Behind the Box

Cordell Lochin’s BlackBerry buzzes between 20 and 30 times per hour. He has about 1,500 numbers in there. They are, he said, “choice” people.

On May 25 at 10 p.m., Mr. Lochin was at his regular table outside La Esquina, the Nolita restaurant of which he is part owner. Despite the swanky establishments he operates, he likes to “keep it casual”—and so he was wearing a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. His thick, black hair was pulled back and secured with a rubber band.

Who’s in his BlackBerry? A glance revealed: Adrien Brody, Amanda Lepore, Amy Sacco, Ashley Olsen, Benny Medina, Chelsea Clinton, Chris Gotti, Charlotte Ronson, Charlie Walk, Colin Farrell, Common Sense, Damon Dash ….

“I’m gonna be embarrassed if you write all these names,” he said, retaking possession of the ceaselessly vibrating device. But the nameless were also in evidence that night: A half-dozen tall, willowy women nonchalantly plunked down in his lap during the course of an hour.

Like Mr. Lochin’s other ventures—he’s part owner of hipster dive 205 and burlesque club the Box—La Esquina trades on exclusivity. It’s nearly impossible to get a reservation. A man with a list guards the entrance; you feel you might get socked in the jaw if you attempted to lunge inside for a bowl of sopa de calabaza.

At all three establishments, Mr. Lochin, 32, is the primary arbiter of that precious currency, access.

“Without Cordell, the Box would be me and 13 unemployed actors jerking off to the show,” said Simon Hammerstein, who is the principle behind the Box. Indeed, without Mr. Lochin’s Rolodex, it’s hard to see how a $600-a-table cabaret could make it in this town.


Since its soft opening in December, the Box has become the hardest club to get into in the city. Mr. Hammerstein, the 29-year-old scion of theater greats Oscar Hammerstein (the Hammerstein Ballroom) and Oscar II (partner of Rodgers), has taken the burlesque revival—which began in 1993 with the Blue Angel Exotic Cabaret in Tribeca and has largely played to a mid-market crowd of horny scruffy dudes and artsy chicks—and hammered it into a sharper instrument of social ambition, with much thanks to Mr. Lochin. It is he who provides the real show that the rich and famous are coming to see—namely, each other.

“He doesn’t have to cater to celebrities, because he is one,” said Sarah Lewis, a curator at MoMA and a visiting professor at Yale, who has known Mr. Lochin for more than a decade.

“I’m the same guy that will greet a celebrity and take care of them as a client, but I’m also the guy who, if there is a homeless man dying next to me, I would give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” said Mr. Lochin, who grew up on the Upper West Side, the son of Trinidadian immigrants. He started frequenting downtown clubs as a teen, before becoming the doorman at club Twilo and then the special-events director at Club Life.

“People is people to him,” said celebrity photographer Marc Baptiste, who dropped by the table. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Paris Hilton or Gisele Bündchen or the guy walking down the sidewalk—if he has a table, he’ll sit you down. He’ll be like, ‘Um, Gisele, I know you’ve been waiting in line, but my man got to eat. Let me hook you up in a few minutes.’”

Behind the Box