Naren Young considers himself an unofficial Cynar evangelist. Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, his fascination with unique bottles behind the bar began while working his first restaurant job at the age of 14, long before he was old enough to enjoy them. That curiosity continued as he fell into a “bizarre love of booze” and developed an interest in the more academic side of cocktails. By the time he was 18, the legal drinking age in Australia, he had memorized more than 150 drink recipes without having made or tasted most of them.
After spending several years working in a liquor store learning everything he could about wine and spirits, Young got his first job behind the bar at New Orleans Café in Sydney. He worked his way through a handful of other local bars prior to landing a job at the Grand Pacific Blue Room, one of the biggest cocktail bars in Australia at the time. He went on to work at Bayswater Brasserie, another seminal cocktail bar in Australia, before setting his sights on New York in 2006. His most recent project, the reopening of Café Dante, now referred to as Dante, allows him to entertain his affinity for amari, sherry and vermouth, particularly Cynar. He recently sat down with Joshua Harris of The Bon Vivants (and Pig & Punch) to talk more about Cynar and his passion for all things culinary.
Josh Harris: Tell us a bit about your current position at Dante and how that ties into your relationship with Cynar.
Naren Young: With the opening of Dante, we wanted to become a ground-zero place for aperitifs and digestifs in New York, maybe even in America. Cynar is one of the few amari that can actually fall into both categories. It’s one of the few that can work on both sides of the fence.
JH: As you mentioned, on your back bar you have a lot of amari, vermouths and sherries. Not to say that any one of them is more special than another, but what do you think makes Cynar so special?
NY: I think more than anything—versatility. It takes a certain degree of skill and experience to mix amari the right way, as they can be overpowering and polarizing, but Cynar has a flavor profile that is quite lush and voluptuous. It works across a gamut of drink styles and base spirits.
JH: What do you enjoy most about your job?
NY: I have this niche and love for all things involving food. Working in a restaurant-bar is harder than working in a regular bar because there’s so much more information you need to know. I thrive on the more culinary aspect of the job—I think that’s what I enjoy most. Going to farmer’s markets, talking to chefs, reading food blogs—it’s all allowed me to be a better bartender and in turn a better teacher.
JH: When you have a bottle of Cynar and you want to make yourself a drink, how do you like to use it?
NY: Cynar, tonic, a lemon twist or lemon wedge in a tall glass with ice.
JH: The line between work and play can often get blurry in the spirits business. When you’re able to truly detach from work, how do you like to spend your down time?
NY: If I have the time, I like to go on a long bike ride. I also love eating out—I suppose that’s one of my passions, just going to bars and restaurants. Especially when I’m traveling—it’s a way to get into the belly of that city. Eating and drinking around town and seeing what people are doing gives me a lot of inspiration.
JH: Throughout your travels, what’s been your most memorable fine-dining experience?
NY: To this day the highlight would be dining at El Bulli in Spain. I got the chance to eat there a few times, actually. I was just blown away by how relaxed it was—very, very comfortable. There were people there in shorts and flip-flops, there were families there, people in suits. It was really quite disarming to see.
JH: And on the flip side, what’s your go-to spot for street food?
NY: On recent trips I’ve been blown away by the food in Lebanon. I think the food in Beirut is on another level.
JH: This next question is a bit tougher for you because I know how many places in the world you’ve been to, and I’m going to ask you to pick one. What’s your most cherished travel destination?
NY: For a long time my favorite city in the world has been Rome. All my life it’s just resonated with me for so many reasons. Contacts I’ve met, bars I’ve visited, the architecture… Yeah, I think Rome.
JH: Lastly, you’ve been a long-time friend and supporter of Pig & Punch. What do you love most about these events
NY: We get saturated with so many events in this industry, and I think Pig & Punch really transcends just attending an event. It seems to mean so much to so many people, whether it’s charity or the people there to hang out with close friends. It has much more of a mantra and sense of community than any other event. It’s a very nice, relaxing way to reconnect with friends that I only get to see once or twice a year or every couple of years.
JH: Before we wrap up, I have a couple rapid-fire questions for you.
JH: Cats or dogs?
JH: Early bird or night owl?
NY: Early bird.
JH: Coffee or tea?
JH: Football or fútbol?
JH: Beach or mountains?
JH: Forks, chopsticks or fingers?
JH: TV, movies or books?
JH: Manhattan or Brooklyn?
JH: Car or bike?
JH: Tasting menu or a la carte?
NY: A la carte.
JH: Still or sparkling?