ON THE AVENUES: Thanks to Joe Phillips, there’ll be pints, union and good times downtown.


ON THE AVENUES: Thanks to Joe Phillips, there’ll be pints, union and good times downtown.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

I’m always making a comeback but nobody ever tells me where I’ve been.
— Billie Holiday (Lady Sings the Blues, 1956)

Well, it’s about to get real. The theme from the television series Cheers will be playing constantly in my head for the remainder of July, and I intend to cherish every moment.

The precise timetable for the opening of Pints & Union remains in flux, because if a cookie-cutter franchise atrocity like Dunkin’ Donuts on Charlestown Road can tease local chain addicts for months on end, we’d obviously rather not emulate their weird delays – and small, independently-owned businesses are labors of love as well as agents of commerce.

As the Motown song informed us, “you can’t hurry love.”

The advent will be soon. Very soon. Construction is almost finished, and the equipment’s in place. It’s a matter of finishing touches, permits and inventory.

Earlier in the week, I referenced both Pints & Union and Pints&union. Fortunately, the words are the same, if spaced differently; may St. Arnold of Soissons spare me yet another experience of running one joint with four, maybe five names. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

As such, perhaps you’ll enjoy three excerpts from the FAQ.

What is Pints&union?

Pints&union is a progressively Old World public house in downtown New Albany, featuring small plates, classic cocktails and comfort beers, with counter service only.

Why is it spelled Pints&union?

It’s Pints&union, one word. The ampersand represents the spirit of inclusivity. These three words have been wedded as one to represent the intention of the pub: share pints, share conversation, share a moment – experience union among your neighbor/friend/stranger no matter your ideals, politics, background, or social standing. We all have something to share with one another, and all it takes to bridge the divide is to have a willingness to put aside differences and see each other as fellow humans. After all: Memento mori.

What does “Memento mori” mean?

Memento mori is the ancient practice of reflection on mortality that goes back to Socrates. In early Buddhist texts, a prominent term is maraṇasati, which translates as “remember death.” Memento mori is a habit of mind in consideration of the vanity of earthly life, and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits.

I’d like you to meet Joe Phillips.

Joe and I have spent considerably more than a year discussing the concept henceforth to be known as Pints&union. While I contributed to the theoretical vision and will be representing the pub’s beer on a daily basis, it needs to be understood that Joe’s the main man behind Pints&union.

I’m the rhythm guitarist, a supporting actor, or maybe just a guy who fervently wishes his friend and former employee to succeed in this entrepreneurial venture, and will do whatever is necessary to contribute to this end. I’m heavy into Pints&union — I’m just not the big guy. That’s more than fine with me.

Joe has worked in the food and drink business since he was 15 years old, washing dishes in a pizzeria somewhere. He’s done it all, and helped open more restaurants and bars than I can fathom. He and his family are putting it all on the line with Pints&union, and they want to be in downtown New Albany for the long haul. Theirs is a pure commitment, and I admire it tremendously.

Many readers know me personally, some of them for long enough to remember the time so long ago when I had to be pushed from the wings into the limelight, kicking and screaming, eventually and rather unintentionally becoming the outspoken front man for a family business I married into, then divorced out of, but remained in a partnership with, right up until the past three years.

I wouldn’t trade the NABC experience for anything. The pub taught me how to speak, as opposed to only write. I came to enjoy being the carnival barker, and got fairly good at it, though probably not great; my strengths play more to the pub side, and less to outside beer sales.

Infamy’s enough, and it’s all part of history now. At this juncture in my life, it’s an appealing prospect to play a contributing role toward helping Joe and his family achieve their indie dreams. Thanks, Joe. I’ve been away for a while, and I deeply appreciate the chance to come back.

Joe isn’t the only independent small business operator setting up shop downtown.

Dragon King’s Daughter is in the process of moving into its remodeled space at 129 W. Market. A block to the east, in the direction of Pints&union, Hitching Post recently reopened after a complete rebuild.

Another half block east, Longboard’s Taco & Tiki (302 Pearl Street Suite C) is set to open any minute, and over on Main Street there’s Double Barrel, a bourbon bar and lounge at 147 E. Main (formerly Match Cigar Bar), adjacent to Roadrunner Kitchen — which opened earlier in 2018.

Gospel Bird and Bank Street Brewhouse remodeled in 2018, with Taco Steve moving into the latter. Quills Coffee slipped into the nearby alley in a brand new downsized space, and Floyd County Brewing Company expanded with a new seating area situated just down the hill from the main building, called The Grain Haus.

Quietly in April, Ian and Nikki Hall’s Brand Hospitality Group purchased the Main Street space adjacent to their restaurant The Exchange, formerly occupied by Feast BBQ.

Mesa Kids Cooking School has begun on Main Street.

There’ll be some sort of bar at the former Comfy Cow.

Hull & High Water won’t be a year old until September.

For the first time in months, there isn’t a new license up for consideration when the local ATC board meets in August.

Exhausted yet?

To be fair, there have been losers, too, as with vacancies at the former Dragon King locations and Destinations Booksellers. Overall, it’s another million or two dollars added to the previous $60-odd million invested in downtown New Albany by independent small business operators during the past decade.

Now if we can just fill the vacant lots with living spaces, critical mass might be just around the corner, and yet do you remember how we once pointed to the unfairness of city-subsidized projects like Breakwater, because the subsidy (especially the sewer tap-in waiver) would also benefit whomever occupied the luxury apartment complex’s commercial space, for which it sought an eatery or small bar?

The space remains empty. It turns out that at least one downtown dog won’t hunt.

I mentioned labors of love, and the structure that’s about to house Pints&union has been all that and a box of chocolates for Resch Construction. It has been somewhere around 16 months since work began in earnest, and the air-conditioning was switched on today.

The great guys on Team Resch deserve a medal for their warm-weather efforts, but let’s hope they can make do with cold beer.

The two-story, wood-frame commercial building at 114 E. Market Street originally dates to the 1880s and has been completely rebuilt to its 19th-century dimensions. As many of the surviving materials as possible have been reused during the course of the modernization.

For much of its existence, the building has been home to taverns and eateries. In 1890, when Nicholas Sauer’s saloon was operating here, there were 80 drinking emporiums in New Albany (population 21,000), most of them located downtown within walking distance of each other.

During Prohibition, John Fagan ran a restaurant here. After WWII, businesses at 114 E. Market included Crump’s Cafe, Daniels Restaurant, Love’s Cafe and most recently Good Times.

In 1946, cafe owners Harry and Russell Daniels were among the business owners snagged in a sweeping local police crackdown on illicit gambling just after Mayor Raymond L. Jaegers committed suicide by means of a 38.-caliber pistol while seated at his office desk.

Or was he murdered?

At any rate, the physical home of Pints&union is nearly finished. It’s a beauty, and a new star among a series of Resch reclamation projects, including the future home of The Root next door where Ace Loan & Sporting Goods used to be.

I’m not counting my ales before they’re poured, but it feels wonderful to be back from wherever I’ve been.

Recent columns:

July 5: ON THE AVENUES: For Deaf Gahan and the Reisz Five, their luxury city hall will prove to be a Pyrrhic victory.

June 28: ON THE AVENUES: Said the spider to the fly — will you please take a slice of Reisz?

June 21: ON THE AVENUES: Government Lives Matter, so it’s $10,000,000 for Gahan’s luxury city hall clique enhancement. Happy dumpster diving, peasants!

June 12: ON THE AVENUES: Histrionic preservation? $8.5 million to gift Jeff Gahan with a luxury city hall “want” is simply obscene in a time of societal need.