WHY (THE HELL) NOT?

22&Co. glitter bombs Duval St.


 

 

“WHY NOT?”

That’s the sign that hangs behind the bar at

22&Co., the coziest and most colorful new addition to the Duval Street bar scene, and it couldn’t be a more apt slogan for the bar itself or its unicorn of an owner, Jenn Stefanacci. Why not open up your first bar in a matter of weeks after taking over the space at 218 ½ Duval St., just outside Teasers? Why not cram as much color and life as possible into a handful of square feet? And, as the name suggests, why not make tutus the theme around which you build your burgeoning bar empire?

“Why the hell not?!” Jenn laughs, her eyes sparkling. Above Jenn’s beaming million watt smile, a pink tutu drapes over the television while a pink chandelier and strings of pineapple twinkle lights cast beams of warm light across the shoebox-sized bar. Fake grass checkerboards the walls, which are studded with pineapples and pink flamingoes. The bar top is a retro Miami technicolor dream world with swaths of glitter sandwiched between stripes of tropical turquoise and vivid pink paint.

Jenn Stefanacci’s dream of owning her own bar has come true at 22&Co. COURTESY PHOTOS

Jenn Stefanacci’s dream of owning her own bar has come true at 22&Co. COURTESY PHOTOS

To many on the island, Jenn and tutus are as inseparable as Bert and Ernie. “I love glitter and tutus — that’s not a surprise to anyone,” Jenn giggles. “The grass and the flamingos made me think of old Florida and since the bar is so small, I wanted to make it feel as cozy as possible. Pineapples are the international sign of welcome and I want everyone to feel welcome when they sit down. We strung Christmas lights and tried to give the space an old, funky Airstream vibe. I wanted it to be colorful and quirky and I think we achieved that. The décor makes the bar feel Keys-y, but it also embraces the things that make Key West unique and make us our one human family. We live in Florida; the bar should be as colorful as the landscape is.”

The decor at 22&Co. consists of grass, pineapples and flamingos. Tutus hug stools ready for a fun evening.

The decor at 22&Co. consists of grass, pineapples and flamingos. Tutus hug stools ready for a fun evening.

To help bring her dreams to fruition, Jenn consulted with Marky Pierson, a creative visionary in his own right. “Marky is a genius,” Jenn says. “I told him I wanted fake grass, flamingoes, pineapples, and glitter and he showed up with everything I asked for and then some.”

 

 

Drinking inside on a spring day in Key West is borderline criminal — akin to putting cheese on fish, having beer before liquor, and biking the wrong way down a one-way street (a crime of which I am guilty almost daily). Every one of 22&Co’s five seats sits right on Duval Street, giving patrons a front row seat to the never-ending parade of the preposterous that marches down the street at all hours. “22&Co. may be smaller than your average bar, but I’m happy to start with a five-seat bar that has the best view of Duval Street and the best characters driving by,” Jenn says. “I could write a book about the people watching I’ve done over the past week!”

Jenn Stefanacci serves up the finest concoctions at her newly opened sparkly fun 22&Co. COURTESY PHOTOS

Jenn Stefanacci serves up the finest concoctions at her newly opened sparkly fun 22&Co. COURTESY PHOTOS

Although 22&Co. is Jenn’s first bar of her own, it’s hardly Jenn’s first bartending rodeo. “When I started bartending on the Jersey Shore during the summer in between college semesters, I immediately fell in love with the bar industry,” Jenn explains. “From the beginning, I knew I really wanted to own my own bar. When I moved to Key West nine years ago, I decided to cocktail waitress because I thought I was only going to be here for six months — that’s what everyone says, right? I loved cocktailing at Irish Kevin’s and at La Te Da, which are polar opposites but both very tourist based so I never had regulars who would come sit at my bar.

 

 

“In 2010, I moved to Ohio to have my son Finn. When I got back, Bill Lay offered me a bartending job at Virgilio’s, which I will be forever grateful for. I watched Pip, one of the bartenders, and her followers and noticed that my bar would have no one at it while hers was always packed. That experience taught me that I needed to establish my bartending shifts as a destination in order to be a successful bartender. You can go get a drink anywhere in this town, but to me it’s who you’re getting a drink from that makes the experience special.”

Few bartenders in Key West have as passionate a fan club as Jenn does. No matter where she works, she always has a handful of locals, friends from the Jersey Shore, or friends of friends vying for her seemingly limitless attention. “I’ve always said that when people sit at your bar, it’s like you’re hosting a party,” Jenn remarks. “It’s your job as a bartender to make your customers feel at home and comfortable and to make sure they want to come back. Then they’ll tell other people to go sit at your bar because they had a great experience with the bartender. The goal is to create a common bond with your customers and that’s something I’ve worked so hard to cultivate over the past eight years I’ve been bartending in Key West. Because of the network I’ve built, I already know that when people come back to Key West, they’re always going to come see me at 22&Co. and that’s the experience I want to continue creating in this new space. My customers have followed me to every bar I’ve worked at over the last decade and, if it wasn’t for them, this wouldn’t be possible.”

And although Jenn can find common ground with just about anyone on the planet, her rabid following is as much a result of her approachability as it is of her tireless work ethic. “At 15, I started bussing tables at an Italian restaurant in New Jersey,” she recounts. “I found that the harder I worked, the more money I made. Whatever you put into bartending is what you get out of it and bartending isn’t just a job for me — it’s my passion and my career and I’ve always taken great pride in what I do.”

But no woman is an island (not even if she lives on one), and Jenn is quick to recognize everyone who has had a hand in her professional development over her bartending career in Key West. “If you know me, you know I’ve bartended at almost every single establishment on this island and, if not, I’ve probably guest bartended,” she says. “I’ve been so lucky to have had some really good mentors over the years. For example, Damian DeAngelis, owner of Bagatelle, 915 and First Flight never hesitated to sit with me and explain why things were done the way they were in the bar and restaurant industry. What’s awesome about this town is that your bosses and coworkers really encourage you and they’re excited about your progress.”

Witnessing the success of her peers also provided substantial inspiration for Jenn to finally bite the bullet and become her own boss. “Over the years, I’ve watched a lot of younger bartender friends grow and develop and chase their dreams,” she describes. “There’s a whole younger group coming in now and opening bars — Damian, Tommy Quartararo and Kristen Onderdonk, Casey Vinall, Keith St. Peter and Chris Shultz, to name a few — and I’ve always looked up to them. When the opportunity presented itself for me to move into the space on Duval Street, I knew this was my time to take a chance. I have to thank my bartender friends because they showed me that it is possible to own my own place and they inspired me to make it happen.

“My staff is also something I’ve worked really hard to cultivate. When I started calling around to build my staff, not one person even asked where the bar was,” Jenn says. “They all accepted job offers without even questioning the details. My bartenders are so important because everyone that works at 22&Co. has their own crowd and their own following. They’re all great personalities and I’ve worked with them over the years in all different types of places. I couldn’t be more grateful for the staff that I have.”

But wait… we’ve made it this far into an article about a bar and haven’t even touched on perhaps the most important bar-related question: What are we drinking?

Thankfully, drink invention is where Jenn shines. “I want to have the best of everything on my drink menu,” she explains. “I’m using all fresh ingredients, making drinks with fresh-squeezed juices and mixing inventive bloody Marys. Our signature drink right now is the Unicorn, which features vanilla-infused Tito’s Vodka with rainbow sherbet and champagne topped with glitter. Every Tuesday, we offer 22 percent off all day if you wear a tutu to the bar. We’re also going to have Tito’s vodka on tap — when you pull the tap handle, the #lovetitos sign behind the bar will light up and $1 from every drink will go to a local charity of our choice. We’re going to feature a different charity every month. Instead of doing a locals’ discount, we’re giving that money back to the community that has supported me so much since I moved here.”

Jenn is also committed to making sure that she brings that Key West community spirit to the tourists who stumble upon 22&Co. and can’t resist its whimsy. “Key West locals have certain favorite days of the year, like Tutu Tuesday during Fantasy Fest and the onesie bar crawl in February. I want 22&Co. to let tourists in on our little secrets,” she offers. “I want our clientele to experience the funkiness of Key West. Our whole community is like one big family and we want to offer our patrons the authentic experience of what it feels like to live here year-round. My hope is that, in a year or two, locals and tourists will come out every Tuesday and turn 22&Co.’s Tutu Tuesday into a fun dance party on the sidewalk.”

At the end of the day, Jenn is fueled by an immense amount of love — love for her son, for her mom who always pushes her to achieve the most she can, for her encouraging boyfriend Grant, and for the supportive people she meets every day while she pursues the career that she loves.

“When my son, Finn, was younger, I used to pick him up at school and bring him with me while I set up my bars and we waited for my mom to come pick him up,” Jenn reminisces.

“He has always been so patient and understanding of how hard I work, but he would always ask why I worked so much. I used to say, ‘Moose, I’m making pennies for you to go to Harvard.’ And now that I’ve opened up 22&Co., I really feel like we’re on the way.”

Happy hour at 22&Co. runs from 2 to 5 p.m. daily and features 2-for-1 specials on all beer, wine and well drinks. ¦

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