From the door of Reben Luncheonette, you can watch the JMZ train catch the light as it rounds the bend in the elevated tracks and soars over the East River, hissing and clacking and clanging across the Williamsburg Bridge. Beneath, traffic jostles, fruit stands spill, nail salons reek through smudged doors. But it all seems like one harmonious urban symphony, because you’re holding a morir soñando, a drink whose name means “to die dreaming.”
The morir soñando is a Dominican version of the American orange Julius, and at Reben it consists of fresh-squeezed orange juice, milk, and sweetened condensed milk blended together into a frothy shake and poured over ice. The cheerful, aproned counter staff slap it down on the counter in a fluted ice-cream-soda glass, with a straw alongside. You can wedge yourself in between the mirror and the counter (the whole place is only about twelve feet wide) or, better, sip your drink just outside the door and take in the view.
It’s creamy, sweet, milky, with a faint fizz and acidic bite. Flakes of orange pulp drift up through the straw and offer discrete tangy bursts in the syrupy sweetness. The chilling clack of ice against the teeth only adds to the flavor, as the froth from the blender limns the cubes in a lacy foam. It must be consumed right away—and then, perhaps, immediately again, like a good novel. Last time I was there I had two or three in a row.
The Reben is not shy about advertising its house drink: the awning boasts Morir Sonañdo #1” beneath the luncheonette’s name. The name glows in neon in the window. Inside, a hand-painted sign above the counter offers: Morir Sonañdo: You taste it: If you don’t like it, don’t pay, and this sign abuts a painting of a man and a woman touching foreheads, gazing into each other’s eyes, and sipping a morir soñando from twin straws. Just beneath is a row of cardboard Advil and Tylenol dispensers—in case the dream doesn’t kick in right away, I suppose.