Macdougal Street institution Caffe Dante closed its doors earlier this year after serving as a meeting place for the local Italian community since 1915. The news of its closure rippled through generations of devastated regulars—but all was not lost.
The legendary space was saved from a second life as a Starbucks by a team of Australians. Reopened as Dante by hospitality group Figure of 8, the cafe has maintained its New York legacy, while gaining a fresh perspective inspired by Europe.
The vision behind Dante’s rebirth comes from Figure of 8’s director Linden Pride and award-winning mixologist Naren Young. All industry veterans behind many of Australia’s (and now New York’s) top drinking destinations, they pride themselves on old-school hospitality.
That goal is appropriate considering Dante’s background as a beloved neighborhood hangout. When Pride first found the space, the decision to take over was instant. Who could pass up the opportunity to revitalize an iconic bar in Greenwich Village? Pride and Young had been discussing opening an apéritif bar for a while, and Dante presented a prime location with sturdy Italian bones. The kind of a space that would welcome the European style of drinking they aimed to capture.
Naren Young prepares European-style aperitifs behind Dante’s historic bar.
A NOD TO THE OLD WAYS
With its hand-painted sign, checkered floors and familiar sidewalk seating, the original Caffe Dante invited its regulars to linger over an espresso. The new Dante has maintained the charm of the 100-year-old setting while adding modern and European influences that encourage guests to stay all day.
The newly exposed brick walls, pressed tin ceilings and framed black and white photos from the bar’s earlier years aren’t the only enticing details. Pride and Young have long championed a return to the “civilized, carefree and relaxing” style of drinking practiced in Europe. While Young observed that the industry is finally embracing refreshing, low-alcohol cocktails after “many years of high-octane drinks,” there was still no place in New York celebrating the aperitif gamut.
Gathering inspiration from his travels in Spain, France and Italy, Young designed a beverage menu around sessionable cocktails, vermouths, Sherries and an impressive selection of non-alcoholic cocktails that are just as thoughtful as their spirited counterparts. Along with a dinner menu of crudo, spuntini, flatbreads and gelato, Dante now offers an authentic European cafe experience that was previously unavailable in the city—and at a slower, gentler pace.
The signature Garibaldi cocktail and the house Vermouth Service.
SIMPLE IS BEST
In a sea of sessionable options, the breakout star of Dante’s beverage menu is the house-squeezed juice. Praised for its distinct “fluffy” texture, the orange juice shines brightest in the crowd-favorite Garibaldi cocktail, a crazy-simple pairing of Campari and the juice of one orange. Young insists there’s no magic behind the liquid. It’s simply the product of a standard juicer that spins at such a high speed that it aerates the juice, creating a cloudlike, almost creamy natural elixir. This method lies at the heart of Young’s own ethos: “Take a simple drink and make it the very best you can.”
In addition to his ethereal orange, pineapple and grapefruit juices, Young raises some of the most familiar aperitifs to top form with simple touches. He’s eager to educate patrons on the importance of high-quality ingredients like premium spirits and hand-cut garnishes. This attention to detail is especially evident in seasonally changing classics like the Pimm’s Cup with “salad” garnish, the Sherry Cobbler that shifts to port as fall arrives and the special Vermouth Service that treats Noilly Prat Dry with frozen grapes and a splash of Perrier in a frozen glass.
Curious about Dante’s treatment of the most essential aperitif, the Negroni? Behold the Negroni Sessions menu. 11 different cocktails form what could only be called a Negroni family tree, ranging from the on-tap classic Negroni to innovations like the Negroni Frappe (made with that already famous fluffy orange juice) and the Unlikely Negroni (with blanco tequila, Campari, banana, pineapple shrub, chile and sesame).
Dante’s mindful approach towards European drinking style attracts most anyone, from off-duty industry folk to curious tourists and old-timer regulars. Though it aims to fill the void of the original Dante, it’s also enriching the historic space with even older traditions from across the water.