Behind the Bar

Five Questions for the Barback: Rocky Yeh

Seattle’s best-dressed bartender-in-training talks rum, favorite neighborhood bars, and Anthony Bourdain’s bad behavior.

By Jessica Voelker October 27, 2009

It’s not every man that has a drink at Union named after him: Long before Rocky Yeh started barbacking/apprenticing at Vessel, he was a familiar sight at Seattle bars. Rumored to possess a liver that never quits and renowned for a sartorial know-how that regularly puts casual Seattle to shame, Yeh is also deeply knowledgeable about all things booze.

“After years of being on one side of the bar, I decided to follow what I really wanted to do and move to the other side,” says Yeh. “I came to this from a love of food and drink, it seemed like a natural progression.”

Here, five questions for Seattle’s most promising barback.

What is the most underrated spirit?

Rum, especially aged dark rums and rhums agricoles. Most people have the idea that rums are horrible, super-spiced, sweet things, or bad vodka imitations. That’s just not true. Rums can be, and often are, nuanced and complex. They possess unique flavor profiles and rich aromas that can run the range from light-bodied and fresh or deep, dark, and layered, to amazingly powerful and cognac-like.

What’s your favorite Seattle bar (other than Vessel)?

Besides the obvious Zig Zag, I’d have to say Moshi Moshi, Naga Bar at Chantanee, and Liberty. Erik Carlson (Moshi Moshi) does amazing things with a limited back bar that is constantly evolving but rooted in the classics. Andrew Bohrer (Naga) is simply a revelation to sit before. Liberty is just a great neighborhood hangout turning out destination-quality drinks backed by a wonderfully obsessive bourbon and rye collection.

What drink do you order at that bar?

Usually, I get one drink off of the menu and then I just let the bartenders do whatever their hearts desire. Though if I see a punch on a menu I’m pretty much compelled to get it.

What’s the worst thing you’ve seen someone do in a bar?

There are the usual “get a room” or “at least go to the bathroom” moments, but the worst thing to me is when I see someone in the profession act like an ass—a bartender, cook, server, anything. Two examples really pop into my head. One was Anthony Bourdain getting stupid drunk at a dinner, deciding that he was done and bailing on the people who had paid to meet him, and then bailing on my friends in the kitchen to whom he had made promises. He didn’t even have the courtesy or balls to say he was leaving, just slunk out a back door.

The other was Marco Pierre White drinking massive amounts of Sambuca and then defacing the tables in the restaurant he was in. That doesn’t make you hot shit, just a shit. Imagine how ballistic he would have gone if some one had done that at his place.

Name three reasons you love Seattle.

Seattle is home, I’ve never lived anywhere else that screams “this is my place” more.

The huge variety and quality of the restaurants and bars in Seattle.

The beauty of the mountains and sea that surround the city and provide their bounty to us.


[Photo Courtesy: Lush Life Productions ]

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