Everyone has their own personal memories of dining at Denny’s—a post-prom pancake binge, that time they saw Dave Grohl, support group meetings. For me it was getting to eat spaghetti for breakfast when I was 8, and I thought about this last Saturday night when I pulled back my hair, put on some lipstick, and went out to meet friends at New York’s fancy new Denny’s (DENN).
That’s right: Manhattan’s first Denny’s may be located in a former Taco Bell (YUM) near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, but it’s definitely an upscale endeavor. You can tell by the copper ceilings, wood paneling, and leather booths. And, of course, the bar. It’s the second Denny’s to serve cocktails—the other is in Las Vegas. Only 200 out of almost 1,700 Denny’s restaurants around the world serve any alcohol at all.
Denny’s hopes this will draw an after-work crowd as well as the weekend crowd, meeting needs both boozy and moons-over-my-hammy. As if to demonstrate its commitment both to drinking and to its Wall Street neighbors, it offers a publicity stunt of a $300 brunch, which includes two Grand Slam breakfasts (an $18 value), a bottle of Dom Pérignon, and a high-five from the bartender (free). I had a lot of questions about the new Denny’s, and here’s one: Who would want those three things all at once?
By the time we got there, at around 8:30, it was busy. With the bar full, we were shown to a square table for four. Nearby, a man in a cowboy hat sat with a woman holding an alarmingly enormous sun hat. There were families in the booths and customers wearing Pace University shirts. (The school is steps away.) It was very bright—too bright, frankly, for the amount of lip gloss we were wearing. The vibe did not befit a Ladies’ Night, but hopefully we wouldn’t notice after a couple of drinks.
The cocktails had cutesy New York names and cost about $10, roughly 25 percent cheaper than at most of the bars in the borough. We passed on the Lower Manhattan (a Manhattan with coffee liqueur) in favor of one Coney Collins (a Tom Collins with vodka), a Bloody Maria (a Bloody Mary with tequila) on our server’s recommendation, and two carbonated bourbon drinks called Manhattan Cream Sodas. They were good—like, really good for a Denny’s.
The Coney Collins tasted “like a spiked soda, in a can-I-get-unlimited-refills kind of way,” according to one of my friends. The Bloody Maria had just the right amount of kick you’d expect from a tomato-ey drink like that. The Cream Sodas were “yummy and comforting” and dangerously easy to drink. If this were a Cocktail Olympics, we would give them a 7.6 out of 10, because we were not that drunk yet.
We were hungry, so we got some snacks: Pancake Puppies (pancake balls rolled in cinnamon and sugar), Smothered Cheese Fries (fries covered with pepper jack, cheddar cheese, and bacon with a side of ranch dressing), and a Grand Slam breakfast (pancakes, eggs, and bacon). If you’re thinking that a full breakfast does not typically constitute a snack, let alone go with cocktails, well, we tried to order a smaller-size breakfast entree. But our server told me I was too old to order from the 12-and-under kids menu, although she was happy to let me order from the 55-plus menu if I wanted. Thanks.
As a chain, Denny’s is required by law to put calorie counts on its menu. So just for fun, we added up the food calories on our table: 830 for the Grand Slam plus 980 for the fries and 490 for the Pancake Puppies equals 2,300 calories, divided by 4 is 575 calories for each of us—so maybe about a third of a day’s caloric intake for an adult woman? Could have been worse if we had ordered the Grand Slamwich—scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, shaved ham, and cheese on bread with a maple spice spread and a side of hash browns—coming in at 1,340 calories alone. We didn’t bother counting the drinks, because where’s the fun in that?
One of my friends took a bite of the Smothered Cheese Fries. “Don’t have this, it’s so salty!” she warned. We tried it. It was salty. Then she tried the Pancake Puppies. “Don’t have this, you’ll want to eat the whole thing!” she said, and we ate the whole thing.
For the next round of drinks we ordered a Bellini, a Dark and Stormy, a Lower Manhattan, and a Pepino (mescal and cucumber). Maybe it was the food, but with the exception of the Lower Manhattan, the first round was better. I found the Bellini too peachy. It turns out my friend doesn’t care much for mescal. The Dark and Stormy was “rich and very gingery.”
Denny’s is planning after-work happy hour discounts and brunch specials to keep the bar busy. Michael Capoferri, bar director for Denny’s Manhattan, who was at the restaurant on Saturday night, told us: “You know, I never thought I would see a Ladies’ Night at Denny’s.”
As we finished our drinks, bar hours were winding down. As a compromise with the building’s condo board, unlike other Denny’s locations, which are open 24 hours a day, the Manhattan restaurant closes at midnight every night and doesn’t open its bar until 11 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on weekends.
We never got to the $300 Champagne brunch, but Capoferri said he’d already sold a few. The idea actually started out as a joke, he said, and ended up on the menu. It also scored the restaurant a lot of publicity. I had no plans to order the high-priced bubbly, but at the bar I asked Capoferri and our bartender, Keyana, if I could I get a high-five. It wasn’t a problem.