For a town that prizes gaudy, public displays of wealth, Los Angeles is, surprisingly, all about clandestine bars.
And Honeycut, the city’s latest and greatest watering hole, is no exception. You’ll find it off an alley behind downtown’s O Hotel, at the bottom of a flight of stairs. But the more-than-3,000-square-foot establishment is worth the effort to seek out, since it offers not one but two vastly different experiences.
In the Cocktail Room, amid sturdy, tufted couches, a billiards table and an upright piano, patrons sip craft beverages; in the Disco, an LED dance floor flashes as partiers, fueled by kegged and bottled cocktails, gyrate to a DJ set. This clever concept is the brainchild of Alex Day and David Kaplan, founders of hospitality consultancy Proprietors LLC. For this special project, the duo joined forces with 213 Ventures’ Cedd Moses and Eric Needleman, the nightlife gurus behind acclaimed local spots including The Varnish and Seven Grand.
But it’s hard to talk about Day and Kaplan without talking about New York, and in particular Death & Company. Kaplan opened the place in 2006, and four years later, it was named Best American Cocktail Bar and World’s Best Cocktail Menu at the Tales of the Cocktail convention.
Kaplan, who grew up in Jackson, Wyo.—“a fun-loving, occasionally hard-drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon community”—exhibited an early flair for bartending by tapping kegs and hamming it up during his mother’s parties. After art school, he headed to New York, where he designed and opened Death & Company.
Day, a native of Bend, Ore., “where there’s a brewery on almost every corner,” says it was hard not to fall in love with drinking at an early age. “When other kids were trying to get cases of Natty Ice, I was always trying to hustle a six-pack of Deschutes,” he jokes.
He cut his mixological teeth working as a bartender at a dive bar and a club but was blown away when he visited Death & Company for the first time. “I’d never had cocktails so well-made, so creative and by such incredibly generous bartenders,” he remembers. “I left that night dead-set on getting a job there, which somehow I wrangled after a few months of heckling Dave and the bartenders.” Six years later, he was made a partner himself.
In 2007, Kaplan and Day decided to launch Proprietors LLC. Its original mission was to “open bars and create beverage programs, but it’s grown to much more,” Kaplan notes. The pair have traveled around the world, putting their imprint on projects as diverse as the The Rose in Jackson Hole, the Rosa Mexicano chain of restaurants and Ellipsis in Mumbai, India.
And Honeycut is “the culmination of all the things we’ve wanted to do but simply haven’t been able to do creatively,” Day explains. In the low-key Cocktail Room, more than 40 drinks, dreamed up by Day, Proprietors LLC’s Devon Tarby and the bar staff, include the complex Dumb Luck (Old Grand-Dad 114 Bourbon, Bigallet Viriana China China, Lustau East India Solera Sherry, Miracle Mile Celery Bitters and Coconut Bitters), as well as infusion-based drinks like the Slippery slope, based on a basil vermouth that Honeycut makes using a vacuum chamber.
Equally inventive draft cocktails, “super cold, effervescent and delicious” according to Day, take center-stage in the high-energy Disco, like the refreshing Step & Repeat (Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila, cacao nib-infused Campari, pineapple gum syrup, citric acid, seltzer).
“Entertainment has a big role in every place here,” says Kaplan. “LA nightlife is a reminder that we’re not in the business of serving drinks; we’re in the business of offering a great experience.”
And Day is confident Honeycut will attract a crowd. “Come on,” he says, “what cocktail bar has a light-up dance floor?”
Contributed by Alex Day INGREDIENTS:
1.5 oz Aviation Gin
.5 oz Tempus Fugit Kina l’Avion d’Or .5 oz Giffard Mûroise du Val de Loire Liqueur
1 dash Vieux Pontarlier Absinthe
.75 oz Lemon juice
.25 oz Simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water)
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a coupe glass.
Alia Akkam is a New York-based writer and managing editor of Hospitality Design.