In Bushwick, behind graffiti-streaked warehouses and 99 cents stores hides an entire universe of fast-paced clubs and upscale restaurants. Diverse performers, writers and artists pave new roads on back alleys and sidewalks. Sometimes, the neighborhood’s most wonderful spaces end up hidden in plain sight— which is what Dromedary Bar’s new sister, Ra-Ra Rhino, seems to be going for.
For Michael Lombardozzi, it’s more than just his latest bar. It’s a unique, 70s inspired speakeasy concealed behind his other new venture: Dromedary Doughnuts. Both establishments are set to open next month.
The idea sprung up in the midst of the COVID era, when Lombardozzi said he was craving a good old fashioned doughnut but couldn’t find any in the neighborhood. Just like the drinks at Dromedary, his long-standing tiki bar on Irving Avenue, the doughnuts are inspired by tropical-themed ingredients from the Caribbean. Among the doughnut flavors Lombardozzi has teased so far include the “Glass Moon” — a creamy creation that comes drizzled with passion fruit syrup, and topped with a dollop of Italian meringue and bourbon macadamia nut brittle.
He’s also excited about the prospect of running a bar at his doughnut shop too. “It was this idea of, well, I’m doing a doughnut shop—-how fun would it be to say go to the doughnut shop, then go to the speakeasy?” said a 44-year old Lombardozzi in an interview.
Lombardozzi said that a certain kind of cocktail culture is “missing in the neighborhood.”
“It’s kind of missing that kind of like, New York attitude that comes behind these industry bars,” he says, promising customers that “you’re going to come over here and walk into a completely different world,” he said. “There’s this layer of escapism, the whole thing is based on escapism.”
Lombardozzi also swears that his cocktail lounge won’t be the “dreary, quiet, melancholy kind” either, since he plans on programming the place with disco music and quirky cocktails. There’s going to be green velvet seats, dim lighting and some rhinoceros decor too.
“Ra-Ra Rhino will still have the Dromedary love and energy…but you know, in a different kind of venue,” he says about his latest business.
For a while, Lombardozzi planned on completely closing Dromedary, leading to an outpouring of memories from the bar’s fans, many of whom were drawn to the bar’s weekend drag brunches. Shortly after, however, Lombardozzi decided to keep the bar open too, for now.
For 33-year-old Nancy Nogood, who has been a drag performer for eight years, Dromedary became a home away from home.
“When you come into a bar as a drag artist, so often you can feel very peripheral to the whole bar’s experience,” Nogood said. “And Dromedary has never felt like that. It’s always felt like we are part of the people who make Dromedary what it is. We feel like we’re part of the Dromedary family.”
Dromedary became more than just a place to work. “Outside of drag, in my personal life, my partner and I this past year got domestically partnered,” said Nogood. “We celebrated at Dromedary.”
Dromedary Doughnuts and Ra-Ra Rhino may not have drag brunches planned, but Nogood says Lombardozzi has kept the bar’s drag performers updated, even offering to bring them in for tastings.
Justine Musselman, a 28-year-old bartender who has worked at Dromedary for several years now, says that inclusivity has been one the bar’s core values.
“I am a queer person, and working in a space that is not just queer friendly but truly lets everyone feel like no matter who they are, they can be their full selves in that space, that’s really important to me,” says Musselman, who plans to start working at Ra-Ra Rhino this fall.
Adam Gold, 28-year-old, once-regular at Dromedary, commends Lombardozzi’s ability to create a retreat from reality. While Gold has since moved to the Upper West Side, he fondly remembers many nights spent in the bar.
“Even if you had a really bad day, it was very easy to just forget about it,” said Gold.
Images taken from Dromedary Doughnuts’ Instagram page.
For more news, sign up for Bushwick Daily’s newsletter.
Join the fight to save local journalism by becoming a paid subscriber.