Quality Italian, the relatively new Italian steakhouse in Cherry Creek has become known for its elegantly prepared, meat-heavy menu, sophisticated ambiance and refined service. Since opening in March 2017 the spot has rapidly established itself as a Cherry Creek favorite, garnering a growing flock of dedicated regulars, some even taking the time to stop in on a daily basis.
In order for a restaurant to not only be successful but to flourish, every aspect of the business needs to shine independently. But to be truly exceptional, the interaction between staff, ambiance, drink and food must surpass the sum of the parts. Enter bar manager Lucas Simonis, who in addition to keeping the place stocked with top-notch spirits, helps to facilitate the synergistic interaction between each element. Motivated by a deep and long-standing love for hospitality, he and his passionate team serve innovative cocktails and well-selected Italian and American wine fit for the sturdy cuisine.
Simonis grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, knowing from an early age that he was built for hospitality. He even sold sandwiches door to door at the artists’ building where his father — sculptor Obie Simonis — lived and worked, while still in grade-school. This particular tenacity has been central to the man’s career, informing the ambitious nature that he brings to each aspect of the position. “Hospitality isn’t a job for me, it’s what I want to do with my life,” said Simonis, going on to explain that the rigorous hours that the job can require feel not only natural but enlightening.
While his position as bar manager requires direct oversight of the spirit selection, Simonis’ 10 years studying wine makes him a valuable resource for making sure that guests get a flawless glass or bottle to accompany their meal. Whether patrons are beginners or experienced connoisseurs, Simonis can artfully select wines perfectly suited for individual tastes and the accompanying dishes. “I want people to order the wine they enjoy, I’ll recommend something based on that,” said Simonis, discussing his method for assessing a customer’s palate regardless of whether or not they have a particularly experienced wine vocabulary.
The now-accomplished steward began his journey working as a server at the prestigious Boston locale Bistro Du Midi, where then wine director Olivier Flosse gave an impassioned speech on Burgundy. Realizing that the study of wine melded his love of travel, hospitality and history the young attendant began his education in earnest. “Wine is something like science or math, you can never learn everything. Everyone around you can teach you, it has so much depth,” said Simonis, discussing the endless nature of the intellectual pursuit — one that seems to fuel his fire now more than ever.
After moving to Boulder in 2015, he worked at Spruce in the Hotel Boulderado. After determining that the people’s republic was too small, he relocated to Denver. Following brief stints helping to open Departure and Morton’s, Simonis returned to Quality Italian after hearing that the bar manager position had opened up. Not willing to take no for an answer, he proved that his enthusiasm was unmatched, bringing unceasing energy to the position ever since.
While his education is certainly valuable, it is his impressive ability in team-building that has set him apart in a fickle industry rife with turnover and dubious levels of professionalism. Between him, general manager Cara Patteson, beverage director Bryan Schneider, wine director Olivier Flosse — who later left Bistro Du Midi to the Quality Italian team — and the seven experienced bartenders, the group is a masterclass in professional unity.
“We’ve found a team where most of us have managed our own bars and restaurants,” said bartender Evren Bora, who formerly ran the bar at License No. 1, where he and Simonis first met several years back. Everyone’s expertise is immediately clear, and while each member has a specific role to play, their overlapping knowledge allows a certain fluidity. Without needing to micromanage, Simonis can spend time focusing on wine and customer satisfaction.
They say in order to run a successful business you should find people you trust and delegate. The confidence shared throughout the bar is palpable, producing an ambiance where employees can focus on what really matters — providing customers with impeccable beverages that suit their unique taste.
Quality Italian is located at 241 Columbine St., Denver. It is open Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m., Saturday 10:30 a.m. – 11 p.m. and Sunday 10:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.