Linden Pride on acclaimed bar Dante NYC: “It’s been crazy, we were cooking meals for hospitals and yet managed to open a new location”
Last year New York City’s bar Dante was voted the world’s best and 12 months later lost just one position, retaining the title of Best Bar in North America. We had a chat with owner-mixologist Linden Pride about the city’s reaction to these awards and their new venue in the West Village, as well as the role of takeaway cocktails within the future of the bar industry.
Best Bar in North America and second-best in the world – how did you receive the news?
I feel like, based on what happened during the last eight months, sitting here in an open bar and being recognised in an industry while it’s been catastrophic for the whole industry is kind of a mixed feeling, but we are very proud and happy to be acknowledged in the way we have been.
What’s the situation in New York City?
It’s unusual. I feel as though we could maintain a decent business outdoors. But with the weather cooling down, we are restricted to 25% inside. That’s 18 people at a time. On a beautiful day like this in New York, you can still sit outside but with the weather cooling down there’s a lot of unknown factors. I guess it’s also based on the infection rate and New York is in a good position there. Everyone has been living in uncertainty across the board in every industry and every way of life so I guess that’s just par for the course at the moment.
Do you feel like bars need a day like this to celebrate each other’s success and resilience?
Yes of course. I think this is a great pick-me-up for so many people, to get everybody reconnected again. We are so used to being able to travel to so many of these great bars. It’s so nice to see them acknowledged in all sorts of different ways. For our team here, our guys have worked tirelessly during the past eight months to recreate and reposition the drinks, good to go, and working to provide meals for the hospitals. It’s just been a crazy time. To be able to celebrate something in this industry it feels fantastic, really positive.
How were the first months for Dante after claiming the number one position last year?
The immediate response: we were swamped. We had a great tiny space; we’re only 90 square meters down the street and we can only see so many people at any one time and the immediate reaction to the award was a lot of people coming down and showing their support. So, business heats very quickly afterwards and we’re open every day from ten in the morning so we saw a lot more people come in for day trade lunch, cocktails during the day and so forth. I think the thing for us was that we really strive to meet people’s expectations and to exceed them and I think with the accolade of World’s Best Bar and The Best Bar in America, people come in with a certain expectation and we really push hard and strive to be able to meet that expectation and to be able to exceed it. So, I mean heavy is the head that wears the crown on a certain level; there’s a lot of expectations and we had to lift our game and work harder, which I think was a really positive thing for us and our whole team. So yeah, it’s been a lot of pride as well really, our income; we’re so proud of that achievement last year and so proud of this achievement this year. It’s a really amazing achievement.
How do you think bars here in London compare to New York in your opinion?
Great question. I mean, I lived in London for a number of years and London was where I started my career, I mean, many many years ago – we won’t say the year I guess. Being Australian, I was always very open to the London bar scene versus the New York bar scene; they’re so different and I think both in their own separate way really industry-leading globally. I mean I love the bars in London and they’re definitely very different to the bars that you experience in New York, but I’m actually disappointed I didn’t get to do my annual trip back to London this October [the ceremony being virtual]. I’ve always loved going back to frequent the bars and spend some extra days on either side of the awards and tuck into some of my old favourites and see what’s new on the scene over there. But, yeah there’s no greater city in the world for bars than London; I actually really love them, so I’m always inspired and always hold them in high regard.
How are things going with the new venue?
We actually opened in June. The governor allowed us to do outdoor dining from the 27th of June and we opened the next day. Look, I mean opening a restaurant in a pandemic is, looking back on it, a crazy idea, but I mean, we felt safe and we traded from March through until June at Macdougal Street for to-go and for delivery and the support from the community was just overwhelming. I think New York is such an international city that when it came down to it when everything got shut down, the people who lived in the building above us, across the road, on this block, were the people that we would see three or four or five times a week and we just felt such enormous support from our locals and that spurred us on to open West Village. I have to say, you know, with the lack of travel and people staying put it really enabled us to dig deeper into the community and we saw the same people, we see the same people four or five times a week and it feels very local which is kind of unusual in New York, to that extent at least. So, it’s been a really positive experience and part of the motivation for that was that we live in this crazy society in America where it’s employer-based health insurance and if your employer doesn’t offer you health insurance it’s very unlikely that you will be able to carry it. So we wanted to continue to support our staff and support the community who are supporting us. We were able to open, and it’s been a really wonderful experience, all things considered. So Dante’s West Village it’s about ten minutes walk from where we are in Greenwich Village, we’re feeling proud of it actually. I guess at MacDougal Street we’re really focused on the negroni and the aperitivo; we kind of dug a bit more into the martini and the spritz up there with a wood fire grill and seafood on the grill so it’s a lot of the same DNA but it’s a little bit of a shift.
Do you feel that there is a future for bars in the takeaway industry business?
Oh yeah, absolutely. One of the things that we really strive to do, especially in those early months after we’re allowed to go and when everything was closed. Trying to think about the drink, I always believe that the ritual or the occasion of going to a bar and drinking a cocktail, I mean obviously liquid in a glass has to be at a very high level, but it’s also the service and the surrounds and how you connect with the people who are serving you as well as who you’re joining. I think that we really tried to think about how do we serve this drink in a way that you can take it home and create a similar ritual, and we started adding custom playlists and individual artwork, fixing drinks, custom coasters, a bunch of flowers, so people could kind of have a reprieve from their day and tune out for a minute and create that ritual of going to a bar and having a cocktail and people have responded so well to it. So I mean I really think that there’s definitely a ground for takeaway drinks and I think that it’s exciting to see how much innovation has happened in the industry, especially online and connecting with people and teaching them how to make drinks and serve the drinks at home, and so forth. So yeah, I think it’s definitely here to stay.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
To book a table at Dante Macdougal or West Village visit the bars’ website here.