“The Academy, it’s really a magnificent place for education and the perfect showcase that embodies functionality and ergonomics behind the bar, along with high-end design.

We had the opportunity to bring in the world’s top renowned chefs such as Alain Ducasse, Joël Robuchon, Pierre Gagnaire, Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller; Food Network celebrities like Rick Moonen and Ming Tsai; and also Gerard Bocuse, from the Bocuse D’Or. We had a lot of top executives of food & beverage, suppliers, CEOs, V.P.s and hotel presidents.

We are showing to the Food & Beverage Industry worldwide, our vision and commitment to education through the Academy of Beverages and Fine Service training center. Its innovative design and set up was engineered to meet the 21st century beverage hospitality training needs.”

~Francesco Lafranconi

Late last year saw the unveiling of a multimillion dollar investment that greatly benefited the Las Vegas community. While it was not built on the Strip or had little to do with gaming, its affect has been felt in the Vegas Valley and beyond.

Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada has long been a champion for furthering the state of alcoholic beverages. Whether it was by scouring the ends of the earth for unique products or helping venues with their success, one of their strong points has always been in education. This is why Francesco Lafranconi started the Academy at Southern Wine & Spirits in the year 2000 thank you to the vision of Larry Ruvo in 1998, which has become an institution for the Las Vegas bartending community.

In continuation with the legacy of the Academy, the Director of Mixology for Southern Wine & Spirits Francesco Lafranconi and Managing Director Larry Ruvo have revamped the training facilities at the Las Vegas headquarters. After two and a half years of fastidious design and artful construction, what was formerly the Bacchus Room, has now been transformed.

Since its unveiling last year, Francesco has loved the outcome, “The academy room is a dream come true. We have held different types of tastings and mixology trainings, also nice presentations like TED Talks, and the room is responding very well, especially acoustically.”

Regarding how it feels to be a spectator in the wood-lined stadium style seating, Francesco continued, “It gives a great feel of intimacy when the speaker, the presenter is in front of the audience and there is not a bad seat in the house, so everyone has a chance to see everything that’s going on. If there is a mixology demonstration, thanks to our 80-inch TVs and our HD cameras, we can zoom in from different angles, so we can bring those images up live to all the attendees in the room and we can record the whole session too.”

While the exact number on building costs has not been revealed, it is apparent that no expense was spared. The room was designed in collaboration with luxury architect Todd-Avery Lenahan and is filled with elegance, comfort and warmth.

For those attending one of many special events or the Academy of Spirits and Fine Service, they are reaping the rewards. Francesco continued, “For the students, I think the room is just the right size. It fits about 50 people at the tables plus 18 along the 41-ft bar. The décor and the layout makes the students feel important. They tend to feel it’s a very unique place, a place with an incredible attention to detail. I think it really stimulates the willingness to learn as well as stimulating basically all the senses. I think the design team and everybody involved were able to capture those qualities and were able to deliver them through the design, the colors, the furniture and its ergonomics and the functionality of the room.”

For those behind the bar, they will find a distinctive and elevated bar experience. The stainless steel and ergonomic bar design is built for speed, efficiency and comfort. It was designed considering the bartender to be the most important resource behind the bar. The “racetrack” design curves around the bartender and has everything a modern bartender and mixologist should need for ease of service. From ice carving built-in dripping pans, to front refrigerated garde-manger garnishing display and freezer drawers, it is a marvel for those who are used to the hard lines and edges of the conventional bars.

The Academy room is not only being utilized for mixology & spirit tastings and training needs. Every department within the Southern Wine & Spirits team have used it as well; it is a perfect space to train and educate on beer, wine & sake. Francesco added, “The entire team is really utilizing the room to its fullest. For Sam Merritt, our Certified Cicerone, the room is actually working wonderfully. They are using it for the Cicerone Certification program sometimes for 10 hours straight, so the seating is very important too, and that is why we purchased ergonomic-award winning chairs to make sure our students feel very comfortable at all times. Joseph Phillips, our Master Sommelier, as well does quite a few events, like the Sommelier boot camp and other wine education programs. Luis de Santos, a Master Sommelier and Sake Master Sommelier, teaches about sake, soju and baijiu as well, so there are a lot of initiatives that we are using the room for.”

Along with the national attention, its influence is even being felt internationally. Francesco mentioned, “We even had the head of the Chinese Department Secretary of Alcoholic Beverages come with his entourage for a tour. Furthermore, every wine maker, every master distiller, everyone who walks into the room really has such a jaw dropping effect and everybody expresses a wow. It’s really doing very well. For tasting, I think it’s really an incredible setting, especially with LED-lit table tops.”

With the multiple accolades that SWS has received for the Academy room they are definitely not resting on their laurels. Francesco emphasizes that the room will continue to evolve, “We’re actually improving for the better. There are a few things that we are able to make rapid improvements. However, we are still focusing on more audio-visual equipment that we are boosting as well as a more interactive dynamic sensory analysis. They will even be replicating the room at the SWS headquarters in Miami, which I am very proud. As far as my involvement there, it could be covered from the designing of the ‘race track’ and the under-bar work station.”

It has been said that, “where there is wine, there is culture” and Francesco & SWS proclaim that they are not just selling alcohol, but they are promoting civilization. Fostering education in turn supports the community and betters the city and our guests’ drinking experience. For when you learn about wine, beer, sake, spirits & mixology, you learn about the history, culture & science that is intertwined in their production, applications and marketing. The faculty also involves the mixology-consulting team with James “JR” Starkus, Max Solano, Jair Bustillos and Michael Przydzial and former USBG National President Livio Lauro, founder of the Master Accreditation Program.

With the “two million dollar baby” Academy room, SWS has again affirmed its commitment to Las Vegas hospitality industry and the world of alcoholic beverages.

After all… “we are not drinking, we are learning!”

~F. Lafranconi