On a recent Saturday evening, the doorman at Death & Co. in New York City was quoting people a 2 1/2-hour wait.
The East Village cocktail bar opened nearly 13 years ago, but it continues to be one of the most sought-out places to drink in the country. Few bars have played a more pivotal role in the modern cocktail movement, have recruited more rockstar bartenders and earned as much critical acclaim; along with other New York City cocktail institutions including PDT and Employees Only, Death & Co. has been credited with bringing the country out of a vodka tonic funk.
Death and Co.’s owners hope the bar is as influential and popular when it opens in L.A. next month.
One detail the team wants to nail down: that same windowless, intimate, tavern feel of the New York original.
“We need to paint everything a lot darker,” said Alex Day, one of the bar’s four partners, on a recent afternoon in the Arts District. He’s standing outside the light-filled entrance to what will become the bar’s third location (a second opened in Denver in May 2018).
Once you enter the L.A. space, you walk down a dark hallway to a set of stairs that take you to the basement level and two bars: a front room called Standing Room and, behind it, the main bar.
Standing Room is the more casual of the two, with a walk-up bar (no barstools) and a couple of banquettes around the back. The walls are painted indigo blue, the floors are graphic tile and most of the finishes are glossy. This is where you’re meant to stop in for a quick drink — there will be just 10 on the menu — or wait for your table in the main room.
Day is part of the Proprietors LLC cocktail consulting company, which opened the now-closed Honeycut in Downtown, the Normandie Club and the now-closed Walker Inn in Koreatown.
“There is a casualness to L.A. that we know and understand,” Day said.
At Standing Room, there will be house-made grapefruit soda on tap that will be used for Palomas and a take on a Jamaican Highball called Wray & Ting, made with Campari and Wray & Nephew Jamaican rum.
Past Standing Room, down another dark hallway, is the main bar. A dimly lit room accented with stained wood and black stone has at the center an impressive 15-seat bar with intricate millwork and dramatic liquor steps glowing and reflecting off a mirrored back. It’s less snug than Standing Room with booths and tables surrounding the bar. And like at the original Death & Co., there will be no standing room or reservations.
The cocktails, created by bartender Matt Belanger and beverage director Tyson Buhler, will differ in each room, and from those you’ll find on the menus in New York or in Denver. They are organized by style into categories like “fresh and lively,” “elegant and timeless,” “light and playful,” and “boozy and honest.”
“In terms of flavor profiles, we have interesting citrusy, light, fruity drinks,” Buhler said. “There will still be Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, but here I think it’s a little lighter flavors and we get to play a little more.”
There will be around 25 drinks on the menu in the back room. But Belanger says you can order from the almost 1,000 cocktails that have been served at one point or another in New York.
“We’ve compiled a massive compendium over 13 years, and if we have the ingredients on hand, we can make any of these drinks,” he said. “We encourage our staff to sell drinks out of the back catalog.”
The food menu is under development, but you can expect snacks and larger dishes to share from Wes Hamilton, who serves as culinary director for all the Death & Co. bars.
“L.A. has a lot of amazing restaurants that have really great cocktail programs, but L.A. bars have little food,” Day said.
Death and Co. will be open nightly from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. The Standing Room section will be open only Thursdays through Saturdays.
818 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles, www.deathandcompany.com.