When you hear names like Nitecap, Honeycut, The Walker Inn and The Normandie Club along with the mixology mecca, Death & Company, one might expect the powers that be behind theses world-class venues to be quite an intimidating figures. However, that could be further from the truth when it comes to David Kaplan who is one of the partners in Proprietors LLC that owns and operates these award-winning cocktail bars.
Having worked in hospitality from the age of 13, Kaplan is a super friendly fellow and along with his partners, Alex Day and Devon Tarby, often found with a big smile on his face, even when being super serious about his craft. Ever humble, he often wants to put his impeccable bar teams in the spotlight while he (smiles) working in the background.
And with the Proprietors empire rapidly expanding at the speed of light – and a wedding to the lovely Jenna Gerbino around the corner – he has much to be smiling about these days. So, we raise a glass to his success, past, present and future as we go drinking with David Kaplan.
Drinking With David Kaplan
State your name and title and where you work and where you live for the record.
David Kaplan, Proprietor / Owner / Founder / Managing Partner, Death & Co + Proprietors LLC + Nitecap + Honeycut + The Walker Inn + The Normandie Club, Jackson Hole Wyoming!
How did you get started in the biz?
I started working as a soda jerk in the old fashioned soda fountain at Jackson Drug – the pharmacy on the town square. My mom was a pharmacist, so she would be in back working and I would be in the basement making ice cream or behind the bar slinging milkshakes.
What is your current go-to drink order?
Too many to choose! I can always have a 2 to 1 gin martini, love it with Ford’s Gin, dash of orange bitters and a lemon twist.
Coffee or tea?
I may be the only industry person I know that doesn’t drink coffee. I love it, but I’m just too sensitive to caffeine to enjoy more than a few sips. That said I love tea! I’ll have any brand of english breakfast when I’m on the road but when I’m home I’ll cycle through the different samples of August tea, made by our friends in L.A.
What is your hangover remedy?
I don’t sleep very well, so on nights that I drink I’ll just drink a glass of water each time I wake up through the night. Sometimes I add some advil to one of those water sessions. By the time I wake up I’m not very well rested but rarely hungover. Not having hangovers is definitely one of my super powers.
Favorite spots in LA and NY for late night “tipsy” eats?
Korean BBQ in LA – all of them are so good but I love Honey Pig. Almost any taco truck in LA is going to give you amazing Mexican which always hits the spot.
In NYC Veselka is always an amazing bet and the Ukrainian comfort food never throws your stomach off the next day. I was with a friend who had a late night craving for Katz’s and I have to say it lives up to the hype even more after a few drinks.
Guilty pleasure, no apologies necessary drink?
Beachside piña colada, all pink wine all the time, frozen drinks of every color.
What was your first boozy drink experience?
Shots of Jim Beam with a chaser of warm MGD on a sunny Sunday morning. I was 14. It did not end well.
What is your very last sip death row drink?
That same 2:1 martini. I would go at peace
Favorite Spots for:
Taking out-of-towners for cocktails for an “Only in LA” / “Only in NY” experience?
Spare Room or Breakroom 86 in LA.
Attaboy or The Nomad Bar in NYC
Romantic “let’s get it on” date night?
Gwen LA or EMP NY for restaurants / any of Meaghan Dorman’s bars for drinks date night NY or Old Lightning for drinks date in LA
Classic Dive night?
Lucy’s in NYC – she still runs the show just about every night but her granddaughter (in her late twenties) sometimes is managing the bar. True NYC dive
Serious R&D to get inspired?
We get inspired everywhere – usually restaurants inspire flavors or serving styles and hotels and travel inspire interiors. Right now I’m in a different city about once a week so I turn to Delta and hop on a flight to find continuous inspiration. Each city has operators that are just creating world class establishments – it’s mind blowing and definitely pushes us to do more.
What is your favorite quintessential warm weather drink?
Rosé or anything in Spritz form.
What is the most popular cocktail on your menu right now?
The exciting thing is that there would be a very different answer for each of our bars – but at Normandie Club the Old Fashioned variation still outsells everything at that venue. I think people would buy it by the growler if we offered it.
What ingredients are you digging right now?
Sounds odd but flavors – we’re finally getting beautiful flavors in a lot of liqueurs that are allowing bartenders to make very different drinks. Giffard Banane was mind blowing; getting the flavor of ripe bananas into stirred drinks! Or the Plantation Pineapple, so good. Spirits and liqueurs that are using the best fruit and imparting their gorgeous flavor into an already beautiful spirit.
If you could have drinks with anyone dead, alive or fictional, who would it be and what would you both be drinking?
I could pretend here but my real answer would be Rick, from “Rick and Morty.” We would probably be drinking some quantum concoction, but what’s in Rick’s flask is apparently of great debate.
Who is the best industry drinking buddy for a wild night out?
Jamie Gordon, but just because he’s the industries best cuddler, not because he’s that wild. Going out with Jamie is a guaranteed way to have your night end with some heavy spooning.
Shout to any bars across the U.S. that are blowing your mind with their menus.
Old Lightning, Trick Dog, Columbia Room and The Aviary.
Any advice for aspiring young guns wanting to break into the industry?
Everything you do matters – practice professionalism. It’s great that you got into the industry to shirk the real world, but if you want to move up then you’ll need all those real world skills.
Spill it …. shameless plug what are you working on right now?
We’re wrapping up the manuscript for book #2 right now, working on Death & Co. Denver (which is a giant project!!!), a new bar project in Louisville in partnership with a local (also new) distillery, an epic rooftop lounge on top of a new hotel in downtown Fort Lauderdale, and Proprietors just signed a massive new client. We’ll be doing the bar program for a new hotel brand and rolling it out across some 30 hotels in the next few years. We’re also in the middle of fundraising to grow Death & Co. to other cities with a few leases already locked up!
Social Call to follow you and your bar adventures.
@dkproprietors and the facebooks :)