SANT AMBROEUS SOHO: NYFW’S UNOFFICIAL HOME BASE
Certain restaurants, much like people, possess the gift of never being out of fashion. Sant Ambroeus is among these. Since the original opened in 1936 in Milan, then made its way to Madison Avenue in 1982, the restaurants have enjoyed a constant flow of stylish customers—Europeans, fashion types, with-it neighborhood regulars—popping in for lunch, coffee, dinner, or anything in between. Sant Ambroeus now serves customers in the West Village, Southampton, on Madison Avenue, as well as at our favorite outpost located on the border of SoHo and Nolita.
Since opening its SoHo location in January 2014, the downtown spot has become like a living room for its coterie of fashionable regulars. Romance languages might be heard at the curving bar up front where caffe and pastries (made uptown at the Madison location) are available to stay or to go. You’ll want to stay, the better to scope out the fashionable crowd and eye the elegant interiors. Over there, two stylists can be seen having a tête-à-tête while a waiter in a skinny tie proffers a bottle of Pellegrino. Across the way, in the curved corner nook of an orange leather banquette, a group of men in slim suits sporting well-groomed stubble discuss what looks like important matters.
In the days before the fashion set descend upon the city for the Spring Summer runway shows—a time when Sant Ambroeus SoHo welcomes back many of fashion’s biggest international players and the local style set alike—we sat down with Alireza Niroomand, Sant Ambroeus’ creative director, to talk about the inimitable appeal of SoHo’s landmark Milanese restaurant and why the biggest names in fashion and art have made it their home away from home.
Tell me about your history with Sant Ambroeus’ SoHo outpost?
Alireza Niroomand: They asked me to open this location five years ago. I took a leap of faith, and it has been pretty successful.
On any given day, Sant Ambroeus SoHo is buzzing with a steady flow of regulars. What is it about the restaurant that sees people return time and time again?
AN: I think it’s a restaurant that’s more than a restaurant, it’s like a living room for so many people. We have a lot of regulars, I would say almost 80 percent regulars. Sometimes they come for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Our food is comforting, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. And also, the hospitality and the brand—people feel part of a club. They come for the classic dishes, our cappuccino, that’s our signature, our cakes, our cookies…
The other amazing thing about opening this location is that a lot of the kids that grew up on Madison going to our original location, now live downtown, so they have this location. Lenny Kravitz was telling me he’s been going to Sant Ambroeus since he was a child and having ice cream after school….There are so many stories like this.
Sant Ambroeus SoHo is known as a favorite go-to for the fashion set, especially during NYFW; what do you think it is about Sant Amrboeus that draws such a fashionable crowd?
AN: I feel it’s a luxury brand in itself, so there’s the association. And the neighborhood: it’s where everyone in the fashion industry works; everyone has their office here. And then we have the [pink and gold] color palette that is so distinctive, it draws people in.
We treat people as though they are coming to our home so everyone is special
Can you describe the vibe of Sant Ambroeus during NYFW?
AN: There is a different energy during fashion week. I anticipate fashion week; I get excited because everyone is in town. You see faces that you know from London, from Paris, they all come back. It’s a fun energy. Sometimes I pinch myself, I walk into the room and I can’t believe all these people are in the restaurant. Like if something happened, fashion week would stop.
Tell us about the designer plate wall…
AN: I think [the plate series] is one of the things that made this location so specific. It started with one guy, an artist from Brooklyn called Bast, who came in one night. A friend of mine told me he was bringing him. I liked his work and so I asked him if he would mind if I went and bought some markers for him? He said, no go ahead. I gave him a plate to paint on, and since he was a bit tipsy, he started drawing on every plate that came out. By the time he left, we had six or seven plates on the wall that looked good together. From then on, every time friends or artists or designers came in, we would give them a plate to draw on. It all started on Valentine’s Day, two months after we opened the restaurant.
Can you recall a particularly wild moment over the past five years that captures the spirit of Sant Ambroeus?
AN: Our first year we threw a one-year anniversary celebration and it was a wild party. We closed the restaurant and asked our guests to participate in the festivities: some of them were bartenders, we had one artist drawing on the walls and on the windows, Garance Doré was singing, we had the marching band come through Lafayette. Next up is our fifth anniversary in January.
Words Jenny Miller; Interview Edwina Hagon
Photograph courtesy of Sant Ambroeus