David Kaplan and Alexander Day met, fittingly, at a bar. Death & Co. in Manhattan's East Village, to be exact, the much-lauded cocktail joint that Kaplan opened with Ravi DeRossi in 2006. At the time, Day, who was managing another bar while going to grad school, lived a block and a half from Death & Co.
"I remember sitting at the bar and having my first cocktail," Day recalls. "I left there saying, 'This is something different.'" Day kept returning to Death & Co. until finally Kaplan, sensing a kindred spirit, hired him. Today, the two of them, along with Angeleno Devon Tarby, are partners in Proprietors LLC, a bar consulting firm whose influence is felt throughout downtown L.A.'s cocktail scene.
What started as a way to keep busy and bring in extra money, in the nascent years of their bar business, has since blossomed into a full-blown consulting venture, which juggles everything from a bar's design, to the R&D of the cocktail menu, to boot camp–style training for the staff. When Kaplan and Day looked at where they wanted to take the company, they knew they couldn't do it in Manhattan.
The cost of maintaining a workspace of the complexity they envisioned was itself prohibitive. They also wanted to open a bar together, and they agreed that their first spot should be in Los Angeles.
That bar is Honeycut, a disco-rama of drink, dance and controlled debauchery, powered by what are now some of the team's emblematic drinks — draft cocktails, piña colada slushies — that were designed specifically to exist side by side with the sometimes unpredictable party atmosphere of the locale.
The heart of the company is their DTLA Arts District office/laboratory, which Kaplan describes as "our clubhouse. It's a great space when you're there by yourself. It's a source of inspiration and creativity."
To the non–spirits industry insider, it resembles a mad scientist's lair, full of devices that spin, drip and shake, with names such as Cryovac and Poly Sci smoking gun. Along one wall are enough bottles of booze to open a liquor store. On another is a library, replete with reference books, both old and new. There are drawers full of bitters, shelves of shrubs, and so many containers of powders, liquids and herbs that this could just as easily be the cave of a sequestered alchemist.
In this space, the team creates drinks, presents new programs to clients and even holds boot camp–style training sessions for the bar's staff.
Once all the upfront work is finished and the bar is opened, the Proprietors team remains on board for several months afterward, so that the project can evolve in accordance with the goals of the client. Often, that goal doesn't crystallize immediately and tweaks need to be made. "We are equally excited about the product and the result," Day says. "We understand the malleability of the business."
While certain themes recur in their work — draft cocktails in high-volume spots and aperitif options on spirit-heavy menus — Proprietors tries to remain behind the scenes. Each job has nuances and challenges; each bar or restaurant has its own story to tell.
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For Beelman's, the challenge was capturing a pub atmosphere without being old-fashioned, as well as serving numerous drinks in quick succession. At Bar Mateo, it was essential to balance both spirits-heavy and lower-alcohol drinks that would satisfy guests throughout the day, and in the inside-outside locale.
"Hospitality is a creative endeavor," Kaplan says. When that creativity is nurtured and shaped properly, the Proprietors team believes it can create a space where the synergy of drinks, environment and overall experience capture the imagination. Cheers.
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book Gin: A Global History. Her book The 12 Bottle Bar, co-written with David Solmonson, was released on July 29. Email her at email@example.com. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.