Bar Q&A: Delicatessen’s Damon Dunay

As beverage director for comfort-food restaurant Delicatessen, Damon Dunay can’t stand it when a patron orders a drink purely to get wasted. “It’s OK to get drunk, but maybe we can enjoy ourselves at the same time,” said Dunay, 33.

In that spirit, Dunay created a summer beverage menu for the SoHo spot that’s filled with fresh, flavorful ingredients, such as hibiscus, strawberry, pear and basil.

What’s your favorite drink on the menu?
The Cold Toddy. It’s a variation on a hot toddy for the summer. It’s bourbon with lemon, honey syrup infused with vanilla and clove. I spend time two days beforehand … creating this really nice syrup.

What’s the most popular drink?
The Zen Martini. It’s the anchor. When I first came to Delicatessen, it was a construction site, and I had no idea what I was walking into. I saw [the location in SoHo] and I pictured people sitting outside. Then I knew the experience that the guests could have. [The Zen Martini is inspired] by that. It’s been on the menu since we opened [in July 2008].

How do you pair the drinks with Delicatessen’s food: fried chicken, cheeseburger spring rolls, ribs, meatloaf?
I work with the chefs. I use the fruit and vegetable walk-in [refrigerator] and see what we have. I see a cucumber, I use it. The cocktail list is an extension of the menu. The great thing about the Zen Martini, for example, is if you have fried chicken, it’s oily, and if you drink this, it cleans your palate.

Do you drink on the job?
Not really. I kind of equate it to if a chef is making food for people all night long. The chances of him sitting down and having a steak are less likely. And then at the end of the night, he’ll sit down and have a meal. There’s nothing like having a cocktail at the end of the shift.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
When I spend time creating things and someone really genuinely comes up to me and tells me that [that drink was their] favorite part of the night. Times are tough, so I’m fortunate enough to work in a place where we see the best side of [people]. I see them when they’re letting off steam and they’re coming to enjoy themselves and get away from whatever they’re going through. With that comes a lot of fun and a lot of responsibility. Whether they’re going to work tomorrow, I don’t know, or whether they’re going to get laid off tomorrow, I don’t know, but they’re gonna have a good time while they’re here.


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