Downtown Manhattan is one of my favourite places to roam in my hometown. The winding, named streets and old buildings transport you back to old New York as you walk across the cobblestones and past buildings that are hundreds of years old. Tucked away on MacDougal Street in a corner of Greenwich Village bordering SoHo is the iconic Dante NYC.
Last month, Dante NYC partnered with Quaglino’s of London, another legendary spot for food and drink, to provide New Yorkers with an authentic Italian aperitivo experience with a modern twist. Aperitivo is essentially Italian for happy hour, but when Dante NYC and Quaglino’s are left in charge, it becomes so much more.
Now Dante has been in the same spot on MacDougal for 103 years now, and is a registered New York City Landmark. In addition to its official Landmark status, it holds a similar status in the hearts of New Yorkers, which has been reinforced with the latest reincarnation of Caffe Dante. Management changed hands in 2015, and the current owners have done a top-notch job of staying true to Dante’s heritage while seamlessly making it ready for success long into the 21st century. This blend of heritage and modernism was brilliantly exhibited last month when Quaglino’s came to town to take over Aperitivo for three days. Mayfair met Manhattan, and what a treat it was!
The menu featured just five cocktails. What it lacked in quantity however, it more than made up for in quality. The first up was the Merchant of Venice – a delightful mix of Rinomato Aperitivo, Mancino Chinato, and Peroni Ambra. This inventive cocktail was decoratively adorned with a scorched orange slice, a plump green olive on a fork, and an ice cube branded with a Q for Quaglino. The presentation was every bit as enjoyable as the cocktail itself, which was sweet, but not that kick-your-teeth in, sickly sweet manner that Americans seem to favor. It had a complexity to it that seemed to compliment the setting.
This was followed by Vitamin Sea, which presentation-wise was absolutely my favorite. Marco, our host for the evening, told me that the cocktail was supposed to make the drinker feel like they were drinking the Mediterranean. One sip of the mix of Tanqueray 10, Italicus, Maraschino, Bergamot juice, ginger bitters, and parfums and my top was off. I was sunning myself on a rocky beach with Cyprus trees in the background and cicadas calling from the brush – it literally tasted like summer on the Med. And it looked like it too – the cocktail was served IN a polished conch-shell, with a dabble of “sea” foam on top and a sprig of oregano. Pack my bags, Winston! I’m going to Mallorca.
Into the Woods was next on the list. A delightful mix of Casamigos Reposado, Palo Cortado, white truffle, amber pican, and dandelion, served in a glass that was perched in a bowl of scorched herbs, adding a delightful olfactory element to the drink. Now I’m not usually a fan of tequila, as it tends to taste like bad decisions at Uni and drag shows that end with an empty wallet. This however was quite different. Delightfully smooth, with just enough of a hint of truffle, one could easily close one’s eyes and picture yourself enjoying this tasty treat in a tree house, alone in the woods. Another brilliant trip-in-a-glass from the Dante and Quaglino’s teams.
Next we were served what was arguably the best Negroni I’ve ever had, and having lived and dated extensively in Italy, this is not a statement I make lightly. The Negroni Riposato was modern Italian take on a classic, much like Dante itself. Hudson Baby Bourbon, Campari, porcini, Noilly Prut, Hazlenut liquor, and most surprisingly, coconut bitters came together to make happy hour so much happier. It was then brilliantly garnished with two strips of coconut. I remember sipping it and thinking “all my other negronis have been wrong! Bourbon and coconut are perfect. This is what I’ve been missing!”
We topped things off with The Milky Way, which was essentially a scrumptious dessert after a delicious liquid dinner. The odd mix of Mount Gay XO, Gosling’s Black, Antica Formula, cinnamon and vanilla, bitters, clear milk, nutmeg, and gold flakes was in fact everything you’ve ever wanted from a cocktail. Not to mention the days of prep that go into this (clarifying milk is not exactly a two minute process), the creativity here was off the charts. Sweet and satisfying, slightly spicy, and with decadent finishes of gold, this was the ideal way to finish up our visit to Dante. If anything, it left us feeling rather upset that we were five cocktails in at 5:45 on a Monday, and still had to be somewhat functional for another few hours and therefore couldn’t indulge in three more.
The real disappointment, however, was that this was just a pop-up and the Quaglino’s team would be going home to London. I would LOVE to have access to that kind of happy hour on a regular basis. That said, we absolutely adored our visit to Dante and are looking forward to going back for aperitivo molto pronto. And of course tickets are booked to pop to London and visit Quaglino’s next month when Manhattan goes to Mayfair! Yes, that’s right – the Dante’s team are going to London for their own little pop-up at Quaglino’s. This marriage of bars was brilliant the first time around, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. See you in London in October!