For the amount of “rockers” who call Greenpoint home, there are surprisingly few rock and roll bars to frequent, making new rocker bar Saint Vitus a much-welcomed addition to the neighborhood. “You know it’s a rock bar as soon as you walk in the door. It’s very speakeasy looking outside, but when you walk in, it’s pretty dramatic and exciting,” co-owner Arthur Shepherd said. Together with co-owners, Justin Scurti and George Souleidis, the three make up a supergroup of musicians and bartenders—they have all worked at Matchless for years (among other spots such as No. 7 and Lil’ Frankie’s), and have played in bands since they were teenagers. The three plan to open Saint Vitus, this week, in a Manhattan Avenue space that formerly housed a plumbing school and before that a social club some seventy years ago.
If you’re not drawing a clear picture, think Greenpoint’s answer to the LES’ Motor City Bar, but more spacious, less divey (though give it some time and it may catch up), and sans the graffiti in the bathroom. In fact, the bathroom is one of the first things Shepherd usually observes when he goes to a bar. “Music, lighting and bathrooms are the three things I notice in every bar. I know that sounds crazy, but the whole idea is to walk in and know what you’re getting,” he said. Which, at Saint Vitus, is consistency. “You’re going to get a rock bar, and you’re going to know what kind of music will be played. You’ll know the people behind the bar, the kind of drinks we have, what kind of service you’re going to get, and that’s it. It’s how we helped build the business at Matchless—consistency. Know what to expect; enjoy it, love it, it’s great,” Shepherd said matter-of-factly.
According to Shepherd, if you’re a bartender in Brooklyn, opening up your own bar is most likely on your agenda. “Every bartender wishes to open their own place. We always had that dream and we always talked about it but we never really had the reality because it cost so much money,” Shepherd said. He and his long-time friends were lucky to find several people who believed in them enough to invest in their endeavor, allowing their dreams to come to fruition. “It’s been years of talking and talking and talking about it, but just never having the reality of it. It’s nice to talk about, and everybody has that pipedream—everybody thinks they can open a bar—but they have no idea what it’s like to deal with all the nonsense,” Shepherd said.
Of course, opening up your own bar also has its pluses. Shepherd recently bought a 160-gig iPod for the bar, the “Saint ViPod,” as he and his friends call it, and has spent the past week making playlists. “Music is a big, big part of everything to me,” Shepherd said. With that, expect to hear extreme metal to seventies stoner rock to classic rock to psych rock to hardcore. Shepherd makes a joke about the place—which was constructed by superstar builder and old friend Matthew Maddy (No. 7, Weather Up in Prospect Heights and Tribeca, The Box)—being made of metal. “I kid you not. The walls are metal,” he said in utmost seriousness. “You’re rarely ever going to hear dance music in here; I’ll put it to you that way.”
What you will hear is the occasional sound of live music – not every night, as they don’t want to disturb the drinking environment – in the back room. “We’re only going to book stuff that we think makes sense and will draw enough people to be worth the inconvenience to our drinking crowd. That’s the way it’s going to roll. We want to have a rock and roll bar and have rock bands and metal bands—that’s what the place is,” Shepherd said. Though their hearts lie in rock shows, they’re game for a range of possibilities. “We’re open to anything as long as it’s something that fits what we’re into. That’s the whole thing—the idea is, sure, it has to be monetary, but we also have the freedom to do different, cool things that are interesting to us,” Shepherd said.
The way Shepherd and his partners see it, there are so many people living on the north side of Greenpoint who travel all the way up Manhattan Avenue, things are ripe for change. “We’re excited to have people come in here and be like, ‘I walked around the corner and hung out and it was awesome!’ We’re going to bring something to the neighborhood that other people haven’t, and hopefully everybody will appreciate that,” Shepherd said. He added in anticipation, “We’re ready to go. We want to get the doors open and just have a good rock and roll time!”
1120 Manhattan Avenue