Caffe Dante: Resurrecting a New York Legend
In an age when bars and restaurants come and go at a rapid clip, Caffe Dante has remained a stalwart in the New York City dining scene for more than a century. Since opening in 1915, it has served as a popular hangout for Greenwich Village, a historically Italian neighborhood in Lower Manhattan’s west side, along with a reprieve for celebrities like Al Pacino and Patti Smith to relax over an espresso or a Campari cocktail. And even as other businesses surrounding it on Macdougal Street went from being mom-and-pop shops to trendy restaurants and clubs, Caffe Dante held true to its identity as the neighborhood’s local watering hole.
So when the café shuttered last March after changing hands from its longtime owner Mario Flotta to Linden Pride and Naren Young, the neighborhood waited with bated breath to see what would become of their beloved institution. Fortunately, the team made it their mission to hold true to the cafe’s roots, working closely with its former owner to ensure that its legacy would continue for another century.
This included expanding the cafe (now known simply as "Dante") to include two storefronts and adding in new banquettes built in a style similar to the originals. The original ceiling, floors and steel-cut plastic sign remain to this day. “I wanted to preserve the restaurant’s history and make sure that everything we do is the best example of it,” Pride says.
“By offering riffs on classic drinks, it allows our guests to easily identify with classic themes that they recognize and that make their experience more comfortable and less intimidating." — Naren Young
TManaging partner and fellow Aussie Naren Young, who built bar programs at Saxon + Parole, PUBLIC and The Daily, created the cocktail menu. Dante's drink list includes multiple iterations on the classic Negroni, including one on tap, as well as updated riffs on popular drinks like the Garibaldi, an aperitivo comprised of orange juice and Campari. Young’s cocktails give a knowing wink back to yesteryear but remain in tune with 2016. For example, rather than use day-old OJ or (shudder!) juice from concentrate for the Garibaldi, Young uses a high-powered juicer for made-to-order “fluffy orange juice.” So, what exactly is fluffy orange juice?
“It simply refers to the texture of the juice that comes out of a very high-speed Breville juicer,” he says. “It spins at such a pace that it aerates the juice and makes the texture extremely thick and frothy. People ask if we shake the juice or if we add egg whites to it. There’s no major secret to it, but it does speak to the fact that we try to take classic drinks with a simple formula and improve upon them.”
Another drink that Young calls a “twisted classic” is the Negroni Bianco, made with gin, two types of vermouth, Quinquina, lemon bitters and verjus, the pressed juice of unripe grapes.
“I think too many bars over-complicate things these days,” he says. “By offering riffs on classic drinks, it allows our guests to easily identify with classic themes that they recognize and that make their experience more comfortable and less intimidating. This idea of ‘twisted classics’ is something I’ve propagated for years, and it’s been very successful. Take a drink category that people know and then use that as a window to be creative while staying true to our concept.”
With a philosophy like that, there’s no doubt that Caffe Dante will be around for another hundred years.