All About Donna 2.0, Now in the West Village
Donna, the tropical cocktail bar that once graced South Williamsburg, might have made it through the pandemic had their landlord not sold the building, forcing the beloved bar out in 2020. But now, three years later, Donna is coming back — and she has a new home in the West Village.
Set to open May 17, the new Donna will feature some of the bar’s most-loved cocktails, not to mention the chill vibes, of the original location, albeit with an expanded menu and fresh talent behind the bar. We spoke to some of the folks behind Donna 2.0 to find out what new and returning guests can expect in terms of food, drink, and atmosphere — and how they’re making it all happen.
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1. Donna is reopening as a worker-owned cooperative.
It’s clear that for the staff, Donna has always been more than just a workplace. The team stuck together after Donna 1.0’s closure to consult with Soho Grand and to bring a Donna pop-up to Long Island. But the bonds are even stronger now: The new Donna is a worker-owned cooperative, currently consisting of five founding members, with a pathway in place for current and future staff to join the cooperative as part owners.
In looking for ways to improve equity for hospitality service workers, original owner, Leif Huckman, connected with an organization called The Working World, which helps businesses transition from standard to cooperative business models.
“He approached all of the employees from Donna’s past to take the temperature and see if anyone was interested in keeping the Donna name alive, but opening up as a worker-owned cooperative,” Lauren Ruiz, managing partner of the new Donna, tells Resy. “A couple of us signed up and we’ve been working toward that project since March 2021.”
Huckman has been consulting on the relaunch but is ultimately leaving the Donna name in the hands of his trusted former employees. The new financial model probably won’t change the guest experience in any tangible way, but it might influence the menu: Ruiz says that as they stock the bar, they’re especially trying to build relationships with wineries, breweries, and distilleries that have a similar pro-worker ethos. Expect to see bottles by woman-owned and sustainability-minded companies, too.
2. The drinks menu has gotten an internationally minded, post-colonial makeover.
Former Donna regulars, fear not: The bar’s signature Brancolada, essentially a piña colada with Fernet Brancamenta, will be returning along with some other longtime favorites, like the paloma and the Happy Bastard. But guests can look forward to some new concoctions that play with Latin, Caribbean, and Southeast Asian flavors, among others.
For many Americans, “tropical” drinks are more or less synonymous with “tiki” drinks – a term which is quickly falling out of use as hospitality folks bring awareness to its whitewashed, deeply colonial origins. The team at Donna has always been mindful about engaging respectfully with various cultural influences, but with Kitty Bernardo (formerly of Leyenda and Patent Pending) as bar manager, Donna’s post-colonial take on colorful, refreshing tropical drinks is more thoughtful than ever.
“For me, post-colonial means really tying together the threads and the strings between places that have been impacted by colonialism,” Bernardo says. The new menu takes inspiration from several places around the word that have a history of European colonization, including the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Brazil.
Their approach to designing the menu, they say, has involved “making those connections and holding space for the people in the cultures that have been affected, and giving them more agency, giving them a space to really shine, showing their perseverance and their resilience in a world that has been shaped so much by colonialism — but also holding space for their flavors, and really honoring those flavors instead of just using them as ingredients.”
One example Bernardo shared was their creation called the “Lolo Avo.” “Lolo” is the Tagalog word for “grandfather,” and the cocktail is inspired by an avocado smoothie that their grandfather used to make. “In the Philippines, avocados are indigenous to that region,” Bernardo says, “and we have always treated them like fruits in sweet preparations like cakes and smoothies.”
The Lolo Avo (which Bernardo refers to as their “baby”) includes a Mexican sugarcane-based spirit called urupan, coconut milk, and Spanish sherry. It’s already a staff favorite; Ruiz notes it’s dangerously easy to drink. Other new drinks include the Tiny Sparrow Martini, made with Vietnamese gin and calamansi liqueur, as well as shochu, rum, and mushroom.
The wine and beer selections, too, are going to be eclectic. Look out for bottles from lesser-known wine regions – think Lebanon or Hungary – and makers with transparent, ethical practices in labor and sourcing.
3. The food menu will be bigger and better than ever.
The original Donna served tacos primarily, but for the new iteration, the kitchen is nixing tacos in exchange for a whole lot more.
“Because we’re reworking our cocktail menu,” Ruiz says, the team decided to also “explore more in the [food] menu. You know, come up with something a little different than Donna, but not too different.”
Part of the decision to rethink the food was due to practical concerns: Their new spot is catty cornered between two taco places, so they wanted to offer something that wasn’t already abundant in the immediate area. But the changes to the menu aren’t just a cosmetic makeover, they’re a full-on remodel.
“We’re gonna have a little bit of an elevated, kind of pan-Latin menu because we have a chef consultant,” Ruiz says. That consultant is Steve Browning, formerly of Prairie Whale (in Great Barrington, Mass.), Marlow & Sons, and the now-closed Flatbush Farm. With Browning’s guidance, the kitchen team — headed by worker-owner Ulises Fuentes — is designing a menu based on dishes and flavors from Central America, Mexico, and the Mediterranean. The menu will be structured by small bites, medium-sized plates, and large shareable dishes.
Look out for the roasted carrot tostadas, pork shoulder and charred onion pupusas, and small plates like the napa cabbage salad with a chile cumin vinaigrette, and the smashed potato with lime and coriander labneh. On the shareable side, there’s a whole roasted fish with harissa and vegetables and a pork shoulder with za’atar.
4. With a new location comes a slightly different, more refined vibe.
While many of us can relate to being priced out of Manhattan and into one of the outer boroughs, Donna, oddly enough, had the opposite experience.
“We got priced out of Williamsburg,” Ruiz says. And, believe it or not, the famously gentrified West Village provided a more affordable option. That’s how Donna 2.0 came to be a Manhattanite, and close neighbors to other cocktail destinations like Dante and Katana Kitten. With so many big deal cocktail bars in the area, it might be a competitive spot. But rather than feel intimidated, the team is excited to be in such good company.
“Why not? We’re gonna throw our hat in the ring. No problem,” Ruiz says.
Now that Donna’s living on the relatively quiet Cornelia Street, in a smaller space than before, there aren’t likely to be many raucous parties. Instead of the DJ sets and dance parties Donna hosted in Brooklyn, the team will be keeping it a little more low-key and elegant to match their new surroundings. Still, it’s important to the team that the new Donna offers guests a fun, relaxed experience. A lot of thought is going into the bar’s atmosphere, and the playlist, to which the whole team is contributing. Ruiz also says they may use playlists curated by some of the DJs they’ve worked with in the past.
5. The bar’s design is as eclectic and intentional as the food and drinks.
Some pieces of the original Donna are coming to the new location, like the back bar. But the team has also been busy building, sanding, and even growing pieces for Donna’s West Village interior.
Michael Groth, the designer behind Donna’s original space, is on board for Donna 2.0 as well. And much in the same way Bernardo is approaching the cocktail menu from a post-colonial standpoint, Groth is taking cues from politically significant Latin American design movements of the 20th century, specifically Cuban Concretism and Brazilian Neo-Concretism, both of which are characterized by their bold use of color and simple, dramatic shapes. Groth says he hopes the design of Donna 2.0 reflects the “utopian ideals and unbounded possibility” of those artistic movements, “reflecting Donna’s uniquely democratic business model.”
This translates to lots of warm colors, clean lines, and bold shapes, creating an aesthetic that’s tropical, inviting, and chic. There are some truly unique touches, as well, like the lampshades above the bar that were grown (yes, grown) specifically for Donna, using oyster mushroom mycelium and upcycled hemp hurd.
Donna will be open seven days a week (Sundays through Thursdays from 5 p.m. to midnight and on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.) for dinner and cocktails.
Ariana DiValentino is a writer, filmmaker, and actor based in Brooklyn. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. Follow Resy, too.