When NYC‘s Death & Co opened on New Year’s Eve 2007, reverberations were felt throughout the bar landscape. Cocktail enthusiasts would wait for hours to score a seat inside the venue. Once in, guests received expertly crafted drinks. The subsequent addition of a bar at Denver‘s Ramble Hotel in 2018 expanded the Death & Co experience. With the announcement of a Los Angeles location, many wondered how this new bar would fit within DTLA and the Death & Co world.
Owners Alex Day, Dave Kaplan, Devon Tarby and Ravi DeRossi tasked Andrew Ashey and Anne-Marie Armstrong of AAmp Studio (who also collaborated on the Ramble Hotel location) to begin work on the subterranean space while the entire building went through a core and shell renovation. “The basement was a pile of dirt when we got there,” explains Ashey. “It was all a little mysterious.”
Armstrong and Ashey realized the journey from the street into the bar would be part of the adventure. “One of the delights of the space is that sense of discovery that is inside of the bar when you are below ground,” Armstrong tells us. “When you are going through the stairs. There are texts and phrases that are inherent to the Death & Co brand. These moments that give you a sense of something below and draws you down.”
Their plan focused on creating smaller spaces for guests to enjoy within the larger structure. The coffered ceiling and multiple columns (original and new) helped them to carve out nooks. “There are two bar identities in the space,” Armstrong says. “The first—called the Standing Room Bar, that greets you as you enter—feels a little more California-esque with pops of color and rich materials and brass accents.”
Walking though the bar reveals design choices that reflect some aspects of the original Death & Co space—from brass to stained oak and minimalist Deco-style curves and details. Normann Copenhagen lounge chairs sit near banquettes upholstered with Moore & Giles leather, across from a Nero Tunisia countertop with gold streaks. Frederica stools flank the bar alongside Roger + Chris lamps. The pale Calacatta Caldia marble bar echoes those in NYC and Denver, but also feels like a West Coast touch.
For lighting, Ashey explains that the low ceilings limited their options. “We looked at the perimeter of the space and put a lot of wall sconces in. Most are at the banquettes to shine onto the menu. And Death & Co always has candles,” he says. Kelly Wearstler brass sconces, Rich Brilliant Willing dimple sconces, and custom lighting along with the candlelight blend into a warm glow.
Once the space was ready, the bar team brought in bottles and began setting into motion the all-new cocktail and food menus. Beverage director Tyson Buhler collaborated with head bartender Matthew Belanger to create the cocktails, while culinary director Wes Hamilton and chef Ana Palomares envisioned the food menu. For Standing Room, they developed drinks that can be made quickly—with some batched or on tap. Their Highball pairs Japanese whisky with pear and shiso, served on draft. The Kingston Americano combines house-made grapefruit soda, Campari, and Wray & Nephew White Rum. “It’s really striking, the beautiful red color, with an interesting flavor profile,” Buhler says of the drink.
To guide guests to their favorite flavor profiles, the menu sections range from “Fresh and Lively” to “Elegant and Timeless” and “Boozy and Honest.” Buhler explains, “Each time we do a menu we work very closely with our design team, Kate and Tim Tomkinson in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They have been doing the artwork for our menus for years. In NYC, the visual look of the menu is driven by photography with designs over the drinks. In Denver, the menu features more hand-drawn art. In LA, we combined the two.”
Regarding the cocktails themselves, Buhler and Belanger made drinks influenced by Southern California. “We serve Future Gin in one of our martinis, made around the block by women distillers,” says Buhler. “We stock LA products from Amass, and Vapid Vodka. It’s amazing to be in California and have the options to make more produce-driven things than we would in New York.” California-grown finger limes make an appearance on the menu in the Buko Gimlet, made with Four Pillars Navy Gin, Cachaça, coconut water, and pandan.
Buhler also created the Reef Break. “I love martinis and I realized that the sherry, passion fruit, and cinnamon were creating an interesting flavor profile that I wanted. So why not give it a base sprit that allows those flavors to shine? The Haku Vodka has really interesting texture with a clean creamy almost vanilla finish, which plays with the passion fruit really well.” Buhler uses Fino sherry for its dryness and slight hint of salinity, along with Giffard Passion Fruit Liqueur, and sous vide house-made cinnamon syrup.
The surprising Ursa Major cocktail begins with St. George California Shochu originally made for Oakland’s Ramen Shop. “That’s not a product we can get in NYC,” says Buhler. “It’s a higher proof shochu than you would normally find in Asia. A traditional service with shochu is just with water and no ice. We wanted to play around with that using really good Genmaicha tea, which has so much flavor and complexity on its own. We get it from Rare Tea Company. We cold-steep the tea and also add Marie Brizard chocolate liqueur.” This cocktail reflects their desire to honor California ingredients as often as they honor global flavors that are popular in LA culinary culture.
Time in Standing Room and the Death & Co bar feels hidden from DTLA. The sensory experience—from the space to the lighting, seating, menus, flavors and service—occurs in surprising combinations to make something in sync with the Death & Co style, yet reimagined to suit the west coast.
Images courtesy of Death & Co