Nocturnal Alchemy – Death & Co.

Spectral perfection in the East Village, Death and Co. is the epitome of neighborhood New York class, with a friendly crowd, super service, and stellar, carefully crafted cocktails.

Ambiance: *****

Decor: *****

Service: *****

Cocktails: *****

Overall Rating: 5

“It is never easier to understand the mind of a bomb-wielding anarchist than when standing amid a crush of those ladies and gentlemen who have the money and temerity to style themselves “New York Society.”

― Caleb Carr, The Alienist

For months I’ve been fantasizing, dreaming of a whirlwind New York City cocktail tour. From Attaboy to Mulberry Project, the Big Apple is positively laden with spectacular cocktail hubs. Unfortunately, life often curtails the time I have for fun sprees, but fortune favored me last weekend with a Saturday night on the town in the East Village. So, one night, where does a cocktail aficionado go? Well, Death and Co of course; the decade-old pioneering cocktail bar has become legendary for its creative drinks and exemplary service. They even wrote the authoritative book on modern cocktails.

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Upon entry through the solid wood storefront, I was surprised how oddly….welcoming Death and Co was. Envisioning some sort of elite and sterile parlor, I was pleased to discover that Death was welcoming and free of pretension, relying more on its shadow-cloaked ambience and lovely bar than its Manhattan address and fame. The bartenders are superb, moving deliberately, always finding the time to discuss a drink, and careful in setting their masterpieces down for you to enjoy. The spot was crowded on a Saturday night but there was plenty of room to sit, move, and chat. Even before I ordered a drink, I felt comfortable and warm; such is the ambiance and vibe there.

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To the drinks, and there are a lot of drinks; I counted 49 cocktails utilizing a hearty variety of brandies, gins, whiskey’s, and rums. The ingredient lists are nuts and testify to the lengths Death and Co will go to design new and intriguing recipes. For instance, did you ever have rye, mezcal, and watermelon together? Well, that’s par for the course here. The best drink I had at Death and Co–and quite possibly the best cocktail I’ve had this year–was the “Short Change Hero” with Elijah Craig bourbon, roasted corn, pepper jelly, lemon, and egg white. The bourbon and lemon here are just a perfect frosting to the soft egg white velvet, and this sweetish, heated tinge pops off the jelly and corn. Damn, just a masterpiece combination of the rich, spicy, and citrus that flows so easy – and it’s a huge drink, so you’ll be enjoying this one for a while. So good.

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Just a sample of Death and Co’s endless cocktail list

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I stared with an “Awkwardly Tongue Tied” with Fords, pineapple, cinnamon, orgeat, fernet, and lime. This was nice and easy, with a simmering, light gin burn that synchs well with a richer cinnamon and orgeat base. Pineapple is rendered even and subtly here, not stringent, and the fernet adds a kills of mint. Good drink. Then, a “Ravenmaster” with Beefeater, Yaguara Cachaca (a Brazilian spirit), Mathilde Pear, eucalyptus, lime, and seltzer. A refreshing and sweet drink with a distinctly herbal character, this poppy drink offers some subtle mint and an earthy gin touch paired with a quietly fresh pear taste. Nice sipper.

The final drink was a “Bolero” with Santa Teresa 1796 rum, Old Forester bourbon, Silencio tea, yellow chartreuse, and angostura bitters. This had a very strong bourbon punch up front leavened a bit in the second half with a great tea-ish, herbal swallow and after taste. Even, very even – all flavor expressions moderate and play well with one another. A good one.

After the Bolero, I made an amateur mistake and willingly, willingly left Death and Co. Sigh. None of the other bars I visited that night were nearly as memorable. But no matter, even though we only had a few drinks, the memories will last forever. And I can assure you, the next time I find myself in the 212 area code, Death and Co. will be my first stop. I have more work to do!

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