Food & Drink

Looking Back on Death & Co., NYC's Most Influential Cocktail Bar, 10 Years Later

Published On 02/01/2017 Published On 02/01/2017
Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist
A lex Day’s first drink at the East Village's Death & Co. was an Aviation, the classic gin cocktail made with maraschino, lemon juice, and crème de violette. It was unlike any drink he’d had anywhere else. “My first visit changed my perception of what a drink could be, and made me so excited about learning more,” says Day, who was fresh out of college at the time and working at another bar in the city. “Eventually,” he says, “I tricked [Death & Co. co-owner David Kaplan] into giving me a job.”
Cole Saladino/Thrillist
W hen Ravi DeRossi and David Kaplan opened Death & Co. in January 2007, the cocktail revival was still in its infancy. Most of the country was living in the dark days of vodka sodas and rum & cokes, and cocktail bars were a novelty -- even in Manhattan. There were only a handful of bars dedicated to reviving the craft -- places like Angel’s Share, Milk & Honey, Employees Only, Flatiron Lounge, Little Branch, and Pegu Club -- each catering to a tight-knit community of cocktail fanatics. “There was an identifiable community, both of bar professionals and enlightened drinkers,” says Robert Simonson, whose book, A Proper Drink, retraces the rise of the cocktail renaissance (including D&C’s role in the movement). “Death & Co. was the direct result of that groundswell. Indeed, it couldn’t have happened without it, since the bar drew its opening staff from other existing craft cocktail bars.”
Courtesy of Death & Co.
T hough the young owners had a strong vision for the place, they also understood their limits. “We were smart enough to hire people that were smarter than us,” says DeRossi, who has gone on to open several neighboring cocktail bars, including Amor y Amargo, Mayahuel, and Mother of Pearl. That self-awareness led them to do something completely novel in the industry: give creative control of the bar program to the actual bartenders. “Dave and I managed the bar, but we hired amazing bartenders who knew way more than we did, so it made sense to trust their expertise.”
Courtesy of Death & Co.
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

If you want to make Death & Co. bartenders' favorite drinks at home, check out five great recipes here.

Death & Co's Flaming Zombie Punch: Still One of NYC's Most Essential Cocktails
G enerating all sorts of press, including a prominent mention in the New York Times, Death & Co. instantly became one of the city’s most notoriously hard-to-get-into bars and created far more demand for cocktails than the city had seen at that point. Though there was a no-reservation policy, a bouncer ensured no one walked in without an available seat. The intent was for D&C to keep a manageable and civilized room where customers could interact with bartenders and learn about the cocktails.
Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist
W hile its direct influence is hard to quantify, there’s no denying that Death & Co. helped clear the way for dozens of new cocktail bars in NYC and beyond -- including many operated by its own alums. In addition to Ward, Miller, Vose, and Simó, prominent graduates include Jim Kearns, co-owner and bar manager at the Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley; Eryn Reece, bar manager at Sons and Daughters; and Thomas Waugh, bar director for the Major Food Group (Carbone, Dirty French, Parm, and ZZ’s Clam Bar).
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1. Death & Company 433 E 6th St, New York, NY 10009 (East Village)

Death & Co. is a high-end, dimly lit sanctuary for both the casual AND professional mixologist/cocktail enthusiast. Responsible for launching the careers of many of New York's most prominent bartenders, this speakeasy has produced a 500-recipe cocktail book and enough top-notch drinks to keep both locals and newcomers ready for the wait, and insatiably eager for another visit. Martinis are served in 5oz glasses with the remainder in an iced carafe, and Old Fashioneds are reinvented with reposado tequila, mezcal, and a flaming orange. While the decor is certainly reminiscent of Prohibition-era times, the drinks remain cutting-edge.

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2. Angel’s Share 8 Stuyvesant St, New York, NY 10003 (East Village)

A Japanese speakeasy lives next to the unassuming, second-floor restaurant Village Yokocho: walk up the stairs, turn left and through an unmarked door you'll find a small but comfortable room with a dark wood bar, regal wallpaper, and a large mural depicting the namesake angelic cherubs. Long lines betray Angel's Share's secret since the place has been catering to cocktail enthusiasts for decades, so arrive early -- and with a small group. The formally dressed bartenders craft impeccable, Japanese-tinged takes on classic American cocktails that make it worth the wait.

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3. Milk & Honey 30 E 23rd St, New York, NY 10010 (Flatiron)

Milk & Honey was at the forefront of a craft cocktail revolution when it was first opened in the Lower East Side in 2000 by Sasha Petrosky. Cramped quarters and a reservation-only policy kept lines long, but the hyper-focused attention to mixology is what kept tipplers lining up. Countless waves of similar concepts opened in this pioneer's wake, making it in many ways The Cocktail Bar That Birthed A Million Not-As-Cool Cocktail Bars. It moved to a much larger spot just south of Madison Square Park in 2012, but a change of landlords made it only a two-year endeavor. NYC's Milk & Honey is closed, but a branch is open in London's SoHo.

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4. Employees Only 510 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014 (West Village)

This dimly lit industry bar/restaurant/lounge is tucked away from the busy streets of the West Village but inside, there's a bustling social scene and warm, welcoming ambiance. EO’s mixologists are constantly creating new and serving old-time, all-time favorite cocktails. Try the Billionaire Cocktail -- a bourbon drink made with lemon, EO’s own grenadine, and Angostura bitters. You’ll feel right at home with a staff that acts like a family, bonded by a shared love of EO (and they’ve all got the “EO” tattoos to prove it). Be sure to chat up the head bartender, who was a subject in the documentary Hey Bartender.

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5. Flatiron Lounge 37 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011 (Flatiron)

Flatiron Lounge co-owner/mixologist Julie Reiner is a craft-cocktail legend, and her exemplary bar programs at Pegu Club and Clover Club stand as proof. This Flatiron haven is decked out in wild Art Deco elements, with '20s-inspired cocktails served at a long mahogany bar from the same era. A line-up of seasonal creations are always on offer, in addition to champagne mixes, sours, and sweeter juleps, cobblers, and swizzles. You may have to wait to get into the lounge, but the well-made drinks are more than worth it.

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6. Little Branch 20 7th Ave S, New York, NY 10014 (West Village)

Stashed in a hard-to-locate, speakeasy-style basement where the bartenders wear suspenders and the standup piano encourages jazz trios, Little Branch is a Prohibition-style bar doing cocktails like Sidecars and Aviations. The space is dark and candlelit, and if you don't want to squint at the menu in a dark corner feel free to have the bartender whip up something customized for you.

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7. Pegu Club 77 W Houston St, New York, NY 10012 (Soho)

Cocktail connoisseurs flock to Pegu Club, a chic, shadowy barroom hidden off West Houston Street. Named after the eponymous gin drink favored by British expats in Burma during the 19th century and later perfected by master mixologist Harry Craddock, Pegu offers quaffable, gin-based creations, satisfying the palates of discerning drinkers and novice patrons alike.

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8. Pouring Ribbons 225 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009 (Alphabet City)

This cocktail lounge, tucked into a wood-paneled, second-floor space, brings an upscale-meets-gentlemen's club feel to Alphabet City. Expert bartenders mix drinks like you’ve never tasted before, like a coconut Tiki martini and an old-fashioned with bourbon, apple brandy, and rum. The bar bites menu, created by the folks at Beecher’s Cheese, is heavy on the cheese and charcuterie.

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9. Amor y Amargo 443 E 6th St, New York, NY 10009 (East Village)

You won't find any mixers, sugars, or juices in this tiny, tile-covered sleeve -- just a bitters/amaro-heavy focus on truly classic, uncorrupted cocktails. Head-man-behind-the-rail Sother Teague also peddles everything you need to stock your home bar and make the same exact drinks he does (but probably not as well!).

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10. Mayahuel 304 E 6th St, New York, NY 10003 (East Village)

Mayahuel elevates tequila beyond the "sloppy taco-happy-hour margarita" status it's too often given in New York. It's not much of a surprise given that this dark and sultry lounge is from the cocktail pros behind Death & Co. Expect a range of spicy and smoky tequilas and mezcals; though cocktails are the main event here, small plates like chorizo croquetas and chihuahua cheese quesadillas balance out the experience.

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11. Mother of Pearl 95 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009 (Alphabet City)

Located in the former Gin Palace spot, Mother of Pearl is an upscale cocktail bar with a hit-you-over-the-head Tiki theme that is, amazingly, equal parts elegance and kitsch. Run by Jane Danger and Ravi DeRossi, this “post-modern Polynesian” spot has plenty of Hawaiian-inspired eats, like Kalua pork belly and a tuna poke bowl, plus some serious booziness, like the Tiki bitters-loaded Shark Eye that actually comes in a shark shaped glass dripping with "blood." Also, it has no walls on its front -- just curtains. Go check it out.

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12. Gramercy Tavern 42 E 20th St, New York, NY 10003 (Flatiron)

This upscale, Michelin-starred restaurant from the mind behind Union Square Cafe, Blue Smoke, and Shake Shack revives the classic American tavern with sophisticated (and affordable) entrees, such as shrimp and squash stew, jerk chicken, and a chocolate peanut butter pie for two. But more popular than GT's entrees, wine list, and refined cocktails is its off-menu Tavern Burger, which is expertly made with a specially sourced blended patty (50% chuck, 25% brisket, 25% short rib), and blanketed in melted cheddar with smoky bacon strips on a house-baked bun.

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13. PDT 113 St. Marks, New York, NY 10009 (East Village)

Formerly one of New York City's best-kept secrets, this hidden speakeasy has become world famous thanks to its meticulously crafted cocktails and balance between swank and back-of-a-hotdog-joint status. Enter through a phone booth in Crif Dogs and get transported to a sexy hideaway where you can post up with inventive takes on Old Fashioneds and Sazeracs alongside waffle fries nestled in foil. Although the name insists you "Please Don't Tell," the secret's clearly out so it's best to make reservations; call to snag a spot when the lines open at 3 PM daily.

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14. The Dead Rabbit 30 Water St, New York, NY 10004 (Financial District)

The Dead Rabbit is a cocktail sanctum, taproom, small-plates resto, and "grocery." This Irish-American-inspired duplex in the Financial District -- boasting vintage saloon-like vibes and decor -- will make you feel as if you've traveled back in time. The taproom, which is located on the ground floor, is a traditional Anglo-Hibernian pub, where you can order craft beers, bottled punch, and a variety of whiskeys. If you walk upstairs you'll find the parlor, with an ambiance equally as charming as the pub, but with a heavier focus on communal punch and cocktails. The small "grocery" is actually a corner in the taproom, where they sell an assortment of dry goods, but most notably Irish and British imports that are otherwise hard to find.

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15. BlackTail 22 Battery Place, New York, NY 10004 (Financial District)

From the team behind The Dead Rabbit, BlackTail is a bar inspired by Prohibition-era Cuba, when booze-seeking New Yorkers would head to the island via seaplanes with black-painted tails. Since the planes would fly over Pier A, the bar’s Pier A Harbor House is a fitting location -- though you’ll have to use your imagination a little if you’re hoping for the full luxury transit experience. The drink menu is all updated takes on classic mixed drinks from the 1920s-1950s (think highballs, sours, old-fashioneds, and punches), and the food is also a nod to the era.

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16. The Happiest Hour 121 W 10th St, New York, NY 10011 (West Village)

Brace yourself: there is no actual happy hour at The Happiest Hour. But don’t fret, the Happiest Burger more than makes up for it, really. The double-patty, double-cheese, California-style burger is better than an In-N-Out Double Double and comes topped with a similar Russian dressing as the West Coast fast-food fave. The bar's resort vibes shine in its cocktail selection, which includes the Frozen Painkiller, a twist on the Tiki classic that pairs rum with crème de Pêche de Vigne liqueur and coconut, lime, and orange juices.

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17. Slowly Shirley 121 W 10th St, New York, NY 10011 (West Village)

Hidden below the equally-as-great Happiest Hour, Slowly Shirley is a sexy throwback to Old Hollywood, with red leather banquettes, jazz music, and both classic & signature cocktails. After enjoying one of the city's best burgers from the lounge upstairs (a serious In-N-Out contemporary), we recommend ordering the Plum Tuckered (crafted with gin, whiskey, and plum sake).

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18. Sons & Daughters 85 10th Ave, New York, NY 10011 (Chelsea)

Located in the same West Chelsea warehouse building as Del Posto, Sons & Daughters serves comfort bar bites to a clientele accustomed to the flashy clubs of the Meatpacking District. The menu mixes high with low by serving tapas-like smoked octopus & chorizo next to sports bar-appropriate Buffalo wings and onion rings. The drink selection suggests a tropical theme in rum-based cocktails with names like Guns & Ships, Vicious Circle, and French Connection.

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19. Carbone 181 Thompson St, New York, NY 10012 (Greenwich Village)

With all due respect to Italian grandmothers everywhere, Carbone -- under the leadership of Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi, and Jeff Zalaznick -- may just have the best red sauce, ever. It's not a surprise that this Greenwich Village restaurant requires a reservation a month in advance. If you can get in, be sure to order the outstanding spicy rigatoni vodka. You can believe the Instagram hype.

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20. Dirty French 180 Ludlow St, New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

Located in the Lower East Side's Ludlow Hotel, this glam bistro from Major Food Group (Carbone, Sadelle's, Parm) plays with Moroccan and New Orleans elements to create next-level French cuisine. The menu features elaborate takes on classics with plates like duck a l'orange with ras el hanout and preserved oranges; lamb saddle with potato and cumin; and a cote de boeuf for two. Dirty French is where you go when you want to make dinner an all-night affair, especially when the evening starts with a drink at its Lobby Bar.

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21. Parm 248 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012 (Nolita)

This Italian-American restaurant from the Torrisi crew serves rich but simple veal, chicken, and eggplant parm, in sandwich or platter form. Parm's menu reads like a "best of" list of red sauce classics, featuring clams casino, mozzarella sticks, penne pomodoro, and of course, giant meatballs. The Nolita spot is small and cozy with a long bar in front and small tables in the back, but take-out is available if you'd rather eat your sauce-drenched hero in the privacy of your own living room...or cubicle.

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22. ZZ's Clam Bar 169 Thompson St, New York, NY 10012 (Greenwich Village)

ZZ's Clam Bar does just what you'd expect New York to do to a tiny seafood kitchen: make it exclusive, extravagant, and exceedingly expensive. A bouncer out front enforces the reservations-only policy, which are not so easy to come by considering there are only 12 seats in the brick-walled space. The kitchen turns out high-end, mostly raw seafood that goes far beyond the namesake raw bar clams: you can expect a changing lineup of small plates like fruit-topped snapper fillet and trout roe on toast. The cocktails are as well-made as they are high-priced. Don't even think about slipping the pearl-handled utensils in your purse.

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