Dead Rabbit’s founders Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry part ways

Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, the Northern Irish founders of The Dead Rabbit in New York, have announced a parting of ways, marking the end of an era – and the start of another.

McGarry will continue to lead The Dead Rabbit as it embarks on an ambitious roll out plan across the US, while Muldoon and beverage director Jillian Vose will move to Charleston in South Carolina to open their own venue - Hazel and Apple.

As the trio speak to Drinks International – McGarry and Muldoon side by side in the bar they created together – it is clear the parting is consensual and amicable. “We all realised we want different things,” Muldoon says. “It’s nobody’s fault - it’s just a natural development.”

They remain though, loosely entwined. Muldoon will retain his shares in Dead Rabbit, in effect making him a silent partner, while the bar’s parent company is an investor in the Charleston venue. Sister bars would be an accurate description, though ‘cousins’ sits more comfortably.

The Dead Rabbit – from American dream to globally known bar brand

The Dead Rabbit opened in 2013 upon the lofty promise to be “the best bar in the world” and by 2016 that was an accurate statement, with Tales of the Cocktail and The World’s 50 Best Bars successively naming it the World’s Best Bar.

But The Dead Rabbit’s legacy will perhaps be in the way it redefined the international Irish bar, something it achieved through traditional styling complemented by sharp and disruptive marketing and industry-leading drinks. In the years that followed opening, the bar doubled in size – taking over the premises next door – while spin-off books were published (now counting five) and a Dead Rabbit Irish whiskey launched. All of this was only possible because the Dead Rabbit was a highly successful bar.

“It was a phenomenal ride – I’m delighted with what we achieved,” McGarry tells Drinks International. “It’s the end of one chapter and the beginning of another special chapter.”

That second chapter almost opened in 2020, the trio having first announced an aggressive expansion across the US the year before. The pandemic not only slowed progress but it also gave rise to second thoughts.

“The more I thought about it, the more I realised it’s not who I am,” says Muldoon. “I was up for expanding to a couple more bars, but I’m at my happiest with different concepts - two or three maximum. I like doing unique things. The Dead Rabbit needs someone with fresh eyes – Jack is younger with different ideas.”

With Muldoon and Vose now gone, McGarry is the lone figurehead, but he is bringing in reinforcements. “We’ve partnered with Crown Creative in Belfast who will be doing a lot of the stuff that Sean would have been doing. From the beverage side of things, there will be someone replacing Jillian, but we’re still in talks.”

A render of The Dead Rabbit New Orleans, which opens Feb 2023

For McGarry, the delay only heightened his ambition. “My focus is to scale the company. By the end of year three, the plan is to have six locations, including New York. So it’s pretty aggressive.

“New Orleans is signed and will launch for Mardi Gras [Feb 21st] 2023. We’re at the final stages of signing for Austin, Texas, which will be [later] in 2023 – we’re insistent on a six-month separation. We’re looking at most major metropolitan cities – Tier 1 cities primarily, dropping into Tier 2 and 3 after the three-year period.

“I want to be at each for three months, pre and post [opening] to make sure the culture is there, the finish and standards - and really lean in with the market partners. The next few years is going to be really heavy in terms of travel – I’m fully prepared to give it a good crack for 5-10 years.”

McGarry’s vision for future Dead Rabbits is that they will further pull away from the traditional, retrospective nature of international Irish bars. “We want to be the beacon of what Ireland is today,” he says.

Read more on Muldoon and Vose’s new venue, Hazel and Apple, here.