All the way back in 2006–before we even had iPhones–Alex Day and Dave Kaplan opened Death & Co. in the East Village. The now iconic mecca of mixology helped usher in an era of elaborate cocktails served at elegant outposts with nondescript exteriors. Earlier this year the duo took over 151 Rivington in the LES. At their newly revamped 151 (151 Rivington; 212-228-4139), the duo is hoping to do for dive bars what they’ve already done for speakeasies. What does that mean, precisely? Let’s ask Alex Day, himself.
Nostalgia played a large role in the launch of their latest project. “Dave and I didn’t know each other when we both moved to the city, but for various reasons, we both independently found a special little bar on the Lower East Side that ended up being a hub of our social lives: 151 Rivington,” recalls Day. “The bar stuck in our minds as being so special and unique.”
With a whirlwind adventure from Death & Co. to bi-coastal bar ownership, and eventually international consulting–the two hardly had a dull moment to reminisce at their old haunt. Then an auspicious opportunity arose.
“A few months back, there were rumors that 151 was on the market and Dave and I couldn’t believe we had a chance to own this bar that was so important to our individual New York stories.” With successful ventures in both New York and Los Angeles’ dynamic drinking scenes, difficulty came not from convincing investors to secure the space, but how to reimagine it. As Day put it: “Awesome, it’s ours! But what to do with it?”
Not far down this path, they settled into an ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ sort of mentality. “We started talking about what made the bar so special, and every important element had to do with its place within the community, the kind of informal drinking establishment that’s so important in New York life; a living room for all of us who live in small apartments.”
Rather than tinker with the intimate vibe that made the place so inviting, Day and Kaplan focused on modernizing the menu. “While updating some of the offerings, we kept the energy consistent with the old bar. It’s meant to be a neighborhood joint, a place you wanna go every day for a couple of drinks. We wanted the tone of the cocktails to remain down to earth and appropriate to the neighborhood, but still maintain the integrity we love in great drinks.”
In practice, that involved paring down the speciality cocktails to a select few, while ushering the fast and accessible drinks to the front of the fray. Pre-batched draft cocktails and even two slushees are offered alongside some playful seasonal shakeups–think Radlers and Ciders. On the beer side, they avoid elitism by offering quality beers with mainstream name recognition. Beer geeks will find this tough to swallow, but there’s no shortage of bars catering specifically to their sensibilities.
Resisting the urges to play to pretentiousness the place remains true to its roots — a classic neighborhood establishment. And so, with 151, Dave Kaplan and Alex Day tie together the loops of an unexpected circle story. Two men largely responsible for elevating New York’s cocktail scene are now making Manhattan safe again for dive bars.
151 is open daily until 4AM. Their list features cocktails hovering around $10 a pop and includes limited late night pub snacks. A winter drink menu is set to drop next week.