Cuts a striking figure in a Johnny Cash-like ensemble of black boots, black jeans, black shirt and black overcoat, but Ravi DeRossi remains enough of an unknown that customers pay no attention to him as he gives a tour of his various bars in the East Village.
There are a lot of bars, by the way. Over the course of a decade or so, Mr. DeRossi, 42, has quietly, quirkily built up an empire of 15 drinking establishments and restaurants in downtown
Manhattan, mostly, as well as in Brooklyn. You could say he’s a stealth prince of the East Village, and the corner of Avenue A and East Sixth Street is his Versailles. Roughly a decade ago, Mr. DeRossi was one of the first people “to recognize that there was a new model of bars in New York,” said David Wondrich, the author of the cocktail bible “Imbibe!” After other entrepreneurs paved the way with spots like Milk & Honey and Employees Only, Mr. DeRossi teamed up in 2007 with a young cocktail fanatic named David Kaplan. Their Death & Company was the third bar that Mr. DeRossi built, but it was the first of his places that truly captured the spirit of the moment. Since then, Mr. DeRossi’s portfolio has expanded and his mission has changed, but his particular wedge of the East Village remains a magnet for young drinkers with disposable incomes.
Mr. DeRossi’s spots tend to have explicit alcohol-specific themes (rum, tequila, bitters) and an ambience that mirrors them.
He’s creating these worlds — he plays to these fantasies that we have,” said Leslie Pariseau, one of the authors of a new cocktail book called
Lately, though, Mr. DeRossi has shifted his attention to food. On a recent Friday, he got dinner at Avant Garden, the vegan restaurant he runs a few steps away from his apartment on Seventh Street. He intends, over time, to convert all his places to vegan menus. He sampled a rice pudding and made a quizzical face.
Unmarried and fond of casting himself as a man who values his solitude, Mr. DeRossi may act as if his accidental success makes him the opposite of Danny Meyer, but lately his ambition has been showing.
That dark phase hit a nadir in November 2001, when he was arrested in Santa Fe, N.M. He later pleaded no contest and was found guilty of driving under the influence.
When his family sold the deli and he found himself with a windfall, Mr. DeRossi moved to the East Village with a vague urge to get back into painting. Instead, he found himself studying the foot traffic on Seventh Street from his window above a funeral home.