Cocktail chat: Linden Pride, Dante
In 2023, acclaimed New York bar Dante branched out, opening a third venue in Los Angeles. Co-founder Linden Pride delves into why the brand decided to head to Beverly Hills.
*This feature was originally published in the August 2023 issue of The Spirits Business magazine.
It was 2015 when Australian husband and wife Linden Pride and Nathalie Hudson decided to buy a neighbourhood café in New York and turn it into world-renowned cocktail bar and restaurant Dante. After taking multiple World’s Best Bar titles in 2019, the pair opened a second site just around the corner from the original venue and, more recently, headed to the West Coast to open Dante’s third outpost, in Beverly Hills.
Pride recognised the opportunity to open an all-day café, similar to “social meeting places in Sydney and Melbourne”, he tells me over Zoom from California where he is spending the summer setting up his third site.
“It was very natural to move into this all-day kind of café meeting place in New York, and we inherited this great legacy,” he said. A registered New York City landmark, Caffe Dante was opened in 1915. It was owned by an Italian family for 40 years until Pride and Hudson took on the Greenwich Village site. Pride describes it as a real “melting pot” with regular customers who have been visiting the venue for decades to enjoy coffee and Garibaldis (Campari and fluffy orange juice) – one of the site’s signature drinks – alongside a younger crowd of bar-hoppers.
Dante frequently held pop-ups in bars around the world, pre-Covid, but now the venue is bringing bars to New York. The venue launched a Taste of Italy programme where four bars took residency at Dante for a month, as well as a Spanish version. At the Los Angeles site, a Taste of Mexico event will be hosted, featuring Mexican bars.
Pride says: “Instead of doing these ad hoc pop-ups all over the place, we’re much more focused on doing long-term strategic partnerships, such as the one we did in Aspen for three years. It’s a shift in the way that we approach the business – travel is a lot of work and pressure.”
A second Dante site was opened in downtown’s West Village in July 2020, just 10 minutes’ walk away from the original. It was a challenging time for the owners, as they could only serve outdoors because of pandemic restrictions. While the Greenwich Village bar focuses on Negronis, aperitivos, pasta and pizza, this venue emphasises the Martini, Spritzes, and “everything cooked on a wood fire” says Pride.
Last month [July], Dante headed outside of New York City for the first time, opening a bar in The Maybourne Beverly Hills hotel in California. Pride previously worked with The Maybourne on a cocktail book, and decided to do something permanent together.
“Los Angeles is somewhere that we’ve always been really focused on, and we always wanted to do something there,” Pride explains. “As Australians moving to New York, we really had to learn a whole new language, like the way business is done in America, the way you retain staff, and create the guest experience, especially in New York, with its four seasons, with different menus and consumer habits. Australia is kind of like one-and-a-half seasons and LA is kind of the same, so consumer habits don’t shift as much as they do in a scene of full seasons.”
At the Los Angeles site, Pride has installed a wood-fired pizza oven, and there’s a focus on using local ingredients such as heirloom tomatoes. The drinks menu features a southern Italian twist on Sangria designed to be shared, featuring peaches, Martini Ambrato and topped with Prosecco. There’s also a Bloody Mary on offer, made with a base of pomodoro sauce by Dante’s chef, using cold-pressed tomatoes.
Pride also hasn’t ruled out bringing the Dante concept outside of the US. “I definitely would love to,” he enthused. “I don’t want to be a big brand that is a cookie cutter and puts it here, there or everywhere. The three Dantes are very unique to their surroundings, and that’s because we’re very hands-on, and we want to be sensitive to our local communities. Unless we had a great partner, such as a hotel, I wouldn’t do anything outside of New York, because you can’t control the experience in the same way.” However, Pride adds he is looking at two potential sites in the US, one on the West Coast and the other on the East Coast. He’s hopeful that the sites will “happen in 2024”.
Dante has also become known for its ‘Negroni Sessions’ happy hours, offering a menu of aperitivos daily for US$10 between 3pm and 5pm. The West Village and Beverly Hills sites offer the boozier alternative of US$10 Martinis for two hours. Pride says happy hours are an “opportunity for people to access the brand and get a taste and feel of it”. Food and live music accompany the happy hours to make it a “special occasion”, he says, bringing guests to the venue at a time that is typically quieter.
Meanwhile, 2019 was a landmark year for Dante. The venue’s status rocketed when it was named the World’s Best Bar at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards that July, as well as taking the number-one spot on the World’s 50 Best Bars list three months later.
Challenges of success
Pride notes the challenges of dealing with greater footfall as a result. “It cemented a reputation that we were building or aspiring towards. More than anything it was a great recognition of the team for what they put in over the years. In New York, you see an incredible number of international guests come in and check the box, so to speak. So it puts a lot of pressure on the bar, in a good way obviously, because its revenue-generating. It put a lot of pressure on us to be able to continue to look after those regulars who have always supported us. That was probably the biggest challenge, to be honest, always trying to meet those expectations, and, ultimately, exceed them.”
On reflection, Pride believes the recognition “came down to the way that people felt about the space and how we made them feel, and the fact that they always wanted to come back and spend more time with us”, he adds. “We’re not pretentious or particular. We really try to create a venue that’s for all occasions, that feels like a little bit of home or that you’ve stepped into that Italian café you love. That’s the core of what we do.”
The accolades are “emblematic of the fact that we’ve created a space where people feel safe and comfortable”, he continues. “In a city like New York, it can be very aggressive and very lonely. It’s not an easy city. I think people value that sense of community that we strive to create.”