of my journey into hospitality and also my first master class into the world of Mixology and the art of making a great cocktail.

These prior Examples we’re always a driving force as I continued on my journey into what would be my passion.

At 16 I went to Canada to play junior hockey and stayed with many people over my four year Junior hockey career. These wonderful families all had one thing in common their hospitality.

I can’t believe how lucky i was with being able to walk into a strangers home that would immediately treat you like family. This was shocking to me At the time but looking back at my past I realize that we did the same thing in our family. I mean really what kind of people Disrupt their family dynamic give you their spare room and cook and clean for you , some young kid living his dream in Canada trying to be a professional hockey player.

Those days will be cherished and I will always have a special place in my heart for the families that taught me the second lesson on my hospitality journey.

Those great hosts enjoyed sharing their culture , Home, family, and cuisine with me as I indulged on their homemade recipes from whatever culture their family derived.
Also being in Canada you were also allowed to drink at 16 so I also had some great Canadian beer with dinner, and got to sample Irish coffees, Portuguese wine, Northern Italian cuisine,English tea, Indian food,and many other Diverse food and drink from these wonderful families.

Then after five years of Concussions, multiple facial lacerations, three shoulder operations, broken teeth and facial fractures , and lots of traveling and I decided hockey wasn’t for me Any longer.

Next stop The sugar shack !

Now you may think the sugar shack is a candy store or a bakery but no the sugar shack is the home of the originator of the art of male stripping. That’s right I was one of the original sugar shack dancers Dana Montana’s Answer to the women’s liberation movement.

This was great because not only did I get to delay adulthood a little longer, I also got a chance to perform in front of thousands of enthusiastic crowd’s throughout the world . Dana was a very interesting Lady who I learned a lot about business from. Once again I was in an environment of hospitality and entertainment with great food and drink were we would do 2 to 3 shows a night and then afterwards head over to her restaurant in downtown Lake Geneva.

Dana’s downtown restaurant had a very fun Mexican American Bartender name Louis that knew I liked my drinks more on the creative side, he would always try to surprise me knowing I would only have a couple drinks and I loved all of the creative riffs he would create on mojitos , pina coladas and margaritas. Unlike most people in our industry I already had a respect for alcohol and used it for taste and a little buzz and not to get drunk or for liquid confidence I already learned that from my family and my hockey years and it got magnified during my Run as a male entertainer.

I remember one drink in particular he made with tequila Cane sugar lime blackberries and Cinnamon, he would Squeeze fresh lime juice and make this cocktail every time I came and then would give me something else he came up with. Although I was very interested in my performances and being a mini celebrity I was also very interested in how restaurants bars and hospitality worked I knew one day I would probably own my own place one of my far off goals I eventually realized some years later.

After the sugar shack I got to work with Chippendale’s Traveling the United States working in Los Angeles meeting movie stars hanging out with Jackie Collins at her nightclub tramps and eating and drinking my way through North America I ended up in Canada in 1988 during the winter Olympics living between Calgary and Edmonton once again up in the great White North with my adopted home and also getting able to-experience the world of hospitality.

This actually was an educational time through my observationsobservations of all of the great treatment from the hotels, bars, and restaurants that hosted our shows one gentleman in particular was A man named Berry T.

After the Chippendale‘s tour we stayed with a bunch of the dancers up in the Edmonton Alberta area And put a show together that rivaled anything Chippendale’s ever put together we performed all over Western Canada with monthly shows in Vancouver Whistler British Columbia and many stops in between including Banff Alberta and some small native towns that had more women at the shows then their population sign stated when diving-into theses towns .

Berry owned a huge entertainment complex in Edmonton with multiple restaurants, a dance club, Café, with some of the best hospitality I’ve ever experienced. He knew how to treat people and he made sure he hired accordingly although the cocktail scene was many years from being popularized again all of his drinks were Monitored made with fresh juices and garnished beautifully.

Only I would be noticing this with all the attention thrown our way as Chippendale dancers from the Canadian women I was Just as interested in how and why people would go to one place over another and Berry would say that it’s paying attention to detail and treating everyone like they are your family that’s the only way a business will make it I believe that to this day.

Fast forward a few years later the winter of 1997 my dancing career was winding down and I was looking for something more stable since I had my son in 95 and wanted to stay grounded. I floated around as Manager and Bouncer at a few Chicago establishments I also got to work for Dennis Robbins illusions during the last championship run of the Chicago Bulls.

My Official title was entertainment director although I acted more like a general manager since there wasn’t a real manager anywhere to be found. I also got to work with some great marketing people and came up with a lot of promotions, entertainment concepts, and also learned more about the actual inner workings of a bar and restaurant from a couple of talented people that were involved.

I unashamedly take credit into bringing burlesque back into the spotlight in Chicago. I conceptualized a variety show called Divas Las Vegas where I choreographed, hired, and cultivated many burlesque acts During this time.

I have to admit it was very cool to see a full house eating dinner and watching variety entertainment like the old vaudeville days this is one of my greatest years in the hospitality business, I got to meet many celebrities, learn the bar business, the restaurant business, keep manage the entertainment , I loved working with creative people especially the burlesque, variety, and circus acts that would soon explode in the Chicago area over the next few years.

I also got a chance to put a band together that played funk and disco and got to jam with Stevie wonder and Montez Jordan and John popper from blues traveler. many celebrities passed through the doors during the bulls final championship run including Arnold Schwarzenegger, David Copperfield, Carmen Electra, and many others actually too many to mention in a paragraph! Also let’s not forget Saturday nights were bachelorette night and I put together a Chippendale style show for the wild ladies of Chicago although I wasn’t quite in the shape I used to be in I was able to end my dancing career on a high note at Dennis Rodman’s Illusions. We Capped off that wonderful year With Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls final championship, with a giant parade on Ontario Street after the official Grant Park-parade. As the story goes Dennis was at the airport and was getting ready to fly out of town when he heard that there were horses blocking off Ontario Street and thousands of people around his club waiting to see him he put aside his aggravation over the investors not giving him any money at the club and came and partied with the people! Dennis Rodman was the true Hospitality King in my eyes at that time what a great guy he came walked through the crowd partied with the people toasted his championship ate a great steak and then headed to California on the next flight.

What a great memory. From 1999 to 2007 my life was a bit of a blur I bounce around from club to club and although I made great money managing and running security I was looking for something more.

I had minority shares in a bar called Funk groove bar once again I put together Chicago’s best ladies night although I didn’t dance anymore I got to see it through as a producer-and it was super successful.

I also experimented a little bit with Mixology and craft cocktails but my partner didn’t believe in that side of the business and it was always a constant struggle that I would lose due to of my Minority status as a partner.

I learned some things there but in The spring of 2007 I pass by a little bar That had a for rent sign on it on Deerborn street in Of the Chicago loop.

I remember as a child when we would go to State Street especially around Christmas my grandmother a former burlesque dancer and singer would tell us stories about the old vaudeville district in the loop area and South Loop areas, the Rialto the Gem the trocodaro , And many other theaters and bars would host chicago’s biggest brightest and most notorious with vaudeville burlesque and old-school striptease.

Although that area had turned into the financial district I knew the ancestors we’re calling on me to make something in their honor, so in the late summer of 2007 I created Brandos Speakeasy.

Brandos started out with one of the greatest martini menus in the city and 40 bottle beers along with a great scotch rum and whiskey selection with Decor reminiscent of a little French inspired New Orleans lounge. Brandos hosted live gypsy jazz, karaoke nights, spoken word and mini burlesque shows in the first five or six years but settled into being chicago‘s first karaoke Speakeasy yes I said it. This speakeasy got so popular I had to expand into the East room (a former dry cleaners )and create another bar area to go rest my ears.

My hospitality adventure had come full circle I was running one of chicago’s most popular bars one that I owned and I was having a great time. Along the way I opened a short-lived but memorable Speakeasy called the black Kat We had a one year lease and it was basically a 1920s pop up this expanded my love and investigations into the Art of imbibe .
The black Kat club had me working with a myriad of bar chefs/Mixologists Getting a better understanding of what the cocktail culture had become this inspired me to stay in the game and reinvent myself. Take it to the winter of 2018 and the idea for the King Of Cups was formed.

Partnering up with an industry friend who also owned a Busy Chicago nightclub but couldn’t seem to get a little tavern going I came up with a plan to create a rococo style gilded cocktail lounge with a sense of humor.

My son Brandon and I did some research and development and hit almost every cocktail lounge in New York City After this trip we knew what we wanted we returned home and our three day recovery from all of the drinking Brandon embarked on a journey to find the perfect Mixologist and found him ladies and gentlemen we bring to you Mr. Danny Jenkee bartender extraordinaire!

Danny brought a new dimension to our knowledge of the cocktail world creating his own tinctures, bitters, and mixers like no others we have ever experienced. This collaboration has produced one of my proudest collaborations having my son involved , becoming friends with Danny and also having Taylor as a partner made this cocktail journey even better. We will keep moving on our journey of hospitality, food, and friendships Look for Our new Tropical cantina named Esmeralda‘s in the Humboldt Park Neighborhood this summer.

We will also be collaborating on a CBD hard soda called Emerald City and hosting cocktail classes, and a YouTube channel dedicated to demystifying the art of making a drink. This will also be part of our nightly offerings where we invite the general public to come and take a crack at becoming a bartender for the night with our cocktail classes.

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