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67 Orange Street
Photograph: 67 Orange Street

Two of NYC’s best bars are swapping places next week

Death & Co in the East Village and 67 Orange Street in Harlem will swap bartenders for two nights.

Written by
Bao Ong

On New Year’s Eve in December 2006, Death & Co opened and quickly became one of the top craft cocktail bars in New York City. The flagship location in the East Village—an intimate, moodily-lit space—has now expanded with locations in Los Angeles and Denver. The bar, which also opened a pop-up on the North Fork of Long Island this year, regularly tops the city’s list of best bars.

Almost exactly two years later, 67 Orange Street opened in Harlem and brought serious cocktails to a neighborhood better known for its ties to historic jazz clubs. But the bar was also different than any of the more well-known boites further downtown: it was Black-owned, a female bartender created innovative drinks for the opening and employees through the years have included people who were formerly incarcerated. 

Both bars have been open for more than a decade—a rarity for New York hospitality—but there’s one stark difference between the two beloved bars: virtually all the accolades have gone to Death & Co. 

In a year when the Black Lives Matter movement gained more momentum than ever before, however, the restaurant and bar industry is beginning to respond to issues of racism, equity and other shortcomings in the workplace. 

Starting on Monday, the two bars will swap places for two nights to help promote diversity and foster collaboration. Some staff from both bars will be guest bartending and serving to-go cocktails, including a special created for the partnership (part of the proceeds will be donated to Harlem Park to Park, a non-profit focused on supporting and promoting small businesses in the neighborhood).

67 Orange Street
Photograph: 67 Orange Stree

“67 Orange Street is as relevant, if not more than when it opened,” says Karl Franz Williams, who owns the uptown bar, which opened in December 2008.

While Williams, who also lives in Harlem. says it’s his neighbors who have been the biggest supporters of 67 Orange Street, the clientele has grown more diverse over the years. Still, when he’s attended industry events, he sees a lack of diversity.

“When the pandemic and this past year happened, it really created this awareness of systemic injustices,” says Williams, who cites reasons like the lack of funding for Black-owned businesses and mentorship opportunities as reasons why fewer Black people have received attention in the industry. “I will continue to do what I do and to have as much of a voice as I can.”

Death & Co
Photograph: Death & Co / Eric Medsker

David Kaplan, co-owner of Death & Co., and his colleagues talked about the upcoming collaboration after reading an interview Williams gave to
SevenFifty Daily, an online magazine covering the drinks industry. 

“One thing that struck me...Karl has been doing this a long time, and he’s been successful. And for 67 Orange to not get the recognition is absolutely striking,” says Kaplan. “I think that brought acute awareness to our shortcomings.”

The bar swap is not the first time something like this has taken place, but for Kaplan, he says it was about taking an anti-racist, pro-active move to give other diverse voices in the bar world a bigger spotlight.

“I think we have to all commit to doing everything differently. We should move through this world with intention,” says Kaplan. “If we’re not extending outward, we’re doing ourselves and everyone else a disservice.” 

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