Johnny Kozlowski is beverage director of The Avra Group, which operates Avra Estiatorio Greek/Mediterranean restaurants in New York, Beverly Hills and soon to open in Miami.
What was your first job in the beverage or hospitality industry?
Ironically enough, my first job was as a bus boy working under the table when I was 12 years old at a Greek restaurant in my home town of Reading, PA.
What is your favorite spirit to work with at the moment?
My favorite spirit is gin right now — there are so many great ones out there, and they have unique botanicals that add such great aromatics and complexities to cocktails.
Avra’s Wine List includes more than 1,200 varieties and spans the globe; what are some of the more unusual offerings?
At our multiple Avra locations, I try to have something for everyone, but something new I just added to the Rockefeller list is Silva Daskalaki “Grifos.” The wine is from Crete in Greece, made form a white grape called vidiano.
It has extended skin contact made in amphorae clay pots, then aged is barrels. Due to the skin contact, the color of the wine comes off orange. It has a brightness and freshness while showing off a profound structure. I bought every last case in New York City!
How did Avra’s own branded wine offerings come about?
When we looked at having our very own Avra wines, we most importantly wanted the wines to be well made and balanced for their style. The main question when going through the process was, “Do I want to have another glass of this?”
We are very proud of our friends whom have helped us realize this. Our Cyclades assyrtiko was released in 2021, our Napa Valley cabernet in May 2022, and we are very excited for our Provence rosé to come, which we are anticipating in January 2023.
Avra’s list of spirits spans in the hundreds with 25 varieties and includes hard-to-find-American whiskies and Shibui Whisky from Japan. What spirits have been popular with guests?
The Shibui line up is absolutely stunning and authentic as it comes from Okinawa — I put them up against anyone. However, what is the most popular would have to be tequila.
I cannot remember another time where all the chat was about tequila. Clase Azul has always been towards the top of convo. I just brought in the very coveted Dí de los Muertos 2022 release from them. The bottle is remarkable in its flavors and colorful handmade decanter that is finished off in Martinique rum casks. Another stunner is the single estate Maestro Dobel “1967” Extra Añejo; truly a sipper amongst the best.
Do the cocktails follow a Mediterranean theme to go with the food concept?
They do — and naming them is one of my guilty pleasures. Their names follow everything from Greek mythology to Greek landmarks.
The cocktail program enjoys not only traditional recipes, but also unique and fun flavor. We infuse Greek spirits, such as Rakomelo tsipouro (Greek grappa aged with honey/spices/herbs) in the Rockefeller location’s Onassis Manhattan and at the Miami location we use mastiha (digestive made from tree sap in Chios, Greece) to make our Mojito.
What’s your current go-to cocktail or beverage?
My favorite cocktail right now is our Poseidon’s Potion at the Rockefeller location. It is a play on a traditional cocktail called a Last Word. I substitute Luxardo Maraschino with a rosemary syrup that we infuse in-house.