I hadn’t been out past midnight since 2019. But when I hit up Danger Danger in August, I had to force myself to leave the Bushwick bar at 3 a.m. In a year where the word has barely been uttered, the place was just fun.
Great music. Lots of dancing. An incredible (and incredibly short) cocktail menu that leans on natural wine, shareable agave drinks, a frozen Penicillin and a cool riff on the espresso martini. It’s sort of a club and divey rock bar at the same time, complete with pinball, zebra carpets — even the ATM is carpeted — and parrot chandeliers. Plus, a $9 happy hour.
The bar team is led by Michael McIlroy and Sam Ross (Attaboy, Temple Bar), along with Jason and Eddy Buckingham, the duo behind Mansions in Ridgewood. After our wee-hours summer outing, we had a nice and decidedly more quiet conversation with Ross in November about the bar, drinking trends, the high cost of cocktails and his one worry about the new wave of cocktail joints.
InsideHook: How did the idea of Danger Danger come up?
Sam Ross: Our operating partner out there, Jason Scott, is very successful with his hospitality group — Swillhouse in Sydney. They had a number of venues but he had a burning desire to get back to New York.
So he’d been working on this site for a little while and had reached a point where he wasn’t quite ready to open and he wasn’t happy with the direction of the bar that he was doing out there. The success of his previous spots had been collaborations with other people, so he reached out to a lot of people, including Michael and I, about coming on board to help him get it over the line.
And it was just the fact that we could do something different with them — doing something with the idea of having very strong tequila/mezcal vibes going out there, and also natural wine. We weren’t confined. Between us all, we’ve had some really successful venues, but also very different venues. This just felt like an opportunity to do something just a little weird and different.
IH: How long does it take you to conceptualize a new place?
Ross: This was probably about eight months or so. Jason had done a lot of the hard work in terms of all the stuff that you need to get approved for by the city. And we had the license approved already. It’s so different from Manhattan and some of the more populated areas of Brooklyn. There are no issues with licenses out in Bushwick! There wasn’t a community board trying to restrict hours or anything like that, which is really nice and refreshing.
IH: I really dug the menu. It was short but adventurous.
Ross: We realized the place was going to very high volume. Obviously, we want quality drinks, but we have to be able to get things out in a timely manner. So that’s why we decided against a really big menu. There’s no physical menu. It’s just a massive display over the bar. We really couldn’t get too extensive with descriptions. I think it’s 10 cocktails, and we decided to keep it to that, including the slushies.
People are out there dancing and having a good time and drinking these drinks. It’s more of a club vibe or like a music venue, but you’re realizing you don’t normally have drinks taste this good in that kind of environment.
IH: What’s your favorite drink there?
Ross: I think the espresso martini with the repo tequila and apricot liqueur is outrageously good and it shouldn’t be that good. We took a little time developing the Cantarito, the drink in the big ceramic pot which is just tequila or mezcal, fresh juices, grapefruit soda and a little salt. It’s something you can get from roadside stands in Mexico. We do those for groups of two or four or six. A few straws and a ton of alcohol.
The Cantarito Is the Most Fun Drink I’ve Ever HadA cousin of the paloma, this regional Jalisco cocktail is refreshing, sweet and a bit spicy. And sometimes served by the gallon.
IH: Danger Danger was the first bar I stayed out at past midnight since Covid. Do you see a trend of people staying out later?
Ross: Actually…no. (Laughs) Danger Danger’s late-night vibe is more prominent than others. And we really don’t get kicking until nine or 10. It’s a late-night venue. But I’ll give you a different example: Attaboy was always a 4 a.m. venue. We’ve been open for over 10 years now. And we just started noticing in our nightly reports that the 3-4 a.m. hour, which was always industry-heavy, was getting quieter and quieter. So we made the decision, a decade in, to shift the whole thing forward an hour.
We saw more value in the 5-6 p.m. hour than 3-4 a.m. That’s a pretty good insight into the idea that super late-night New York hasn’t really come back. Even Danger Danger, which is open until 4 a.m., hasn’t had that super late-night vibe.
IH: You guys are all in on mezcal, tequila, natural wine, etc. Are there any other larger drinking trends you’ve noticed this year?
Ross: I think the cocktail bar scene has split. And not in a bad way! The martini is having an absolute moment or second coming. So you’ve either got these classic, martini-driven, decadent bars that are opening. And you also have these bars getting attention for very technical aspects. There’s a lot of prep that goes into the drinks before they even open — they’re using scientific instruments and centrifuges and clarifications. You’ll end with this unique-tasting clear liquid poured over a big piece of ice. That’s the two big splits I’m seeing: Martinis, oysters, caviar and Art Deco on one side, and this laboratory approach on the other.
IH: Your prices at Danger Danger are quite reasonable. What do you think of cocktail prices nowadays?
Ross: It’s hard now. And I get it: Cocktails are expensive. But you can still get good value. That was one thing that we wanted to do at Danger Danger. The overhead is considerably less in Bushwick than in Manhattan. Rent is the big cost. And I think being where we are, we can offer good quality in the $13-$15 range and still have drinks with fresh juices and syrups that we make.
But you’re right. If you’re going to fancy cocktail bars, you’re getting in at $21 cocktails. Even at restaurants that put in a bit of effort into a good cocktail program. It’s $21 for an appetizer and $21 for a cocktail. I know people are always looking for value, but it’s tough to put quality booze and use nothing but quality produce and ice and charge low prices.
IH: What’s the most frustrating part of the bar world today?
Ross: With something like Attaboy — the popularity factor that comes with awards or recognition. It’s a blessing and a curse. There are a lot of people wanting to come to your spot, but we have 22-25 seats. We have to say no to more people, and everyone gets on a waitlist. It’s a challenge and people are expecting to come to a place and walk straight in, and they get frustrated when they don’t. So you’ll see a lot of one-star reviews for people who didn’t get in, and they’ll say the bouncer was rude or something. It’s about managing people’s expectations and finding a way to have them leave with a smile on their faces.
Also that split between bars I was talking about? Consumers may assume that as a high-end cocktail bar, we can do all those scientific things. So they’ll come into Attaboy and ask about clarified milk punches and how we use a centrifuge or if anything is fat-washed. And we have to explain that our focus and strength are classic cocktails and riffs on classics. It’s about tempering customers’ expectations and them not understanding why I can’t get, like, a Waldorf Salad Martini (laughs). We want to have people understand that, much like restaurants, cocktail bars focus on different menus and different ethos.
IH: Is there a bar you have no involvement with that you loved this year?
Ross: I think two of my favorite spots now are in Australia. The one in Melbourne is a Caretaker’s Cottage — they did a takeover at Attaboy. We never do takeovers at all in 10 years. So that’s saying something. It’s an amazing cocktail bar in what is literally the caretaker’s cottage of this old church grounds in the center of Melbourne.
And then this tiny little roller-door bar in Sydney called Cantina OK. It’s a tequila/mezcal margarita bar on this cobblestone alley. They have these carbonated low-alc margarita spritz drinks that are awesome and only like 5% ABV.
IH: Speaking of ABVs…as we head toward Dry January, what’s your take on the non-alcoholic scene?
Ross: We had our most recent all-hands staff meeting at Attaboy and the focus was on making some really interesting non-alcoholic bitters and aperitifs and putting a bit more effort into our non-alcoholic cocktails. We serve tasty non-alcoholic drinks, but they tend to be more juice-driven. But you don’t always want something juicy when you’re talking about non-alcoholic drinks.
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