The bar downstairs at the Iron Works Tavern is gorgeous. Built around black lally columns – like a tree eating a fence – it warmly embraces its industrial history. Once a jewel in the crown of industrialist Thomas Jefferson Hill, the RI Malleable name is now preserved in the recycled brickwork of the Iron Works Tavern and the adjoining Hilton Garden Inn. Fitting then, that since the Tavern opened, behind the bar is Kenny Guercia, a self-described “former maniac,” who after four decades of bartending all over the state, doesn’t seem to have a jaded bone in his body. I spoke to Kenny, and like any great bartender, that was really easy to do.
Your boss described you as a local legend. My boss likely has many descriptions of me, and none of them legend, so you’ll have to let me know how that feels.
I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Let’s see, I started when I was probably 17. I’m 60 years old this July. I know I don’t look it.
So, that’s over four decades of bartending, what are some trends you’ve seen come and go?
Well, like the old-fashioned for instance, that was a big thing and now it’s starting to come back. I make a great old-fashioned. Martinis, years ago, we used to use vermouth; today they’d rather have the olive juice than the vermouth. We tend to see women sniffing beer more than they used to. There are so many beer snobs now. I’m amazed. A fancy dressed lady will come in, and say “I’ll have an Allagash.”
What’s special about The Iron Works Tavern?
It’s a great place. It’s probably one of the coolest places around just because of the history behind it. Joe Piscopio had bought the place years ago and said, “someday there’s going to be a railroad station across the street, and the airport is going to get bigger,” and it all happened. [Joe Piscopio] had knocked this building down, took all the brick and refurbished it. It took them two years, two guys just cleaning the bricks, putting it in stacks. It was completely reconstructed with the original flooring and a lot of original stuff from the original building.
What’s this about a Kenny G Coffee?
I have a coffee I made years ago for a restaurant in Narragansett that I had thought up; we called it the Kenny G coffee. When people are on vacation they ask the bartender to make it [and] they call me up. I got a call from Florida last week: “How do you make a Kenny G coffee?” I said, “who is this,” he said “this is the Key Grill in Jupiter, Florida.” It’s got a dash of Tia Maria, a dash of Grand Marnier, a dash of Baileys and a dash of Captain Morgan. All of that mixed up with hot coffee and whipped cream.
Any memorable guests?
Guy sits down. He has a Dewar’s on the Rocks. I thought, this guy looks familiar. I said “What are you doing in town?” He says, “I just got into town, buying a Corvette in Massachusetts, going to go test drive it and come back.” So we’re talking, and he was real nice; I said, “I know you,” he said, “probably.” It was Mel Gibson. I got home and told my mother and my wife. She says, “why the hell didn’t you call me up?”
I understand you’ve developed something of a following over the years?
I have bar groupies. Every Friday night I have the same guys that were at Richards in 1976 that always come. I’m just a nice guy I guess (laughs). I love people. People are so interesting. I went to Johnson & Wales, took up psychology… now here I am in the bar business. I guess it just stuck with me all my life. I have a great wife, a home. I did good.
The Iron Works Tavern
697 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick