Get to know Naren Young, bar director at Dante

World Best Bar

Feb 25, 2019

Australian born-and-raised mixologist Naren Young loves European drinking culture. So much that he revived a historic New York City café, Caffe Dante (now just Dante NYC), to embrace the customs of European imbibing. Melded with New York style and sensibility, he has created an extensive bar program honouring the way people drink in Europe.

Naren started practising bartending as a teenager, when a fascination with cocktails led him to learning about mixology and memorising over 100 recipes (made for his mum!) before he reached Australia’s legal drinking age at 18.

When he’s not behind the bar, Young is writing about spirits and mixology, drawing on his over two decades of experience creating and serving drinks. World’s Best Bars chatted with Young as he taste-tested a new passionfruit Bellini behind the bar amidst mixing cocktails for an ever-growing crowd of after-work cocktail lovers at Dante.

What influenced you start bartending?

I saw the movie Cocktail when I was about 14 years old and thought it looked pretty cool. My mother then started buying me some basic cocktail books that I would practise on with her and her friends. I suppose this led me on a path to a fairly academic approach to the industry.

How did your previous experience eventually result in your leading the bar program at Dante?

Linden Pride, one of the main owners of Dante and I had worked together at Saxon + Parole, which had created a lot of international buzz and won numerous awards. When the opportunity for Dante came up, we teamed back up together to create another world-class venue.

What was your vision for the “new” Dante when this historic space re-opened in 2015?

I am infatuated with the way that Europeans drink, their rituals. I saw a classic aperitivo bar, but unpretentious. It’s also one of the only spots in New York open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night drinks, and we’re usually busy until we close.

What inspires you to keep creating new cocktails?

Every serious bar needs to stay relevant and have new content to tell their guests, the media and their staff. We don’t try to reinvent the wheel but we do try and reinvent ourselves by taking a thoughtful approach to everything we do.

What made you want to launch Dante’s now-signature negroni sessions (when various negroni iterations are $10 between 3pm and 6pm)?

I have a love-hate relationship with happy hour. In America, it means cheap and drunk, but in Europe it is leisurely and elegant. The negroni is a classic drink and I wanted to explore its history. It can be bitter, which can be polarising to people but it can also be refreshing. I’ve made a mango negroni.

What’s one drink everyone should try when they first come here?

The Garibaldi. It’s a simple drink – orange juice and Campari. We call the orange juice “fluffy” because it comes out of the juicer with these tiny air bubbles. We tested a bunch of different juicers to get the perfect [texture] but once we tried the Breville there was no turning back. We’re one of the few bars in New York that serves it – it’s a traditional Italian cocktail – so some people think we invented it. We didn’t invent it, but we like to think we perfected it.

What are you most proud of in your current bar program?

We have over 400 types of spirits, several types of Amaro and a cabinet of red bitters in back that may be the biggest collection in America. We also have a vintage cocktail program using spirits that are 40-50 years old.

What are all those cocktails listed on the wall that aren’t printed on the menu?

One is a monthly special, that changes each month based on a bartender competition we have with different alcohol sponsors. Another is the porron, which is a shareable negroni served in a porron (a traditional Spanish wine and cider vessel).

What’s a drink on your menu that you wish people ordered more?

Probably the chocolate negroni. People think it’s going to be very sweet, or too chocolatey, but it’s not. The crème de cacao and chocolate bitters are more subtle.

What’s next for Dante?

We just launched a new martini menu. It’s kind of our answer to the large format cocktail trend. And in the summer, we’ll bring back our menu of spritzes.

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