If you’ve spent time in Boerum Hill recently, chances are you’ve noticed the buzz outside 61 Local, a public house on Bergen Street serving up local everything—from a Lambrusco-style wine from Red Hook Winery and Kombucha Brooklyn brews to artisanal bites like Salvatore Brooklyn Ricotta and Dickson's Farmstand meats. And their flair for local flavor goes well beyond their menu. Walk into 61 Local on any night and you'll find live readings from neighborhood writing groups, sustainability-focused events hosted by Farm City, like the upcoming "Process Dinner" and the recurring Community Cooking Club.
Even if you've thrown back a few pints at 61 Local's communal tables, you probably don't know the mastermind behind this neighborhood operation: Dave Liatti. He's the unassuming guy at the bar, always talking to someone, but rarely revealing himself as the man behind the curtain. Part restaurateur, engineer, and designer, Liatti has turned 61 Local into a creative hub for neighborhood artists and foodies looking for a place to kick back and collaborate. We chatted with Liatti about his inspiration for 61, his experience working with local artisans, and most importantly, what brought him here.
You have a great selection of craft beer on your taps, but you're more than just an aficionado. A few years ago you volunteered to help Sixpoint increase its capacity. How did you help them solve this problem--and why did you offer to?
I liked the beer they were making and respected the care, attention, and effort that went into crafting it. Sixpoint was just a startup back then and they were facing many challenges. I wanted to see them succeed and thought I might be able to help in that effort.
I initially helped by listening, learning and assisting. The brewing process and science are complex and they were new to me. In time, I was able to contribute skills and resources to the cause. Some specific projects that I had a hand in were: The installation of a grain auger (Scott Vacarro of Captain Lawrence was very helpful on that project). Construction of a vapor condenser to recapture heat energy produced during the boil. Redesign of the brewhouse to improve efficiency and increase capacity. Otto Gabrielsen, who also helped build 61, was instrumental with all of these projects.
For the past 20 years, you've also worked with design partner Stephen Feuerborn to make items like the Twist Together Lamp. What is your background in--engineering or design? And what is the correlation between the two, for you?
I studied mechanical engineering but always had an interest in, and respect for, art and design. I credit Steve for a lot of my design sense and development. When used together, design and engineering can take you on an interesting journey. Design is the creative energy that fuels the process and engineering provides the vehicle. With good fuel and a well built vehicle you can go on a pretty wild ride.
You've also helped design restaurants in the past, but you're very reticent to talk about them, or mention their names. Why is that?
I feel that, ideally, credit should be given rather than taken. 61 can be seen, in part, as a reaction to my personal experience in the restaurant industry. It’s a convivial place with the transparent intention of promoting and celebrating the creative efforts of the people around it.
How is 61 Local different from your previous work? How is it similar?
It involved a broader scope of curation than previous projects. This put me in direct contact with a host of good people throughout the project--from the interior design to the food and beverage producers to CSA startups, supper clubs, readings and film screenings. I hope 61 can help other people make similar connections. After all, that’s kind of the point.
Many of the traits are similar to my previous work: contemporary, unconventional, thoughtful, approachable, fun…61 is difficult to categorize and I like that. It prompts you to stop and rethink.
How long have you lived in Brooklyn? Where do you live?
20 years in Dumbo--before it was coined as such.
What do you enjoy about working here?
The people. The talented, thoughtful and passionate people that I’m fortunate enough to interact with every day.
Part of your goal with 61 Local is to create a space where people can share ideas and connect with like-minded neighbors. Have you seen the effects of this yet?
Definitely. In the short time we’ve been open, 61 has become a second home to a lot of the local producers whose products we carry and I see good connections happening there. Our events are starting to amplify this effect. We’re currently hosting a series called Chautauqua which includes organizations like Slow Money, Transportation Alternatives, Green Edge NYC. We’ve screened a couple documentaries in our mezzanine room and in May, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth will be screening student documentary shorts from a class she’s teaching at the NYU School of Journalism. Neighborhood writers Prudence Peiffer and Oana Sanziana host monthly readings called “The Folding Chair” that feature neighborhood peers. Scott Bridi from Brooklyn Cured recently taught a sausage-making class on May 10th. The calendar is starting to fill up. Keep an eye on it.
How has your background in design and engineering influenced 61 Local?
Every project that I’ve been involved with leading up to this one has had an effect on my development and disposition. 61, like other works, is a snapshot in time for me and the artists involved like Stephen Feuerborn, Anne Mourier, Mathew Foodim, Iviva Olenick and Chris Munsey. That’s the beauty of a work that comes from the heart--it’s a tangible expression of an accumulation of life experience.
What inspired you to start 61 Local?
All of the above. And for many years, I’d been looking for something like this but couldn’t find it.
Some fresh air would be good--maybe a sabbatical.
Maria Gagliano is a writer, book editor, and co-publisher of Slice Magazine. She’s a Bensonhurst native living in Park Slope, where she’s teaching herself to sew, garden, pickle, preserve, and bake like her Sicilian family. She chronicles her (mis)adventures at pomatorevival.com.