For over a decade, the cozy Crepe Cellar has remained a neighborhood fixture with a reputation for quality and a dining experience not found anywhere else in NoDa. Colleen Hughes, one of Charlotte’s best-known mixologists, helped put Crepe Cellar’s cocktail list on the map, herself becoming synonymous with the bar program.
When Haberdish opened up a few doors down, Hughes moved behind the bar there, passing the Cellar torch to Dustin Lail, who now proudly stands behind the stick, kindly attending to each customer while maintaining the reputation Hughes built at Crepe Cellar.
While so many of Charlotte’s bar programs are headed up by dudes, Lail found himself at home with a woman-run bar.
“I’ve never worked behind a male-run bar,” Lail said. “I was raised by a single mom and was around women in dance, so this made sense to me. I’m not macho. I don’t like macho. It’s not something that’s necessary for good service.”
It’s clear that Lail is right where he needs to be at Crepe Cellar.
I recently sat down with him for another one of our great conversations, but this time on the record.
Queen City Nerve: How did you find yourself in this industry?
Dustin Lail: I grew up around the restaurant business and mom-and-pop diners. I had a general idea of the hospitality industry, knew I had a servant’s heart and had gained good experience. I moved to Charlotte seven years ago to be a dance performance major at UNCC and decided to do what came naturally: serving.
Crepe Cellar has become my favorite place. I’ve been here three years. Growing up, all I knew was Bud Light and Applebee’s mixed drinks, but here, there is a well-thought-out presentation. I had little experience or knowledge but was ready to learn and expand, and I’ve fallen into this role naturally.
Tell us some of your favorite details about the drinks you make.
I’m really into flowers, so I add those whenever it makes sense. I went through this orange blossom phase and was adding that to everything.
I like making special syrups, like with calendula flowers, or making cocktails with unique ingredients like house-made carrot juice.
What has been the most rewarding part of your time at Crepe Cellar?
I fell in love with the neighborhood. I love being in a space where you can meet the people around you and not simply care about yourself. I just think, “How can I help the people around me and at the same time, give them nourishment?”
I’d say 85 to 95% of our customers are regulars and it’s because I’m able to focus on building those relationships.
What is your go-to beverage when you get a chance to unwind with a shift drink or out on the town elsewhere?
Oh, that’s a loaded question. If I’m just getting off work, it’s a beer and a shot, but if I’m looking for a good cocktail when I’m out, it’s the Corpse Reviver #2, which is gin, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau served up with and Absinthe rinse. I’d also drink Montenegro straight. Or a simple gin and tonic, with Sutler’s from Winston-Salem. I like to support local as much as possible. Or the Cardinal Barrel-Rested Gin; use this in a Negroni and it’s the perfect balance between [that and] a Boulevardier.