Drinking is easy. Finding the right bar, not so easy. We’re here to help. As a public service to all of you thirsty explorers, every week we highlight the best bars in America and tell you what makes them so damn great. This week we’ve got a popular New York City bar that’s taking its show on the road.
NAME: Death & Co
LOCATION: East Village, New York
ON THE JUKEBOX: Iggy Pop, Madlib, Dick Dale
WHY WE LOVE IT: On New Years Eve 2006 a little bar named Death & Co opened in the East Village. That night only friends and family of the owners were there, heralding in what they hoped would be a prosperous first year for the startup. They probably never imagined what was actually to come: that Death & Co would turn into one of the most influential bars in the new craft cocktail movement.
“It was really a right place, right time thing,” co-owner Ravi DeRossi says. “There were only four or five bars in New York City at the time that were offering the caliber of cocktails that we were doing.”
In addition to its meticulously crafted drinks, Death & Co became known for its rock star bartenders—Joaquín Simó, Jillian Vose and Phil Ward made careers for themselves here—and trademark aesthetic of low lighting, dark wood and white marble bartop. “From day one we wanted it to have a sense of permanence; it looked like it could have been there forever and you just stumbled upon it,” co-owner David Kaplan says.
In 2010 Death & Co was awarded Best American Cocktail Bar and World’s Best Cocktail Menu at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. Four years later the team released a critically acclaimed book, Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails. And this week, nearly a decade after opening, Death & Co broke ground on its first branch, a sibling bar that will share its name in Denver.
“All three of us [owners] would love nothing more for Death & Co to continue to be a name that resonates in cocktail culture,” Kaplan says. “For that to happen, we need to grow.”
From the earliest days, Kaplan and DeRossi had wanted to expand the bar to new locations. But they got distracted with other projects. Kaplan and the bar’s third owner, Alex Day, moved to Los Angeles to run a consulting business, Proprietors LLC, and opened a handful of bars there including Honeycut and The Normandie Club. DeRossi stayed in New York and opened more than a dozen bars and restaurants including Mother of Pearl and Amor Y Amargo. Yet one thing always nagged at them: They wanted to open another Death & Co.
So when a developer for the forthcoming Ramble Hotel in Denver approached the team about opening inside the hotel, they went for it. Set to open Fall 2017, the new Death & Co will tackle three bars: a lobby bar, a reservation-only mezzanine bar, and an outdoor patio bar. The team will also be servicing in-room dining, the mini bars and brunch.
“Death & Co as an identity right now is very limited,” Kaplan says. “None of us have the ambition to see the brand over-diluted, to having a Death & Co in every city. But we would like to have more ways to thoughtfully engage with consumers. Without them needing to fly to New York and go to our tiny 50-seat establishment.”
Kaplan says even though they are expanding, Death & Co New York will not lose its specialness. He is using Milk and Honey bar as inspiration, which had locations in New York and London. (The New York location has since closed.) “They were both so unique, but with this shared DNA,” he says. “If you went to one, you didn’t feel like you didn’t need to go to the other. That’s why we want these two Death & Cos to offer very different experiences.”
Death & Co’s expansion comes as fellow New York City cocktail bars Employees Only and Attaboy are also expanding to other cities in the U.S.; Employees Only is even opening locations internationally. Kaplan says it is just chance that they all seem to be doing it at the same time. “These are all personal and unique opportunities for them,” he says. “Opening up a bar anywhere is a huge endeavor of time and energy and so much of it is about where you want to spend your time. Ravi, Alex and I love Denver and are excited to make that our sort of home away from home.”
Kaplan says they’d love to see Death & Co expand to more cities in the U.S. and internationally. While nothing is immediately in the pipeline, Kaplan envisions another Death & Co book in the future and hopes to one day release Death & Co branded goods, such as alcoholic beverages or non-alcoholic mixers.
To celebrate its anniversary, Death & Co will be throwing a series of parties this winter and will be releasing some limited, co-branded gear. The first product will be a Death & Co carry-on cocktail kit, put out by W&P Design. Then on New Year’s Eve 2016, the bar will have a blowout for friends and family only, just like it did the very first year.
Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. Find her on Twitter: @amshep