In recent memory, the NYC bar scene has witnessed few belly-flops as full-on and frontal as Matt Levine’s idiotic Cocktail Bodega (an alcoholic smoothie bar), which shuttered in April after just seven months in business.
Afterward, Levine filed a $20 million lawsuit against his former partner Michael Shah, whose company The Line Group was already busy building out Rochelle’s (205 Chrystie Street) (Formally: Leave Rochelle Out of It), a pretty, dark-wood whiskey lounge, which quietly soft-opened last night.
“[Cocktail Bodega] was, and still is, a great concept for an airport…Not so much for here.” The Line Group’s operation manager Victor Jung said as we sat casually at the bar tasting an Old Forrester barrel-aged Breukelen cocktail. It tasted almost identical to the glorious bastard Manhattan I usually order (Bourbon, rocks, two cherries, no bitters) — serendipitous.
Jung seemed relaxed and pleased and happy to sit and absorb the space and the people filtering into it, a mix of friends and family and randoms wandering in off the street, a casual crowd mostly in their late twenties and early thirties. Soothing rock and roll classics hummed over the soundsystem at a tolerable volume.
Creative directors Brett David and Stephen Yorsz, both NYC nightlife veterans, were gracious hosts; David worked the floor with the nervy excitement of a kid at his dream birthday party — it was clear he really, really, REALLY wanted to make sure everyone was enjoying themselves as much as he was — while Yorsz stuck to the bar, mixing cocktails in a cut-off t-shirt, asking every bar guest their name and then amazingly, actually, remembering them when they returned for a second drink. Hospitality, man.
The bar is named for a mutual ex-girlfriend of David and Yorsz (Rochelle must have a thing for tall, tatted-up, dark-haired dudes with beards), who have been tight friends for years.
Yorsz’s cocktail list seems bent on introducing classic whiskey tipples to a younger generation. A rusty nail ($15) bit sharp and deep, while a brown derby ($13) was sweet and sour, just like you want it. If you want your whiskey straight, the options are plentiful. And if you feel like a beer, there are $5 craft brews on draft. Rochelle’s is also offering barrel service, playing on the bottle service concept by allowing patrons to order their own one-liter barrels of whiskey for a table.
We stuck to the cocktail list, but we glanced at the menu, and the food, which runs in the dressy pub fare vein, is reasonably priced. Offerings like confit duck sliders ($6) and a bowl of fries ($7) were more tempting on a cold late-fall evening than the extensive cured meats selection, but those’ll be nice come spring.
Rochelle’s makes its official debut on November 21.
Editor’s note: This post has been revised to reflect two corrections. An earlier version of this story listed Victor Jung, Brett David, and Stephen Yorsz as partners in this operation. They are not partners, and their titles have been adjusted. The opening date has also been updated; Rochelle’s will open November 21.