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On the morning of November 30, 2018, Ylli Ferati awoke to a violent shaking. A 7.2-magnitude earthquake was ripping through his hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, shattering windows and collapsing roadways in its wake.
“It was horrific,” says Ferati. “My first thoughts were wondering how my family was, then the bar.” That bar, Fiori D’Italia, is home to Alaska’s largest and rarest whiskey collection—more than a thousand premium bottles from across the globe. Some 600 of them were destroyed in an instant.
“I rushed over to the restaurant, and as soon as I got out of the car, the smell of alcohol was already in the air,” says Ferati. “My worst fears were realized; the whole place was in shambles. I was overwhelmed.” He spent the rest of the day picking up the pieces, sweeping away shards of broken glass, salvaging what he could of a decade’s worth of passion.
Ferati got into the game in earnest in 2010, when his parents, Ulber and Urime, the owners of the Italian restaurant on the residential outskirts of Anchorage, granted him permission to take over the bar space. And that he did. Walking into Fiori D’Italia is an experience to give any whiskey lover pause. The sunken well of the bar is backed by five tiers of shelving, lined elegantly from side to side in a brilliant array of brown liquid. The might and stature of the bottles rise as they climb to meet the ceiling.
It was a different scene directly after the earthquake, one that would have permanently crippled many a bar program. But Ferati demonstrated an extraordinary resilience. No sooner than the chaos was cleared, he resolved to leave it all in the past, casting his eyes instead toward the future. “Too much was lost to specify and dwell on some high-end or rare bottles,” he says. He estimates the collective monetary loss was approximately $50,000.
A hearty pour of perspective provided great strength and comfort in moving forward. “No Alaskans lost their lives, and that was truly miraculous,” says Ferati. “It also reinforced how much love and support our community has for each other. Countless folks stopped by to check on us. Some tried to offer us their own personal bottles to help rebuild. We didn’t take any, but the gesture spoke volumes. Someone called the news channel to check on us.”
Local CBS affiliate KTVA followed up. And after Ferati’s story broke, “every supplier in the world reached out after seeing the clip,” he says. Some heavily allocated products were rushed up to the region, with a little help from his friends at Edrington, Impex and Speyburn, for example.
Three months later, the bar shows virtually no signs of prior devastation. Bottles again line the backbar in meticulous arrangement. To the trained eye, there are some holes that need plugging. The bartender is particularly nostalgic, for example, over a fallen bottle of Ardbeg Mor, which was anonymously gifted to him in 2017.
“The rebuilding process is something that I’ve been taking one day at a time,” he says. “We have bids out for new shelves and different ways to protect the bottles to avoid a similar disaster.”
But even before reinforced shelving arrives, Ferati and his bar seem to have emerged from the disaster stronger than before. His friends in Anchorage and across the globe have reminded him that he’s part of something bigger, something that could never be shaken. “Bottles come and go,” he says. “But community will always be there.”