A new business has blossomed on Beach 116th Street. On Wednesday, November 23, The Rose Den, a new cocktail bar and tapas restaurant located at 174 Beach 116th Street, officially opened its doors.
In its soft opening, customers have been able to try some unique cocktails at this hip new spot on the block. One popular drink on the menu includes a spiced pear margarita—a spicy margarita with nice syrup, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, fresh squeezed lime, and of course, tequila, topped with a poached pear. Or perhaps the Gin Bubble Bath, featuring Empress Gin, coupled with a few secret ingredients, plus honey syrup, fresh squeezed lemon and prosecco, served up with a twist, is more your speed. Along with a selection of wine and beer, and non-alcoholic mocktails for the non-drinkers, these are just a few of the things being served up at The Rose Den, and there’s still more to come.
Owner Katherine Varno’s vision is for The Rose Den to be a tapas, dessert and cocktail establishment. The finishing touches on the kitchen are still being worked on but within the next few weeks, Chef Keith Gaffney of Breezy Point will be cooking up some delicious tapas options. “We’re going to have Mediterranean style tapas and desserts, charcuterie boards, homemade breads and stuff. Everything will be as handmade as possible with all fresh ingredients,” Varno
The vibe of The Rose Den is all in the name. Rose, being a name in Varno’s family, and Den, “feels like a place where people can gather and have nice conversation and exchange ideas over food and drinks. It really fits that intimate experience of the place, so The Rose Den made sense, and it has a speakeasy vibe to it,” Varno said. She hopes it will serve as a lowkey option for everyone to enjoy. “You can start here before going out to dinner or stop by on the way home for a dessert and a cocktail as a nightcap. It’s a perfect little date spot or a place for little cocktail parties and events. And we’re family friendly. Kids are welcome to sit at the tables with their families,” she said.
The tapas and cocktails will occasionally be accompanied by entertainment. “We’ll have music, mostly acoustic, lowkey stuff. We want this to be a place where people are able to talk and don’t want loud, blaring music. I want a nice, relaxed atmosphere for everyone. At our opening, we had Mikal of Rebaroque DJ some chill jazz music, and it was really nice. There won’t be crazy dance parties here. We’ll be looking for acoustic performers, and maybe some spoken word and poetry kind of stuff mixed in with curated playlists,” she said.
With more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality business, Varno has the right skills and knows the right people to pull her vision off. Coming from the Catskills, she started off as a dishwasher in the East Durham area and has since worked at many rooftop bars and lounges, serving as beverage director, so she knows plenty about mixing a quality cocktail. “My first job in the city was at Town with Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, a celebrity chef offering three-star service. There, I was a bartender and server and eventually became head bartender,” she said. After coming down for the surf since 2005 and officially moving to Rockaway in 2009, she’s also worked in managerial roles in local places like the old Playland Motel and Whit’s End.
But Varno always dreamed of opening a place of her own. In September 2020, that journey began when the perfect spot opened up on Beach 116th Street. “The first time I came to Rockaway, I arrived on 116th Street, so that block has had a sweet spot in my heart. Coming from Manhattan, by the time that train pulled around the corner and I was able to experience that open air and nature, I really needed that. Arriving on 116th was amazing,” she said. “I had been living on 120th for seven years and kept talking about opening a place for years, and I thought 116th is the place. I think it’s happening and there’s some kind of renaissance going on there, so it’s a legendary block,” she said. And as fate would have it, an opportunity to open a place on the block landed right in her lap. “I was at dinner with people and talking about it and someone who owns the building mentioned the spot was opening up. It couldn’t have been more perfect. So I jumped on it,” Varno said.
In September 2020, she signed the lease for the old Lola Star store and began the process of transforming a retail space into a cocktail bar and restaurant. However, opening in the year of Covid presented some extra challenges, slowdowns and red tape as Varno navigated opening her own business for the first time.
But last Wednesday, all that work paid off as Varno officially opened the doors of The Rose Den for a soft opening. “It was so good. We had a really great response, with 50 people there throughout the night. We did discount cocktails, beer and wine and Mikal DJ’d and it was great. Everyone was talking to each other and making friends. There was really good energy. People are excited about this. So far, I’ve only gotten good feedback. Everyone has been so kind, it’s amazing,” she said. “I’m elated to be open. This was such a longtime coming, it feels good. This is my specialty, what I’ve been doing for years, and this lets me bring it home.”
And Varno isn’t done yet. In addition to opening the kitchen soon, in the next few months, The Rose Den will also be open for brunch, and will offer to go food and cocktails by the summertime. She’s also open to more ideas. “This place is flexible and ever changing, so this is an open space for everyone to come and if anyone has any recommendations or feedback, or if anyone wants to perform or bring art, or have an event or meeting or holiday party here, I have options and packages and I’m open to ideas,” she said.
The Rose Den, located at 174 Beach 116th Street, is currently open six days a week from 5 p.m. until midnight, and closed on Tuesdays. For more info, email: KatherineVarno@gmail.com