Why Death + Company should kill itself


The illusion of exclusivity in New York is something that needs a stake driving through its heart – Death & Company, et al, are operating well past their expiration date

Why Death + Company should kill itself

Is there anything more – and please excuse us the use of the word here, but nothing else will quite suffice – wank, than the anachronistic, knackered-out door policy of a bar, restaurant or similar, contrived to conjure up some kind of exclusivity that it doesn’t have? I mean, come on… the mid-1980s called and they want to know what time Nell’s closes.

“We waited two hours and it was SO worth it,” they bleat on Yelp

In 2015 you can’t run a door on the basis of what a customer looks like. Those days are gone. All the cool people threw in the towel and moved to Margate years ago. The lifeblood of most cocktail bars in London and New York is the punter whose professional life is spent measuring their years in quarters (first, second, third…) and whose attire runs the gamut from Reiss to Brooks Brothers, with a soupcon of All Saints when feeling outrageous. They all look the same – every last buttoned down one of them. You can hardly curate a buzz by editing them at the other side of the rope. So instead, you make them wait. And they love it – it makes them feel special. “We waited two hours and it was SO worth it,” they bleat on Yelp. This is why they moved to the city in the first place. To feel wanted through disrespect, while turning everywhere they go into a vanilla facsimile of a facsimile of what it once was. PDT? Please Don’t Bother.

Death + Company is one of those ersatz speakeasies in the East Village – along with PDT – that couldn’t be more overground if it tried.

It’s celebrated, admittedly, for good reason. This is serious, considered, mixology: the $15 cocktails at Death + Company are among the best in the city. But then, so are the ones at Evelyn on Avenue C, which is five minutes’ walk away, and where no-one gives you attitude when you sidle up into a booth and order some of those. And if you want some of that late 90s speakeasy chic, then Angel’s Share – tucked away upstairs and unmarked at nearby Village Yokocho – serves the best cocktails in the East Village. Yes, you may have to wait if they’re full, but you won’t be made to feel like a dick while you’re doing it.

Turn up on a Monday night at 7pm at Death + Company, and the doorman will tell you it’s a 20 minute wait for two. He’ll take your number. He won’t call you. Go back half an hour later and he’ll walk you in (“Oh, I was just about to call you”), pointing you precisely to where he wants you to sit. Given a row of identical tables for two, this is your final destination. In what can only be described as a sparsely populated room, staffed by capable waitresses styled to look like gothic prostitutes, you sit, you peruse the menu, and you feel the red mist rise. Oh, and don’t even try to move seat. The staff will correct your error smartly.

So out you go, and ask the doorman – all flat cap and little Moleskin notebook of undialled numbers, his palm ever ready, one suspects, for a greasing to expedite any 20-minute plus exile – “What was the wait all about?”

“People just left. Like, 10 people. And I couldn’t give you a larger table earlier… they’re for five or more.”

How else could you have the temerity to think you could take one of those many, many, many empty seats for a round of drinks?

You go back in, giving him the benefit of the doubt. Because you’ve waited the 20 minutes (which was actually half an hour). Maybe he underestimated how many people just left. Maybe 10 groups of two all left at the same time, leaving all the stools, as well as small tables, suddenly, unexpectedly, free. And maybe they’re expecting a bus full of groups of five in the next half an hour. How else could you have the temerity to think you could take one of those many, many, many empty seats for a round of drinks?

Or maybe it’s just bullshit.

So you have your two cocktails, you pay your $40 (don’t forget the star-spangled tax and tip), and you leave the still close to empty bar. And as you’re leaving, you wonder whether any quality of cocktail could be worth such pretentiousness. After all, while you were waiting for your so-precious seat, you wandered in to the International, a glorious pitch-dark dive just around the corner, which has $2 happy hour drinks, and a sense of bonhomie worth its weight in gold. Hell, the International opens up at 8am every morning. Isn’t that the spirit of true New York!?

The last thing you hear as you leave Death + Co, pushing through the heavy curtains and doors, is the doorman barring two more potential customers from entering, telling them there’s a 10-minute wait to get into the empty bar inside. C


Death + Company, 436 East 6th Street, New York 10009, USA
212-388 0882; deathandcompany.com