Bartender Profile: Kevin Nguyen | Head Bartender, Death & Co. Los Angeles

"It was thought that to drink alcohol was to live a life shadowed by death; that those who drank were keeping company with death. It's taken us nearly a century to restore flavor to the drink and class to the specialty cocktail. In our time, a night to celebrate life's simple pleasures with fine wine, exquisitely crafted cocktails, beautifully prepared food, and impeccable sipping spirits is a rare gift.

To those who shun the night, we tip our hat. To those who shine after dusk, we offer a warm embrace. Welcome to the new golden age. Welcome to Death & Co."

Death & Co. opened in New York City’s East Village on New Year’s Eve, as 2006 became 2007. It was among the first of four or five classic cocktail bars to open in America, in this modern era of beautiful drinking. That original location remains a premiere spot for a night of exquisite drinking – from what’s in the glass, to the style of service.

You arrive at two, towering, dark doors that look like a portal potentially to another time. Inside, the ceiling is dark and low, bearing chandeliers. A row of stools faces some of the best bar talent on earth to your right. To the left, a series of tables and banquettes invite you to settle in for a menu that includes dozens of drinks, decorated in signature, incredible artwork.

 

Death & Co. has since expanded. You’ll find one in Denver – more sprawling and feisty – and one in Los Angeles, where we found ourselves for this Edition, in the capable hands of Head Bartender, Kevin Nguyen. He’s been behind the bar there since 2019, and we asked him for a tour.

“When you enter,” Nguyen says, “you go down a hallways and down some stairs. Our same sign that’s in the bathroom of the New York bar is written down on the walls, “To those who shun the night, we tip our hat. To those who shine after dusk, we offer a warm embrace.”

After that welcome sign, you are greeted by our host. You can then either choose the left – which is our standing-room-only space, smaller and more casual, or continue down the hall to our main bar, where you will find lots of white marble, dark wood and velvet chairs.

"I love when guests come in and they’ve never even heard of Death & Co. before; those people who were just walking by and saw our doors and decided to come have a drink. What they find inside is so cool and so unexpected.”

Death & Co.’s menu– with stunning illustrations by husband-wife-team Tim & Kate Tomkinson – is one of the things that made that original outpost so famous. Over dozens of pages, you’ll find every kind of classic, from the best Martini of your life to Tiki options that call for 10 ingredients. These bartenders have also established modern classics of their own. Each personality shines behind these bars, bringing guests not only what’s available on the menu, but also inviting them in conversation to learn about what they like, why they like it and to move them forward in their own drinking proclivities.

“My cocktails draw a lot of inspiration from the food I grew up eating, as a kid of Vietnamese descent,” explains Nguyen. I grew up in Torrance, California just outside of L.A., but my family is originally from Nha Trang, Vietnam. Ultimately, though, I want every drink to fit the guest and to fit their mood. When I’m off work? I’ll drink a pear cider from France. Sometimes a Cognac or an Armagnac. I guess I’m really into French things,” he says, laughing.


We gathered up several cocktails from the Death & Co. menu for the Vices Raise the Bar Collection, including one of Kevin’s original drinks, the Wildcard. These are simple enough to make at home, but also a little bit of a challenge. You are meant to use that Lunares shaker; to learn the wrist action required to properly spin a barspoon. Could you get a job afterwards at Death & Co.? Likely not. None of us will ever be as impressive as these guys, but they are there to welcome you in.

Wildcard Cocktail

“I based this drink off a Tiki cocktail called The Saturn. I love the variation with the mezcal. One thing to always remember is to use fresh juice in any drink. It’s absolutely essential.” – Kevin Nguyen

Ingredients
1 oz. Ilegal Mezcal
1 oz. St George Terroir Gin
¼ oz.Dolin Genepydes Alpes
¾ oz.fresh lime juice
½ oz.Orgeat syrup
¼ oz.Passionfruit syrup 
Method
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and short shake. Add crushed ice (if you have it) to a tumbler, and strain cocktail. Garnish with a mint sprig.
 
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