Man About Town / Lounging at Las Vetas
It was a bright, sunny mid-December Friday morning and people already were in that let's-start-the-weekend mode. I was right with them and thought there'd be no better place than Las Vetas Lounge to get things kicked off.
Perched up the street from the Community Theatre at 27 Unquowa Road, the café has been accommodating movie-goers, local business people, commuters and students since January 2010 when it moved from a prior location on the Post Road that it had occupied since 2003.
"We outgrew the old place, especially in the storage area," said owner Andrew Servetas, 35, who was preparing coffee when I visited. "The rent was due to go up, up, up and I didn't see the capacity to grow, grow, grow."
The new 1,800-square-foot space offers the same worn-flannel-straight-out-of-the-dryer charm but with a broader menu and more seating capacity. The exterior alone invokes curiosity. A large mug-shaped sign emblazoned with the word "Coffee" hangs over the front door. Colorful retro chairs in hues of peach, red, purple, teal and brown are placed along the front beside latticed metal tables. A sign taped to one of the large picture windows teases "'Tis the season for kisses under mistletoe, carols and really delicious drinks ... to name a few: Peppermint Stick Mocha, the Eggnog Latte, Classic Hot Chocolate."
Inside, at the far end of the room, a bust of Beethoven guards a small piano. Monkey figurines hold the lamps of an unusual chandelier. A homey artificial Christmas tree is trimmed in red, striped and silver ornaments. A five-tier shelving unit is stacked with coffee table books and board games. Another tower holds several hundred classic LPs like Jimi Hendrix's "Electric Lady Land" and Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited."
Tables and chairs of all shapes, sizes and description fill the center of the room. As Servetas explained, these were obtained from multiple places. "Retro is best. If I want a table, I go to Google or Craig's List and type in retro. Up pops the Duke of Earl swing chairs. I don't feel that things necessarily need to match."
One Formica-topped, chrome-trimmed table was donated by a customer. Another similar table came from an estate sale in Stratford. A third table had come from Servetas' parents and had adorned their kitchen back in the 1950s.
In high alcoves, more unusual décor: an Elvis bust donated by a local barber, a Beatles album dropped off by a homeless man, clocks and characters.
The center of action is the long pine serving counter opposite the entrance, which is lined with glass candy jars and divides café from kitchen. From this area emanates all the wonderful fare for which the café is known. Pre-roasted java, with tags like South Alps Vanilla and Pumpkin Spice, delivered weekly. An array of black, green, herbal and decaf teas. Hot espresso drinks and specials. Mulled cider, hot chai, iced drinks, shakes and smoothies.
And while beverages are a focus, there's a collection of breakfast, lunch and dessert items to be had. Egg dishes, oatmeal, pancakes and baked goods. Chili, soup, salads and sandwiches. Carrot cakes and cheesecake.
Servetas said the café concept was modeled on Las Vegas and leaving your troubles at home. "It's about having a social every night." As to the name, he said his friends call him "Vetas" and it seemed appropriate.
A former marketing guy who had worked with the Connecticut Post and Ryan Partnership, Servetas longed to be his own boss. This 100-year-old space, which has seen incarnations over the years as a Chevy dealership, bookstore and bowling alley, is now his home away from home.
People pop in and out as I gather my things and step back into the brisk December air, another mission completed in my Man About Town campaign.
Mike Lauterborn's "Man About Town" column appears every other week in the Fairfield Citizen.