Friday, January 11, 2008

'...we continue to run with a high level of alert...'

According to Death & Co. co-owner Dave Kaplan, the report in The Villager (third item) is rehashing old news and that this is just yet another cycle of rumors that Death & Co. is on the brink of closing that's been going on since the place opened.

"We've been the subject of a witch hunt since we opened. It seems like, every two or three months, someone says that we’re in trouble again."

Kaplan said that the news item in The Villager was "something interesting to wake up to." He said he'd been on the phone about it for hours this morning, though he is quite used to it by now.

Kaplan confirmed that the liquor license had not been renewed by the New York State Liquor Authority, but Death & Co. is allowed and has been purchasing and selling alcohol under a clause in a State Procedure and Administrative Act (SAPA) letter.

Contrary to what The Villager reported, Kaplan said, "It’s my understanding and my lawyers' understanding that we have 60 days to appear for a hearing. If the S.L.A. refuses hearing us, my understanding is you would have to get a stay and go to a court of law. Throughout all of this, legally you’re allowed to stay open and allowed to serve liquor because they haven’t officially revoked our license."

He added, "We think the S.L.A. will be reasonable in this matter."

When asked about the statements attributed to S.L.A. spokesperson Bill Crowley that "the Police Department could rightfully pursue action against the establishment for the 'illegal trafficking of alcohol,'" Kaplan answered it was something that was news to him.

"There's a very good chance he knows something that we don’t...if that is, we’re unsure as to why it hasn’t been handed down to us since we're trying our very best efforts trying to abide to everything."

"We have had a rough go of it with the community board because of a few individuals, because of a long list of bureaucratic intricacies," Kaplan said.

Though the community board is no longer involved in Death & Co.'s dealings with the S.L.A., Kaplan said he can admit that a lot of the difficulties that Death & Co. are going through now are based on mistakes made as eager restaurateurs who were on a tight budget at the beginning of the process.

"The fact is that in the beginning we didn’t hire a lawyer," he explained. "It's a mistake we made that we’re still paying for."

"Though we disclosed all of the information, and didn’t hide anything, we did file everything that we needed to. Just not in the order that it should be done."

Kaplan said that "just a few weeks ago" Death & Co. settled with the S.L.A., which included a 7-day closure and civil penalty. The violations being listed in The Villager are nothing new. In the settlement packet the community board's claims were disproved and Kaplan said, "the sort of ideal way the situation's supposed to go on, the settlement wipes the slate clean."

The list of complaints about Death & Co. have been "totally ridiculous," according to Kaplan said. There were charges of evoking Nazism to noise complaints, that Kaplan said mainly comes from one neighbor.

"There's no new information in what they're saying," Kaplan said. "But if we’re going to be brought in on these claims again for revocation, that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever."

"We’re anticipating being heard before the S.L.A. again. Once again, we think the S.L.A. will be understanding as they were before and see that there’s nothing in the case that’s changed, and there's reason for them to reinstate the license. It's a long, long process going on since we opened, hopefully one day it will be resolved."

An hour or so later Kaplan called back. He said that he received confirmation from the S.L.A.'s licensing director Kerry O'Brien, and from another council member, Tom Donahue, that Death & Co. can continue to operate as is for four months and they are not running illegally without a license.

"We are fine, but we continue to run with a high level of alert," Kaplan said and that at Death & Co. "It’s always been like this for just about 12 months now. It's still up in the air, unfortunately, but we're busy every night. Business has been really good, and reviews have been great. We're putting out a product that people like and want...We operate a very tight ship, a very quiet ship and we operate very lawfully."

Previously: "Death & Co.; dead or alive?"

Death & Co.; dead or alive?

UPDATE: Dave Kaplan called to confirm that the statements from Bill Crowley as quoted in The Villager are not the case. New entry to come on Dave's take on the situation. Click here

Imagine my surprise when I came in this morning and read a headline on Eater's Listage for today that said "Final Nail in the Coffin for Death & Co.?"

Considering I was planning on making a visit sometime next week, that I was planning on mentioning them in a story, and that the Death & Co. death rumor count is now reaching Abe Vigoda level, this was definitely something to follow up on. I quickly called up Joaquin Simo, but got directed to voice mail. "Oh no!" I thought to myself, my bad habit of thinking the worst of situations bubbling quickly to the surface.

Luckily, Joaquin called me back shortly before real panic set in.

I wasn't sure how to broach the subject. How do you tactfully ask someone if the business they're working for is still open? I decided to go with the combined cautiously nonchalant bandage rip-off approach, "Soooo...are you guys open?"

"Yea, we're open," he answered.

"Then what's this rumor about?" I asked.

Joaquin said it the original liquor license had expired in March, and currently what was happening with renewing the license was that it was a lot of bureaucracy is what it was, but the bar's status hasn't changed. It was just the same old same old going around.

"Hmm," I said. "Well, so you guys are still open and running and are fine for now?"

Joaquin answered, "As far as I know and as far as what our lawyers have said..."

In The Villager's "Scoopy's Notebook" (third item) writeup of what was going on there was the mention of an account from a regular patron who said that on Friday the bar shut down "early." Even with the quotes, it almost makes it sound like the place closed at an odd time, but then Joaquin reminded me of what he told me a little while back. That the place was now running on an abbreviated schedule of 6 pm to midnight.

"So, you are open?" I asked one more time.

"Six to midnight everyday."

I personally haven't talked with anybody from the S.L.A. yet, so who knows what the future holds. Pretty much, it sounds like the situation is up to what the S.L.A. wants to do next, but for the most part Death & Co. seems determined to carry on. The conversation didn't clear up anything about what was going to happen, but just so everyone knows, Death & Co. is still open (for now), just for a shorter amount of time.

I'm keeping an eye on the situation...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

'What do I have to do to get a drink around here?'

Jan. 9

I wish I could say I sampled all the cocktail delights that the opening of Haru's Wall Street location offered, but on the night of Jan. 9, the place was packed and getting to the bar almost required inhuman strength and perseverance. At opening parties that provide drinks for guests, that's really not surprising though. In fact, have an open bar period and really, you're just asking for a chaotic siege scene that rivals The Battle of Hornburg in "The Two Towers."

I was in attendance with two coworkers. Alexis Henry who helps slaps together our pages over at the desk, making NRN look pretty every week, and Eryka Hughes from production. We had made a beeline for the sushi, but then tried to wind our way back to the bar. After shuffling a bit just around the periphery of the bar, one of the people working the event looked to me and said, "There's another bar upstairs, it's probably less crowded."

Just a few moments ago in the upstairs section of the place, "Mr. Benihana" Rocky Aoki himself had made a little speech about the opening of the new location, so threading our way up to the second level became difficult all of the sudden like a flash flood. I was carried past past Mr. Aoki in the deluge. I was tempted to swim across the current of people to introduce myself, but all I could think of to say to him was, "Congratulations on the new location! Awesome party!!" then give him a huge thumbs up. So I decided to scratch that idea.

The music in the place was pumping. You could hear it even before you got into the place. As soon as I saw the DJ booth I wondered if Mr. Aoki had roped Steve into spinning for the evening, but then noticed that this was not the case. I paused to assess the crowd. It was mainly Wall Street-looking types. There was the random sprinkle of an out-of-place looking hipster. I couldn't help myself as I imagined what would've happened if Steve Aoki did spin at this event. I imagined a Jets vs. Sharks meets the rumble at the "House of Blue Leaves" in "Kill Bill" type of scenario. Except with suits and the hipsters. It would've been pretty glorious. And ridiculous. Two great tastes that taste great together.

The upstairs bar was strictly sake and beer. I got a glass of Kaori, and sipped tentatively. I wasn't very familiar with sake, so I made note of the sweet sake with all intent of looking it up again. I noticed a figure next to me leaning in, writing down the name of the sake into a little notebook.

"Hm, yea, I should probably pull out my notebook as well," I thought before noticing that the short pixie haircut looked pretty familiar. I took a step back to figure out who it was when the figure looked up.

"Akiko!" I tried to shout at Akiko Katayama over the music.

"Hi!" she shouted back.

I've run into Akiko at events before and she was one of the first people I recognized at an event when I first started working at NRN thanks to all the Iron Chef: America I had watched. We got to talking about sake and she pointed out how they were also being served in a cedar box. I'd gotten mine in a glass cup, so she let me take a look at the cedar box and note how it smelled like...cedar. I made a little mental "hmm," as I contemplated if having an aromatic vessel is something that'd only work for sake. She mentioned how she was interested in writing about cocktails now and we discussed the drink menu at Tailor. She'd tried the smoked coke and bourbon. I was jealous. Note to self: Head to Tailor either at the end of this week or the beginning of the next.

I tried drier sake that packed an odd one-two punch of being dry yet, hitting the back of your tongue with sweetness.

We ventured back to the downstairs bar since I knew I wasn't leaving until I tried at least one cocktail. We managed to squirm our way up to the bar. I noted that it seemed like the full bar menu was available. It wasn't one of those, red, white or a signature cocktail type of shindigs. The only hitch to this being that there weren't any menus anywhere. We spotted a bright, blue drink and asked the sippers what it was. "Komodo Dragon," they answered.

It was a drink made with vanilla vodka, coconut rum, pineapple juice and blue curacao. It gave off a sweet scent that attracted a lot of attention, and people asked us what the drink was as we walked past. Eryka noted that it smelled overwhelmingly like a dessert, yet wasn't as sweet as you'd expect it to be.

The opening party was supposed to go until 9. The crowd had dwindled significantly, but at 9:30, the bar was still pouring and the food still being practically forced upon guests, and the music continued to play as scattered groups here and there busted out some moves. Though the upstairs bar was now closed and some people were walking about starting to tidy up the place. Some of the servers who had been dressed up as geisha earlier in the evening were now walking around without their wigs. One server's face showing relief because her tight blonde chignon was finally free from the frizzy black bouffant wig.

I looked around and declared. "Yea, I think we should start heading out now."