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'Milk & Honey' Name Draws Ire From Barman Sean Kenyon

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The forthcoming Larimer Square bar's name sparks conversation about trademarks and recognition.

Signage at Milk & Honey on Larimer Square
Signage at Milk & Honey on Larimer Square

What's in a name? If you ask Williams & Graham barman Sean Kenyon, there's a lot at stake when it comes to building a brand. Kenyon recently set off quite the discussion with a Facebook post that addressed the name of Milk & Honey, a bar and eatery set to open on Larimer Square in the coming weeks from chef Michael Shiell.

"Someone is opening a place in Denver called Milk & Honey," Kenyon's post reads. "It does not involve anyone from the two in London or NYC. What the fuck?"

The original Milk & Honey opened as a small, speakeasy-style craft cocktail bar in New York's Lower East Side in 2000. It's since moved location, but is currently closed while another spot is found—however its influence has long been recognized in the industry—and a London outpost opened in 2002.

The ensuing comments on Kenyon's post brought up other instances of same-name blame in town, including well-known Chicago restaurant Blackbird (Kenyon did consult on the bar program for Blackbird in Denver), and Amass, both a French bistro in Jefferson Park and a hotspot in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"There are several Occidentals out there," Kenyon says of his upcoming spot adjacent to Williams & Graham. "None are cocktail bars, and none are world-famous bars.[...] The problem I have is with people deliberately using a high-profile name to bring people into their bars."

Kenyon cites the examples of San Francisco's tiki lounge Smuggler's Cove being almost directly ripped off in Liverpool, England, and New York speakeasy PDT having a copycat. "Somebody opened a PDT in Mumbai," explains Kenyon. "Jim Meehan could do nothing about it. He was like, 'I don't have an international trademark, I just have to live with it.' You know, it sucks because people are trying to benefit off the worldwide recognition of his bar."

Speaking of trademarks and legalities, which could prevent these disputes from occurring in the first place, "most bars don't have the money to trademark," according to Kenyon.

While the Milk & Honey situation is not the first example of a name being used in Denver that's gained fame in another market, this could be a different case. Rumor has it Shiell tried to hire someone from the NYC Milk & Honey to run his bar program.

For his part, Shiell explained the name choice with the following emailed statement:

"The name Milk & Honey has roots in biblical texts—it speaks to a land of abundance, of full plates and overflowing wine glasses. And at its core, our restaurant's philosophy is about providing guests with a feeling of love and friendship. It's about serving excellent, inspired dishes and surrounding our guests with some of the good things in life. The name is a colloquialism and is commonly recognized. But we view 'Milk & Honey Bar Kitchen' as more of an ideal than a name, reflective of our food-forward nature and focus on wine and excellent service."

So all this begs the question, should well-known names be off-limits in another market? Does it help or hurt the original, and should more bars and restaurants explore trademark options? Leave your feedback in the comments.