When the current incarnation of Dante opened in 2015 in the historic Caffe Dante space in Greenwich Village with Naren Young at the helm, it immediately stood out for its unique approach to cocktails. Young and his partners looked to the Negroni as inspiration for developing a Euro-centric happy hour. “We were very much influenced by the way Europeans drink, which is a bit more leisurely, a bit more social and a bit more of a lifestyle,” he says. “We wanted to choose a cocktail, to have a muse or hero drink that we could riff off, and the Negroni seemed like an obvious one because it’s so classically aperitivo.”
The Negroni Sessions menu launched a few months after opening, and it quickly became a signature offering at the bar. “We love Negronis, so the more we started to explore it, the more we realized how vast this category was and how the platform for what a Negroni is could be changed and spun,” Young says. “So we created a Negroni family tree of sorts—a chronology of where the Negroni has come from, from the early days of the Americano to the Boulevardier and Sbagliato. Then we mix that with some of our own modern interpretations,” like the Negroni Frappe and Negroni Bianco.
Dante’s aperitivo menu always has a dozen Negroni-inspired drinks on offer, with one of those rotating every six months to match the flavors of the season. There’s also a Negroni Royale—a bottled and carbonated Champagne-based Negroni—always stenciled on the blackboard behind the bar. To make sure each drink fits the Negroni mold, Young thinks in terms of flavor instead of simply replicating the Negroni’s iconic red color. “There are plenty of people who come in and say some of our drinks aren’t Negronis, but I think in terms of: Is it bitter? Does it have that strength from the backbone of a base spirit? Does it still have that botanical come through from the vermouth? If you look through that lens, which we do, it allows us to be a little more creative and push the boundaries of what a Negroni can be.”
Right now, the oddball riff is “essentially a mango Negroni,” Young says. “It’s covered in mango glitter, which is mango powder with edible gold, salt and sugar, so it definitely doesn’t look like a Negroni, but it’s bitter, dry, has a kick of gin and still tastes very floral and herbaceous from the vermouth.”
Today, thanks to changing tastes and initiatives like Negroni Week, the Negroni can feel almost ubiquitous, but when Dante first opened, Young says he wasn’t 100 percent sure the Negroni Sessions menu would be embraced. “This is a drink that was so polarizing—it was too bitter, didn’t really fit the American palate—it was really just the old Italian generation, bartenders and cocktail geeks that were drinking Negronis, so I didn’t think it would be that successful to be honest,” he says. “Now, it’s like the new Old Fashioned! Everyone is drinking them. For me to walk into the bar and see this kaleidoscope of Negronis people are drinking from the menu is really special.”
To help pay it forward, $1 from every Negroni Sessions cocktail always goes to God’s Love We Deliver, which provides healthy meals for men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other serious illnesses. “Consider that we sell around 1,000 Negronis a week—that’s a lot of money to give to charity. By the end of they year, we’re probably giving $60,000-80,000 to this one charity,” Young says.
During Negroni Week, that volume gets turned up even more. Last year, Dante sold over 2,000 Negronis over the course of Negroni Week, which Young says is the bar’s busiest time of the year. “Dante is the spiritual home of the Negroni in New York, and for the rest of America for that matter, so it’s really cool that we’re able to help out charities and use our platform to raise awareness for the drink and awareness for these causes we believe in as well.”
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