Death & Co.
“The mad geniuses behind Death & Co have elevated cocktail creation to punk-rock artistry.” — Aisha Tyler, critic
So far, in our ongoing dive into the World’s Best Bars, we’ve covered two classic European institutions that set worldwide standards for style at the turn of the twentieth century (Harry’s New York Bar in Paris and the American Bar at London’s Savoy Hotel). In this installment, we profile a contemporary bar in New York City that has become iconic for its role in helping to define the modern cocktail movement.
According to the website thelifestyledco.com, Death & Co is the most important, influential, and oft-imitated bar to emerge from the contemporary craft cocktail movement. Since it opened its doors in 2006 in Manhattan’s trendy East Village, Death & Co has established itself as a cocktail Mecca and one of the top bars of the world for tourists and local cocktail enthusiasts alike. Since opening, the bar has snagged just about every major award in the industry—including America’s Best Cocktail Bar and Best Cocktail Menu at the prestigious Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans.
Much of the bar’s success rests on the fact that Founding Partners David Kaplan, Alex Day, Devon Tarby, and Ravi DeRossi have been supremely fortunate in recruiting and engaging some of the most talented bartenders in America. As they explain in their book, Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails (published in 2014 and now the bestselling cocktail book of all time), they have taken pains to “get out of the way” of their bartenders so creativity and playfulness can drive the development of the menu. The strategy appears to have worked. Today, it’s not uncommon for cocktail pilgrims to wait two-and-a-half hours to get inside for a drink.
New York City has long been an incubator for creativity in the cocktail world. The Death & Co team, along with other highly influential NYC bars, such as Employees Only, PDT, and The Dead Rabbit, is widely credited with elevating America’s cocktail menus past the standard gin & tonic and vodka cranberry. Death & Co is the birthplace of some of the modern era’s most iconic drinks: the Oaxaca Old-Fashioned, Naked and Famous, and the Conference, to name just a few.
Death & Co has also led the industry in its innovative use of lesser-known spirits and ingredients—everything from mole bitters to habañero shrub to pomegranate molasses, curry, rose water, and verjus (juice from unripe grapes). The bar has also long been a proponent of using aquavit in its cocktails. In their book, published nearly ten years ago, the authors write, “We love the complex spice flavors aquavit can add [to a cocktail], whether as a base spirit or as a modifier. As a result, we probably use more aquavit than most cocktail bars.” One of their most popular aquavit cocktails is called Tunnel Vision: It features Linie Aquavit, Probitas white rum, carrot and carrot Eau de Vie, and coconut. Another, called the Jesper Lind, combines gin, solera sherry, aquavit, vanilla syrup, and orange bitters. A third—the May Fair— combines two kinds of aquavit (Krogstad and Linie) with gin, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine, Angostura bitters, and Peychaud’s bitters.
Some of the other more intriguing concoctions developed by the D&C team include Space Oddity, which is made with Ford’s gin, fino sherry, smoked sunchokes, and finished with yellow chartreuse. The Tenement Yard combines sugar-snap-pea-infused gin with génépy liqueur, lemon juice, and orgeat (almond liqueur). And then there’s the Shattered Glasser, which combines what appears to be a hodgepodge of ingredients to create a smoky, spicy, and slightly sweet drink: Reposado tequila, mezcal, sweet vermouth, Van Oosten Batavia Arrack (a funky spirit made from sugar cane and fermented rice), St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Bénédictine, and Bittermens mole bitters.
In 2018, Death & Co took its show on the road and opened a second location (they called it “a full-scale hospitality experience”) in Denver, Colorado, where they became the marquee bar and exclusive food-and-drink partner of the Ramble Hotel. In December of 2019, Death & Co opened its third outpost in the Arts District of Los Angeles.
Today, all three locations remain exceedingly popular with cocktail enthusiasts, and Death & Co. continues to top the world’s best bars list and exert a major influence on the scope and direction of the current craft cocktail scene around the world.