Phil's Brooklyn: the "Wine and Dive" Bar of Bushwick
It's a late night. I'm cranky. It's been a long day. I hear a new local bar just opened up around the corner, so I make my way over to Phil's Brooklyn. As it turns out, it's someone's birthday. There's a photo booth with balloons, and there's people laughing and having a good time. I'm not amused. I sit down at the end of the bar. One of the owners approaches me and, with a smile that could melt butter, introduces herself as "Vanessa." Apparently she's the birthday girl. I ask for three shots of Jameson... for myself. Understandably, she gives me a funny look and I can already tell she's put a timer on as to how long it'll be before she has to kick my soon-to-be-drunk ass out of the bar.
The other owner comes over and introduces himself as Jeremy. He's charming and genuine, but my attention becomes diverted back toward Vanessa as she brings me my Jameson... in a rocks glass. Three shots of Jameson, in a rocks glass. I'm well aware that she's hoping I'll take the glass and just sip the Jameson, instead of shooting it down. Smart move, Vanessa. I see what you did there. But I'm in a foul mood and I do NOT feel like sipping my Jameson. So I say,
"I know it's a weird request, but can I please have my shots in three separate shot glasses?" I mentally give myself a pat on the back for being polite, when all I want to do is take a glass plate and throw it through someone's windshield, while peeing on their tires.
Vanessa kindly responds with, "Of course!" and pours my shots into separate glasses. I down them in one, two, three seconds, then ask for a glass of wine. Vanessa and Jeremy both look at me and Jeremy gives me props for downing three shots in an amount of time that'd have a Viking patting me on the back and adopting me for a daughter. I'm not actually proud of that accomplishment but, like I said, it's been a bad day.
A girl approaches me and introduces herself as "Jesse." Then I'm introduced to a Jon, and a Josh, and a Johnny, and about ten other people. Apparently, these days, most people's names begin with the letter "J." Everyone is friendly. Everyone wants to dance and chat and bring me into their fold. The shots and wine start to kick in and, all of a sudden, my night doesn't seem so bad.
Fast forward a few hours and I'm being swung around and lifted into the air, "Dirty Dancing" style. I've gotten four different phone numbers, and had more than a couple of Jello shots. Vanessa and Jeremy have long since chatted their way through my bad mood. Wait, was I ever even in a bad mood? I'm cheesin' too much to remember any bad vibes I might have walked in with.
Welcome to "Phil's," where you can enjoy quality wine (and cheese!), without having to choose between burning a hole in your wallet at a pretentious lounge, or dealing with the waste case that just puked in the corner of a bar that smells like piss and sweat. "Wine and dine" is great and all, but "wine and dive," is oooh so much better. So what exactly is Phil's? It's the new creation of fun-loving co-owners Vanessa Epstein and Jeremy Westin. Basically, if a nice wine bar got together and banged one out with a low-key dive bar, their love child would be Phil's.
Phil's boasts everything you'd expect your typical Bushwick hipster bar to have, but it's just... better. Yes, it has multiple board games you can borrow. Yes it has a beer/shot combo. But it also has a classic dartboard, bangin' bar bites (don't even get me started on the waffle ironed grilled cheese), $2 shot glasses of vodka soaked cherries, $7 wine flights on Thursdays (wine flights are only $10 the rest of the time) and a little something called "Space Juice." Don't ask what it is. Just drink it.
There aren't fancy decorations. Just walls and candles. Phil's doesn't need artwork. The bartenders (who also happen to be the owners) are super attentive, have great energy, and sparkling personalities. Phil's has a five star rating on Yelp. Five stars from everyone who has reviewed them, minus some hipster who complained about the lack of art on the walls. Apparently he would have liked to see at least a "single piece of neon or some stained, frame picture of 1920's Paris..." Well, you can't please everyone. But, since Vanessa and Jeremy take everything their patrons say to heart, they read his review and decided he was right: they really did need at least one piece of artwork on their walls. So now, as soon as you enter their front doors, you'll find this:
Props to Vanessa and Jeremy, who have only positive vibes and an amazing sense of humor. Naturally, I wanted to interview them and get to know more about the bar. They were more than happy to oblige:
H: So how do you guys know each other?
J: We met at Vanessa's old job, where she was a bartender, and I was a stalker. I mean, uh, a "customer." Yeah, I just really liked wine... a lot.
H: And then you guys just became friends and were like, "Hey, let's open a bar?" How long have you guys known each other for?
V: Three years?
J: Yeah, three years. Well, we were just, like, "friendly" at the bar she worked at. We weren't actually friends. We never hung out. But then I asked her out after like, a year of going to the bar.
H: Oooo, juicy story.
J: And then, once we started dating, we starting talking casually, you know, just throwing out ideas (about opening a bar). And I hated my day job, and Vanessa was really getting sick of her job ... *looks at Vanessa* You know, you can talk too, Vanessa.
V: *shrugs* I know.
J: And then I was either going to leave the country or do something else so I was like, "I'm serious." and Vanessa was like, "I'M serious," and we both actually had access to money.
H: And that's when you decided to open the bar?
J: Well we started looking, and we went down and formed an LLC. Then, once we had the LLC formed, we looked for spaces. But we actually found this space pretty quickly. We had looked at a place near the Wilson stop, but it was way too small.
V: Yeah way too small. We're really happy we got this one.
H: The interior is great. Was it already set up like this when you moved in?
V: No, it was completely a shell, except for the exposed brick wall. There was no bar. All the paint is new.
J: Everything is new. There were linoleum floors, there was a bathroom that was just a shower curtain in front of a toilet.
V: Yeah, it was a non-functioning bathroom.
J: There was a wall separating the front and the back. Even the windows are new.
V: Yeah the windows were totally broken.
J: The storefront is actually the same, but we'll probably change it, once we get the money, so we can open it up and let some nice weather in, eventually.
H: So you've only been open for how long?
V: Six weeks?
J: Yeah, six or seven weeks.
H: And the entire process, from idea to the actually opening, took how long?
V: Two years? Actually a year and a half.
H: That's pretty fast!
J: Yeah, it was really fast.
V: *laughs* It didn't feel fast.
H: So, when you decided to go with this bar, what was your thought process on the type of bar you wanted it to be?
V:I originally wanted a nice wine bar, but it was all dependent upon where we were going to be opening, and that just doesn't fit with where we are right now. I don't think people would have been into that idea.
H: What would you call Phil's now? Because it isn't exactly a "dive" bar. I mean, if it's a dive bar, then it's a really nice dive bar.
V: We had intended for it to be like a wine bar / dive bar mash-up.
J: Yeah, I think we're happy with how it looks, for the most part. I think it did end up looking kind of nicer than what we had originally anticipated. We definitely wanted it to have the feel of a dive bar, but we both like to drink wine. Buuuut, also... we like to go to dive bars. So we felt like we should have a place where people could go and drink inexpensive wine that was still of good quality.
H: So here's a question: How did you come up with the name "Phil's?" I mean, neither one of you are named Phil, so what's the story?
J: It's named after Vanessa's cat, Phil.
V: Yeah, it's named after my cat, Phil. That's our story, and we're sticking to it.
H: Do you think it's easier or harder to be in business with someone you know so well?
V: It....it depends on the day? *laughs*
J: Yeah. Sometimes it makes it better, but sometimes it makes it harder. Like when you have a rush and you're trying to run around and make everyone happy, but then you push through it and there's that sigh of relief like, "We just did that together!" Last Sunday was super busy but then we went out to celebrate at Veselka. It's Vanessa's favorite.
V: Oh my god, Veselka is soooo good. It's in the east village. It's like a Ukrainian / Polish, 24 hour diner. You should go there. Like, oh my god. It's to die for.
H: *laughs* You totally just gave them free advertising.
H: You're the only two people working here. You have no employees. Are there ever days when you just wish you could call in sick?
H: Do you think you'll hire employees, in the future?
V: Definitely. We started opening at 8pm on Tuesdays so that we could have, like uh...
J: A day to go get drinks or dinner or something.
V: "Research and development."
J: Yeah.. "research and development." It's our favorite hobby. *laughter from both Vanessa and Jeremy* It gives us time to go do something. At least together. At this point, it's just nice to do something at the same time, which just isn't possible on any other day.
H: And obviously this is far into the future, but have you guys thought about expanding? Maybe opening another "Phil's?"
J: If we opened something else, it wouldn't be "Phil's."
V: Nothing soon though. Nothing in the near future.
H: Tell me about some of the events you've hosted here.
J: We had a photo booth on Vanessa's birthday. We also had a brief flirtation with piñatas.
V: But I think we're done with piñatas now.
J: Yeah, I think we're over that.
V: It was fine while it lasted. We had one for Valentine's Day, and one for President's Day. We had Donald Trump's face. That piñata did NOT last long.
J: We filled it with airheads and dum dums, lest anyone think we were honoring him.
*insane laughter on my part*
V: And now we're doing comedy on Thursday nights.
J: I really want to start a trivia night too.
H: Last, but not least... I've noticed you play all types of music here. What's your favorite genre?
V: My favorite is The Grateful Dead.
J: *laughter* That's her favorite "genre." Grateful Dead.
H: So do you like jam bands?
V: No, I'm not actually super into jam bands. Just... The Grateful Dead.
J: Like I said, that's her favorite "genre." I'm more into indie rock and hip hop. Last Sunday we played all hip hop. It was amazing.
H: Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Well then, I guess that's the end of that. Go to Phil's Brooklyn. Just... go. And tell your local bar to be prepared to take a backseat. Because... $4 shots of Jameson. I mean, come on.
695 Knickerbocker Ave.
Facebook: Phil's Brooklyn
Love, as always, your,
It Girl Friday