Naren Young has absolutely no qualms crediting the most infamous bartending film of them all with kick-starting his career.
“It was when I first saw the movie ‘Cocktail’—seriously,” says the prolific bar owner, bartender and writer, whose Italophile West Village haunt, Dante, was just named World’s Best Restaurant Bar at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. “I thought that looked pretty cool. And I was hooked.”
Recognizing his natural interest in the topic (and paying little mind to the fact that he was still well under Australia’s national drinking age of 18), Young’s mother began purchasing the budding barkeep a library of cocktail reference books; he got his feet wet “making really bad drinks” for her and her friends. These early experiences set the tone for Young, who credits them with cultivating a “curious approach to the industry that’s never wavered.” Since then, he’s worked in various capacities in Sydney, London and finally, New York, where he reopened the historic Dante, which remains a Manhattan institution.
In addition to his duties there, Young is an accomplished food and drink journalist, fitting in assignments when he’s not tending bar or traveling to speaking engagements or industry trainings. “Being a writer for the last 23 years has made me a better and knowledgeable bartender,” he says. “And being an inquisitive bartender has made me a better writer.”
Young drew from both disciplines in tackling our Lookbook Questionnaire, which gives him the opportunity to rhapsodize about his favorite Martini in the world, which fruit best fights a hangover and his sincere fondness for observing squirrels. —Drew Lazor
Creative director (and bartender) at Dante, NYC.
What do want to be when you grow up?
Grow up? Who says I’ll ever do that? It’s a trap!
Best thing you ever drank:
The Martini service at The Connaught in London, made by the sure hands of Agostino Perrone, is always a mesmerizing experience. It’s done tableside from a trolley with a series of tinctures to choose from. Elegance at its finest, served in a very elegant room. They adroitly pour it from very high above the glass, making quite a show of it.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Not sure if it’s the worst thing I ever drank, but in recent memory that would have to be a Cosmopolitan I had at Madrid’s OG cocktail bar, Del Diego. I’m a sucker for a good Cosmo (hey, no giggling down the back!), but this one had lashings of Rose’s lime cordial and too much cranberry and it just tasted like sadness and regret.
First time you ever got drunk:
If my memory serves me correctly, it was in the countryside in rural New Zealand on New Year’s Eve. I was 14. I also lost my virginity that night. Too much information?
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Bob Marley’s Legend.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I’m not sure I would call it a hobby, but I do enjoy watching squirrels in the park. True story. Does that make me sound weird?
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Can’t say that I attempt too much weird stuff. My background and overall philosophy is fairly classic one could say. Maybe smoked ice might be the most out-there thing I’ve attempted.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Hanging out with my wife in Paris (where I live part-time). New York just doesn’t let up and all I do is work when I’m in the States. In Paris, I can live and breath more, cook at home, ride bikes and sleep really well.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
Scotch and milk, which sounds randomly tasty. Especially if it was cereal milk. Now that’s mixology right there, folks.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Tommy’s in San Francisco has always had a special place in my heart. Proprietor Julio Bermejo is a dear friend and I’m constantly in awe of his innate hospitality and his ability to make everyone in the bar feel welcome while creating a convivial atmosphere every night. He has a way of connecting strangers like I’ve never seen.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
El Bulli, 2008. Hands down!
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
I’m a sucker for a good Tommy’s Margarita or a 50/50 Martini (with Plymouth or Fords Gin, lemon twist and an olive, please). Next in line would be a Manhattan served up or an Old-Fashioned. It used to be a Negroni at the top of that summit, but Dante has ruined them for me. I can’t look at that drink the same way anymore.
Sherry or Champagne, though the acid reflux kills me these days. Getting old sucks! Go-to wines would be nebbiolo, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Chinon in reds. Vouvray, Meursault or Alsace rieslings in whites. Just none of that weird, trendy natural wine shit that smells like mice and feet. Ugh!
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
I really like grapefruit juice when I’m hungover (I told you I was weird). Other than that, icy Coca-Cola or a Virgin Mary if I’m really feeling it. I wouldn’t turn down the ham and egg sandwich from Court Street Grocers either, if some saint delivered one to my door.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Factually incorrect cocktail history (no, the Old-Fashioned was not invented at the Pendennis Club). Cryptic names that make no sense. Those silly little clothes pegs on the sides of glasses. Please stop this madness!
The last text message you sent:
“Oaxaca for Dia de los muertos? Oh, man I wish. I’m in Spain right now, Paris tomorrow, then Athens for a week and then LA. So jealous!”