Sant Ambroeus

New York, New York | C.1936

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson

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Legend has it that, as an infant, Aurelius Ambrosius was swarmed by bees as he lay in his cradle—but he wasn’t stung. After they flew away, his father found a dollop of honey on his face, and took it as a sign that his son would one day have a “honeyed tongue.” The omen proved true: Ambrosius became so well-spoken that—solely based on an impassioned speech he delivered, arguing for unity—the fighting factions of early Christians demanded that he become the new Bishop of Milan. 

As an unbaptized lawyer with no theological training, he initially resisted, but was eventually persuaded to take up the lofty post. Having achieved the job by popular demand rather than personal ambition, he was given the moniker of the “reluctant bishop.” However grudgingly, he successfully ran Milan for nearly 20 years. Ambrosius died shortly before the dawn of the fifth century, yet continues to be honored today.

In Milanese dialect, he is referred to as Sant Ambroeus, a name New Yorkers associate less with any kind of reluctance, and more with an fervent hankering for a perfect cappuccino and a decadent Italian pastry; or an Aperol Spritz and shared panini come evening. This association comes by way of two pastry chefs, who in 1936 teamed up to open a refined café within earshot of the arias emanating from the Teatro La Scala opera house, in Milan. Before long, their aromas had attracted a robust set of devoted regulars, whose days didn’t begin until they’d savored their espresso and cornetto at Sant Ambroeus. 

Within a half century, these delicacies had made it to Manhattan, where the first Sant Ambroeus opened on Madison Avenue. It established itself among Upper East Siders seeking superior coffee and fresh Italian delicacies, and quickly became a must-taste visit for art lovers visiting the nearby Met. This classic Pasticceria set itself apart from the masses of options attempting to compete not only by the crunch of their cannoli, but for being savored beneath the wink of chandeliers, enveloped within a warm, sophisticated decor.  The cafe has also caught the eye of Hollywood A-listers from Taylor Swift to Billy Joel.  You may have also spotted it in the 2011 film, W.E. 

Its success has since spawned four more restaurants (including one in the Hamptons and one in Palm Beach), and three standing coffee bars. Each outpost prides itself in its unique character and design.

After decades of intergenerationally-appreciated establishments gracing the densest coffee-guzzling neighborhoods of Manhattan, Sant Ambroeus has become as iconic in New York as it is in Milan—upholding its transatlantic reputation for consistent satisfaction. One difference is that (true to form) Americans are offered a larger menu—with the opportunity to enjoy the quintessential Milanese café and a total fine dining experience. 

One can’t learn about this institution without learning of its sweet heartbeat: pastry chef Maestro Luciano Vismara, who has worked at the original café in Milan since 1959, with unceasing passion and pride. He loves to speak of their kitchen’s standard of elegance, and the unique quality of each cake he creates…evoking a man with divine hands, and a honeyed tongue.    

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