Whiskey Business: Stephen Yorsz and Brett David

By
Photography Lili Peper

Published December 3, 2013

When you give your brand-new bar a name as distinctive as Leave Rochelle Out of It (or “Rochelle’s,” for short), you’re begging to tell its story. Stephen Yorsz and Brett David, the co-creative directors of the new Chrystie Street whiskey bar, will happy explain it: yes, Rochelle is a real person; yes, she happened to date both Yorsz and David; yes, she knows about the homage; yes, she’s okay with it.

“We wrote this business plan, our investors pulled the trigger, we have to do this now, we’ve got to come up with a name,” David recalls. “The name has to be something between us, something mutual that we share. I said, ‘We have a thousand things in common, let’s leave Rochelle out of it.'”

Yorsz liked the sound of it. “When he said, ‘That’s the name,’ I said, ‘What’s the name?'” David says. “Little Abbott and Costello. A couple months went by, and finally we’re like, ‘We have to put this sign up, and that means we have to tell Rochelle.’ We took a picture, sent it to her and she wrote back, ‘What the fuck?’ It was fine. It wasn’t a big deal. She loved it.”

Looking at them now, it’s tempting to guess that Rochelle has a type: both Yorsz and David share have lush, impressive beards and their share of tattoos, though they insist they were a little more clean-cut back when they met through a mutual friend in the nightlife scene back in 2006. (“We’re married now; you tend to look like your spouse,” David deadpans.) Both of their backgrounds are extensive: David ran a catering and events company and went on to manage Sons of Essex; Yorsz left a pedigreed post in finance (with a degree from NYU’s Stern School of Business, no less) in favor of the spirits business, serving as a Maker’s Mark brand ambassador and helping to launch Templeton Rye.

The combination of Yorsz’s whiskey expertise and David’s hospitality acumen, plus a mutual desire to establish a Lower East Side watering hole designed to fill a middle space between the neighborhood’s dives and lounges, gave rise to Leave Rochelle Out of It. “Bottle service is not on its way out, but people are adapting to know that the customer base doesn’t want a Grey Goose with ice and soda for $500 every single night. Some people want a really nice craft cocktail,” David says. “And then there’s the other side. Not everyone wants to wait 15 minutes for a drink that has hydrogen and shaved ice and is $19. So you have to find the happy medium, and I think that’s what we’re doing here.”

For Yorsz, that means introducing customers to the whiskey world beyond Jack Daniel’s, which the bar does not serve. (“It’s an integrity thing,” David says.) Yorsz has culled from his extensive knowledge of the spirit to curate a list of whiskeys that excite him. “A big focus of mine was to carry a lot of brands that I think are good but have fallen by the wayside, a lot of brands like Old Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond or Evan Williams Bottled in Bond—that just became available in New York on August 1, but they’ve been around in Kentucky since the ’30s,” Yorsz says. “I get a kick out of reintroducing people to what I would consider are good whiskeys that are more of a value play. You know, you can have good whiskey and not spend 20, 30 dollars a glass on.”

Although, of course: “If you want to spend 30 dollars a glass, we’ve got plenty of that too.”

Yorsz has also introduced a barrel-aged Breukelen to the menu: the cocktail, made with Old Forrester, is aged in, and dispensed from, barrels right behind the bar. Yorsz’s discovery of a batch of one-liter barrels has also led him to introduce the option of barrel service, rather than bottle service: for $150, Rochelle’s patrons can purchase a full little barrel, which yields 12 to 15 drinks.

Despite their own passion, though, Yorsz and David aren’t snobbish. “If you want to come in her and drink vodka sodas all day long, I’m happy to serve them to you,” Yorsz says. “I mean, I just happen to like whiskey.”

And as for Rochelle… “She gets free drinks for life,” David affirms.

LEAVE ROCHELLE OUT OF IT IS NOW OPEN AT 205 CHRYSTIE STREET.