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Sean Muldoon leaves Dead Rabbit to open new bar

The Dead Rabbit’s Sean Muldoon and Jillian Vose have departed the acclaimed New York bar to open a new Irish-themed venue in South Carolina, US.

Hazel and Apple render
A render of the interior of the front pub ‘Hazel’

Belfast duo Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry opened The Dead Rabbit bar in New York City in 2013.

Since then, the Irish pub-themed venue has undergone an expansion and garnered major accolades, including the coveted World’s Best Bar award at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards. The duo have also created an Irish whiskey brand and penned several books.

A Cuban-inspired sister venue, Blacktail, opened in New York in 2016 but closed in 2020. Meanwhile, major expansion plans have been recently revealed, including the opening of Dead Rabbit outposts in New Orleans in early 2023, to be followed by Austin, Texas.

Managing director and co-founder Muldoon and Vose, Dead Rabbit’s beverage director, will step down from their roles to move to Charleston in South Carolina to open a new bar, called Hazel and Apple.

Regarding his decision to depart The Dead Rabbit, Muldoon explained: “The plan was, before Covid, to expand at a rate of one [site] every two years. During Covid our partners wanted to do a rapid expansion, six in three years, a site every six months, which I have a major problem with personally; I didn’t want that. People can do that and do it well. But it’s not who I am and it’s not what I want.

“I don’t belong there anymore; I was the brand person. It came to the point where I couldn’t do it any longer. I’m a creative person with new ideas.

“I think me and Jack as a partnership were at our best with Dead Rabbit and Blacktail. We were considering opening another bar at one point, which was meant to be a bridge between the average pub and the Cuban bar. That would have been three bars. My best is when you have three different types of bars.”

Vose, who joined Dead Rabbit in 2014 and previously managed Death & Co, said it had been a “long time to be in one spot”.

She said: “Just like Sean, I’m more of a creative person when it comes to drinks and building something new. I need to be challenged in a way that I’ll hopefully come up with new techniques and strategies for menus and drinks and start fresh with a team.”

Muldoon will retain his shares in The Dead Rabbit, while the bar’s partners will be backers in Hazel and Apple, based at a site that was originally earmarked for Dead Rabbit’s expansion.

Hazel and Apple will be independently run from The Dead Rabbit, with Vose as the face of the venue. McGarry will not be involved in the new venture.

“We also need a good general manager and someone to run the kitchen,” added Muldoon.

Muldoon said he has “known for years” that he wanted to open a new site, and approached Vose to become a co-owner.

“I needed a beverage person. She’s been in the bar game for 19 years, she’s the best bartender I’ve ever worked with,” he said.

Muldoon said the move to the coastal city offers a “better quality of life” with a relaxed work-life environment.

He said: “New York became a tough place to live. Me and my wife realised we needed out of the city. Charleston was definitely a place I was thinking about, it’s the right size, with a good culinary scene.”

Hazel and Apple bar
A render of the outdoor patio for the new bar

Described by Muldoon as “a very approachable, modern-day Irish pub”, the new venue was inspired by a WB Yeats poem and symbolises the duo’s personalities.

“Hazel in Irish tradition represents maturity, and ‘apple’ represents vigour. I’m more mature, the wisdom type, and Jillian is more youthful,” Muldoon explained.

The venue will be split into two bars on the same floor – a “diner-style” pub at the front, similar to The Dead Rabbit’s taproom, and an “up-market bar” at the back with an outdoor patio. The total capacity of the site, both indoors and outdoors, can hold 300 people.

Vose will oversee the cocktail menu, with plans to start experimenting with drinks this month.

“We’re still in the research and development stage of the menu,” said Vose. “There will be a difference in drinks between the pub and the cocktail bar. Because there will be two bars and a little satellite bar, we can have some fun with it. It will be fast and efficient in the front, with a smaller menu – Highballs, Guinness and beer.”

There will also be a focus on seasonality, she adds, to reflect the warmer weather in Charleston. Vose is keen to provide a food offering to drinkers late into the night.

The duo will make the move to Charleston in August, with plans to start construction on the venue within the next month. The aim is to open the site by mid-February 2023, in time for St Patrick’s Day on 17 March. The venture is expected to cost in the “millions” as prices have “risen dramatically since Covid”, Muldoon said.

Muldoon hasn’t ruled out opening an additional site in the future. He added: “I would do small things, like if an opportunity came up for a tiki bar on a beach.” Muldoon said he would also like to go back to his roots in Belfast and open a site in his home city.

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