To an outsider, the Manhattan neighborhood known as Dimes Square appears to be the land of lug soles and leather blazers, hoop earrings and hair pulled back with checkered plastic claws. The Thursday evening when I visited Le Dive—the restaurateur Jon Neidich’s new bar-café at the center of the enclave—half the crowd could conceivably audition to be the 4th Haim sister. I counted four beige car coats and twice as many cargo pants.
The current crowd around Dimes Square is specific and a little surprising, because pre-pandemic, the neighborhood had been known for skater and artist communities. But if you’ve been following the many breathless write-ups about the area and its denizens—or last week’s grumblings on Twitter—you are aware that the skaters and the artists have some new-ish, fashionable neighbors who revel in virtuous slackerdom, cultivated irreverence, and proximity to intellectual culture. As Drew Austin wrote in Dirt recently: “In the ‘00s, New York exported the concept of ‘Brooklyn’ to the rest of the world; today, it exports Dimes Square.” Goodbye yogi craft brewers, hello “socialist” fuckboys on mystery drugs.
Directly next door to the scruffy watering hole Clandestino and occupying the corner of Ludlow and Canal Streets, Le Dive is an airy, retro, indoor-outdoor bar with tables spilling onto the sidewalk, where one might smoke, sip a martini, and glance at Heidegger or Derrida. For the concept and design, Neidich—the man behind Le Crocodile, the piano bar The Nines, Acme, Ray’s and The Happiest Hour—borrowed from the Parisian tabacs he’s visited throughout his life, including the 11th arrondissement local Chez Jeannette, whose bar is crowned by two buttery neon squiggles plus the words “Chez Jeannette.” (Le Dive has one squiggle and “Le Dive” lit up in a warmer gold.) Other Parisian reference points include Aux Deux Amis, a late-night hang on Rue Oberkampf, and Cravan, a cocktail bar in the 16th arrondissement.
In February, Neidich invited his team at Golden Age Hospitality on a trip abroad, partly as a thank-you for their work on The Nines, which opened in Noho this spring, and partly as a research trip for Le Dive. While there, the team visited two spaces for lunch and two spaces for dinner every day (though Neidich, who geeks out on old glassware, also found himself browsing the flea markets for design inspo). At spots like L’ami Louis, Dauphin, La Buvette, Cave Septime and Mokonuts, the team would order everything on the menu and discuss elements such as lighting and ambiance.
“Picking out the right colors is such an important thing,” Neidich said. He’s been getting into old-school design books lately, and is currently trying to hunt down a vintage book of French colors. Though he first considered a green palette for Le Dive, burgundy is a classic for tabacs, which “genuinely have a warmth to them,” Neidich said. “They serve as congregating places for people to come at various times during the day.”
He compares tabacs to dive bars. “It's a local meeting place,” he said. While explaining this idea over dinner a year ago, an English friend semi-ironically called it “le dive.” And natural wine could update the concept, he thought. (Although it’s a stretch to compare a place with floor-to-ceiling windows and $17 glasses of pinot noir to a dive.)
Neidich stopped drinking two years ago, so beverage director Ashley Santoro (also of the boutique shop Leisir Wine) developed the cocktail menu. “It’s a big exercise in trust for me, because I was always able to trust my palate,” he said. “This is the third menu I've had to do without tasting anything.” The natural wine isn’t exactly funky; instead, it’s responsibly-farmed, low intervention wine with a smooth finish. Santoro’s original cocktails include a grapefruit-cucumber gimlet, a strawberry-lime daiquiri, and an orange-mezcal margarita, while dinner falls somewhere between bar food and French bistro fare: with wildflower-honey ricotta, a succulent hunk of roasted salmon, and steak tartare.
Fittingly, Dimes Square reminds Neidich of the 11th arrondissement of Paris, with “a lot of little restaurants” and “a neighborhood feel, more than any other neighborhood in New York right now,” he said. “There’s something kind of magical down here.” When he lived nearby over ten years ago, Neidich recalled, the area “was kind of special in that it was a little bit away from development.” Those days are gone. Nine Orchard—the hotel in the Jarmulowsky Bank Building with rooms starting at $475 per night and three Ignacio Mattos restaurants—opens mid-June. There are also three luxury residential skyscrapers under construction. At least one local business has signage reading “No Towers! No Compromise!” in solidarity with longtime residents.
Enough hype has been poured into Dimes Square that a bar like Le Dive was inevitable. And it doesn’t feel like an accident that Twitter is abuzz with Dimes Square discourse not a month after its opening. Le Dive posits that honest-to-god bohemia exists — and that it can be comfortably accessible to most, while still nailing what matters: good drinks and excellent service. As for the vibes, “you just have to make sure that nobody is cooler-than-thou. There's just no place for that,” Neidich said. “We’re a welcoming, warm, hospitable place.”