At 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, the Denny's in the Financial District is about as crowded as you'd expect it to be. Few tables in the large, split-level space are occupied, and there's no one at the bar besides a handful of Eater editors and the friendly young bartender who worked previously at an uptown Applebee's. Over the course of a couple cocktails — and a giant plate of cheesy hash browns, fried jalapenos, and mozzarella sticks — she talks about how the craft cocktail program works at the diner chain.
How does the drink menu work?
For now, all the drinks at Denny's are plays on the classics. But, before the end of the year, we're going to change the menu. Our head bartender is always back here behind the bar mixing things and experimenting with new drinks.
You should infuse a drink with bacon.
[Laughs] Maybe! Especially if people are coming in and requesting it, I could see us putting it on the menu.
What kind of crowd do you typically draw?
It's not so busy usually at nights, but we do really good business at breakfast and for happy hour. People come in after work.
Most of the drinks on your cocktail menu are $10. What kind of specials do you offer?
We get those businessmen coming in after they get off the clock, so we do happy hour from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. At happy hour, there's $4 or $5 beer, $7 glasses of wine, and an $8 cocktail of the day.
During brunch, guests can get a cocktail and an entrée for $16, and there's the Biggie Brunch, which is a T-bone steak, cheese, eggs, Welch's grape juice, and a cocktail for $24.
Some of these cocktails take time to make. How do you keep up with demand when the restaurant is busy?
We pre-batch some of our most popular drinks at the beginning of the week. The Lower Manhattan and the Vesper are in big glass dispensers over the bar. Everyone loves the Lower Manhattan. People order it all the time, even at brunch. It's been our cocktail of the day at happy hour for a while now.
We also keep prosecco on tap, and we have the Manhattan Cream Soda on tap too. It has bourbon, vermouth, maple syrup, and vanilla.
This is the first Manhattan Denny's, and the first on this coast with a bar. How did that come to be?
The neighborhood didn't want us here. We're right below condominiums, and the residents were worried about the crowds that a 24/7 establishment would bring in. But the locals did need a neighborhood bar, so we compromised. Now we have a bar and we're only open from 5 a.m. to midnight.
All of the Denny's in New York City will have bars. We're looking at opening one on 125th Street in Harlem, and another somewhere in Brooklyn.
Tell me about the $300 Grand Cru Slam. How often do people order it?
It's Grand Slam entrees — pancakes, eggs, bacon, and sausage — for two, Dom Perignon champagne, and a bartender high five for $300.
I'd say people come in and order it about once a week — you'd be surprised. Most people are visiting, they're not from NYC, so they come in, they've seen it on Letterman, and they get it for the experience. They can tell their friends, "I went to Manhattan and had a $300 breakfast with Dom at Denny's."