At the intersection of Buckhead past and present, Dante comes home

Photo: cyanonpeachtree.com

Photo: cyanonpeachtree.com

What a swell grand opening party it was last week at Cyan on Peachtree, a luxury high-rise where monthly rents start at $1,525 for a one-bedroom and climb past $5,000 for a three-bedroom penthouse on the 23rd floor.

Bartenders dispensed signature cocktails the color of a mermaid’s tail. Smartly dressed party goers air-kissed each other amid sleek leather and chrome furnishings. A jazz combo provided a sophisticated soundtrack to all the fabulosity.

After gracious remarks from executives with Monogram Residential Trust, Cyan’s development firm, Buckhead Coalition President and former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell performed the official ribbon cutting with his trademark elan.

In the midst of all those perfect blow outs and crisply tailored suits stood a gentleman of a certain age, as rumpled as everyone else was polished, out of place and yet exactly in his element.

Just for a night, Dante Stephensen had come home.

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Dante Stephensen surveys the lobby at Cyan on Peachtree, a new luxury high-rise at the former site of Dante's Down the Hatch. Photo: Jennifer Brett

Dante Stephensen surveys the lobby at Cyan on Peachtree, a new luxury high-rise at the former site of Dante’s Down the Hatch. Photo: Jennifer Brett

“I’ll give you one word: sad,” Stephensen said, taking in the scene at the former site of Dante’s Down the Hatch. Actually, he had way more than one. His iconic restaurant, known for its fondue, pirate decor and its owner’s tireless stem winding, came down in 2013 after more than 30 years. With growth and economic progress eventually came giant tax bills and finally, the wrecking ball.

Dante Stephensen at the bar at his restaurant, which came down in 2013 to make way for new development. AJC File Photo

Dante Stephensen at the bar at his restaurant, which came down in 2013 to make way for new development. AJC File Photo

“We watched Cyan rise from our ashes,” said Mark Harris, a longtime Down the Hatch manager who joined his former boss at the grand opening party along with fellow veteran Jerry Margolis and Hugh Hughes, who everyone agreed had been their most loyal customer.

“I’m feeling very reflective,” sighed Hughes, who has yet to find a new regular haunt. “I enjoyed the ambience of the place.”

Dante Stephensen, front, with longtime Dante's Down the Hatch customer Hugh Hughes, from left, and former Dante's managers Mark Harris and Jerry Margolis. Photo: Jennifer Brett

Dante Stephensen, front, with longtime Dante’s Down the Hatch customer Hugh Hughes, from left, and former Dante’s managers Mark Harris and Jerry Margolis. Photo: Jennifer Brett

A Navy SEAL who first opened at Underground Atlanta in 1970 before decamping to Buckhead, Stephensen has stayed busy since closing down. About two months after Dante’s last fondue pot cooled, Atlanta auction firm Ahlers & Ogletree handled the sale of its eclectic innards. Historic church pews, vintage clocks and elevators, a ship’s wheel, a Steinway piano, brass light fixtures, wax figures from Madame Tussaud’s and several antique cars were among the items that went up on the block.

Holding court as always, Dante Stephensen charms Kitsy Rose, in blue, and Andi Hill the grand opening party for Cyan on Peachtree. Photo: Jennifer Brett

Holding court as always, Dante Stephensen charms Kitsy Rose, in blue, and Andi Hill the grand opening party for Cyan on Peachtree. Photo: Jennifer Brett

One artifact apparently never left. The night before demolition crews arrived, Stephensen said he stopped by for a final time, set his Navy SEAL ring down as he often did and forgot to put it back on. He could have gone back to retrieve it, but did not.

“I decided there was a reason that happened,” he said.

I summoned all the journalistic skepticism I could muster in the presence of the charming raconteur.

“Are you pulling my leg?” I asked. He swore he wasn’t.

I choose to take his word for it. I choose to believe that when Cyan residents soak in the “resort-inspired pool,” stretch in yoga class, top off their hybrids at the building’s charging stations or mix cocktails amid their quartz countertops and stainless steel appliances, a part of Dante will be there with them.

At home.

Dante Stephensen says he left his Navy Seal ring behind and that it's now buried under this swank new apartment high-rise.  Photo: Jennifer Brett

Dante Stephensen says he left his Navy Seal ring behind and that it’s now buried under this swank new apartment high-rise. Photo: Jennifer Brett