If you ask Marco Zappia what he does for a living, he’ll tell you: “The first part of my day is spent compulsively macerating and cultivating gnarly microbial growth. The second half, I take care of people.”
It’s not a typical response from a bartender, but then again Zappia isn’t your average bartender. The Midwest native bounced from Standford to Berkely to Bard to UW-Madison, all before the age of 17 when he returned home to Minnesota to pursue a career in booze. His first foray came by way of Bittercube, a national bar consulting agency that sent him shuffling around the country to assist with various openings. “I kinda drank the Kool Aid, fell in love with it and haven’t looked back since,” he says. But after a five year tenure designing menus and hiring staff for venues from coast to coast—and working his way up to partner in the process—Zappia took a different tack, settling back down in Minneapolis.
For the past two years, Zappia has been directing his attention to Martina and Colita, an Italian-Argentinian restaurant and a Oaxacan concept, respectively. Focusing on maceration, fermentation and house-made ingredients like oyster distillate, which he uses in a Martini variation, Zappia’s bar programs have left an indelible mark on the Twin Cities’ cocktail scene.
“I think in the Midwest, we have a certain self-consciousness,” says Zappia. “We’re always concerned what the coasts think of us, or if we’re ‘enough’.” But his experimental drinks that call on everything from open-air fermented fruit to four-mezcal blends seem to offer their own rebuttal to that particular sentiment.
So what does Zappia do when he’s not monitoring demijohns-worth of homemade liqueurs? Here, he tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share his strangest cocktail experiment, his love of plain white shirts and his favorite bar. —Tatiana Bautista
I oversee the front-of-house teams at Martina and Colita in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The former is focused on aperitif/digestif culture in Italy and their eventual celebration in Argentina. The program highlights vermouth, amari, and other fun botanical structures we produce. Colita is our second spot, Oaxacan inspired, cued in on Mesoamerican ferments and pre-Hispanic herbalism.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Best thing you ever drank:
A glass of vermouth the Jerry Thomas Project made in Rome. That liquid is haunting.
Worst thing you ever drank:
My dirtbag friends and I schemed that it would be easier to make our own juice rather than run the risk of posting outside a liquor store, hoping for a kind soul to remedy our situation. I don’t remember how we landed on dandelion wine, but it must have been quite an innocent optic: a crew of 14 year old kids picking flowers as a summertime activity. Obviously we purchased turbo yeast (why wouldn’t we want 20% ABV?) forgot to snag an airlock and, too scared to go back and risk a more thorough vetting from the home brew cashier, slipped a condom on a recovered jug, needled the latex, and waited. It was an abomination.
First time you ever got drunk:
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Lana Del Rey’s forthcoming record. I haven’t listened to it, but I’m pretty positive track twelve is about me and we’re supposed to be together forever. If you’re reading this, L, please find me.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I collect white shirts.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Spend as much time as you can in the process. Accolades and awards don’t bring happiness.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
So much dumb. Anti-griddled soy sauce Pop Rocks, buzz-button caviar, garlicked tzatziki fizzes, Chicago dog bitters, beef and pork blood emulsifiers, flights of wood tinctures, marrow-washed Scotch, sweet vermouth that tastes like Krispy Kreme doughnuts and proxilyzed milk punches coursed in reflection of moon cycles. Idiots.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Reading naked with intermittent snacking consisting of slightly stale Wheat Thins, some cheese I can’t pronounce (smells like death) and cold wine. When I’m feeling feisty, I’ll attempt giving myself a haircut. Doesn’t really answer the question, sorry.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
I mean, the complete societal acceptance of consuming the drug alcohol is pretty weird. Makes what people decide to imbibe none of my business to judge, let’s get weird.
Your favorite bar, and why:
I love 19 Bar in Loring. It doesn’t have windows.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
COI with Erik Anderson. Alinea was important. I get to eat at Noma in a few weeks, so jazzed. I also like eating Kraft singles neat.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
I’d marry a Martini, fuck a Negroni, and kill the Old-Fashioned.
I’m blissfully ignorant on all things wine. White or pink with a possibility of effervescence.
In a dive bar?
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Call mom. Pho. Water is good.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
The listing of brands. If the producer has integrity and is actually pertinent to the drink, by abstaining from dictation you’re giving the service team an opportunity to tell a story and create a meaningful connection with the guest. If it’s not the former, you’ve effectively given the brand control of your creative product and they now control the dialogue.
Also, lemon juice sucks.
The last text message you sent:
“Hey babe, can you proof my PUNCH questionnaire so I don’t look like an asshole?”