Behind Canopy by Hilton’s Death & Co-Trained Bars

The consulting arm of the beloved cocktail company collaborates on the hotel brand's alcohol offerings

Hilton certainly doesn’t classify as an independent hotel brand with the ability to experiment endlessly or simply follow the lead of a few ambitious food and beverage minds. They draw wide swathes of travelers across budgets, tastes and intentions for a number of reasons—though drinking and dining aren’t often their biggest priority. But for Canopy by Hilton, improving the quality of the offerings on property is of upmost importance. The changes prove most evident at their newest properties in Columbus and Minneapolis. Their lobby bars, named Central Market House and UMBRA respectively, are now helmed in collaboration with Death & Co‘s partnership and consulting arm, Proprietors LLC. That means the LA-based company helped train staff and create menus.

“We chose to work with Proprietors LLC because of their—and Death & Co’s—world-renowned reputation for mastering the art of cocktails,” Gary Steffen, the Global Head of Canopy by Hilton, says. “We’re the hotel expert, providing the great space and staff personalities, and Proprietors is the bar expert, providing unmatched expertise and innovation. We empower Proprietors to develop each Canopy property bar—in close partnership with the local team—in the best way they see fit.”

Admittedly so, Hilton has never owned properties built around bars worth idolizing. But this partnership changes that. For those aware of Death & Co’s prowess, tasting one of their cocktails while seated at a Hilton bar proves dizzying, albeit once thought impossible. But the team behind their bars is doing far more than simply lending the hotel chain recipes; they’re personally visiting each property, training staff on both the drinks they’re bound to serve and the basics of cocktail-making, and seeing it through opening.

“We like to think Canopy stands for a few things: a high-end accommodation, a neighborhood staple and a whole lot of personality,” Steffen adds. “With Proprietors LLC’s help, we’re able to bring these elements to life in our beverage program, which appeals to locals and travelers alike. Guests at our bars can enjoy world-class cocktails that feature local ingredients and spirits—ranging from classics like an Old Fashioned to fun creations like the Pirate Jenny (a carrot-y twist on a spicy margarita). We have a few drinks that guests will be able to find on every Canopy bar menu and we also work with each property to develop a few of their own signature drinks, like the Fancy Nancy at Canopy by Hilton Columbus (a florally vodka cocktail).”

While there are plenty of other bars in Columbus that serve local spirits and rely on similarly sourced ingredients, none have access to Death & Co’s guidance. “Over the last 20 years, there’s been a proliferation of craft cocktails really all over the world, and you see a lot of out-there creative stuff,” Proprietors LLC’s Devon Tarby says. “And while that’s all well and good, we really like to focus on the basics. And, at the end of the day, make something that tastes good. I know it sounds crazy, but that’s our priority.”

“Our goal is to always demystify some of it,” Tarby says of training Canopy’s staff at each property. “Our dirty little secret is that cocktails aren’t really that complicated. It’s just a matter of caring about the details—which is the case with anything, right?”

Using Proprietors LLC’s James Beard Award-winning Cocktail Codex book as a guide, we sat in on a training session resemblant of the ones they provide for Canopy’s bar staff. Tarby emphasizes that despite the seemingly endless supply of creativity within the craft cocktail industry, the classics still reign supreme. “The more I travel and the more restaurants I try and food I get to eat,” she says, “my favorites actually become the simplest things, but done really well.”

And within the Canopy hotels, this mission feels accomplished. Elegant cocktails in rocks glasses, tall flutes and more dot tables and the bar and delight those drinking them. “Guests expect a great craft cocktail program in the lifestyle hotel space,” Steffen says, “So for Canopy, it was about finding the best in the business to assist our operators in elevating their cocktail experience.”

Images by Evan Malachosky