For almost a century, Phillips Bar has been nestled on the corner of Maple Street and Cherokee; a charming and sophisticated spot that stands apart from others nearby. This year the owner, Joseph Ippolito, along with his personable (and easy on the eyes) bartending staff who exude their own class are hoping to reclaim their well-deserved place as a popular food and drink stop on the stretch between Broadway and Carrollton Avenue.
And why shouldn’t they? The drinks are as sublime as they are unique, and the newly revamped menu hosts an array of delectable food items, notably the Friday Bacon Happy Hour, offering customers free candied bacon to complement their finely crafted cocktails.
The décor within the caddy-cornered entrance is understated, yet modern. The interior boasts deep red upholstery and the courtyard is one of the most expansive in the area with ample seating.
Currently, Chef Michael, the in-house culinary wizard and pitmaster, prepares the delicious food that Phillips has to offer. When asked about his hopes for the future of Phillips during the upcoming busy season, he remarked that business is, in fact, picking up, though they are still experimenting with the various food items before deciding on an official menu. The massive grill whose delicious aroma is enough to make even the most casual passer-by’s mouth water was installed about two years ago and is well suited to catering various special events hosted by the bar as an additional source of revenue and an excellent place to celebrate any occasion.
Inside drinks are served with perfection by the friendly bar staff who are both pleasing to the eye and great conversationalists. One of the longer standing members of the Phillips team, Carissa explained how much things have changed throughout her time working here, year by year, food, drinks, and décor are ever evolving. The owner, Joseph was kind enough to sit down and talk about his business and how he hopes to make it an even better place to spend one’s time while out on the town.
Margaret: Are you originally from New Orleans?
Margaret: Where did you go to high school?
Joseph: De La Salle.
Margaret: How long have you owned Philips and what inspired you to make the acquisition at that time?
Joseph: Phillips has been in the family since 1985 and I took it over after college.
Margaret: Everyone seems to love the courtyard; I have observed you guys working hard towards what I anticipate to be a very successful comeback. What are some of your ultimate goals for Philips as the busy season approaches?
Joseph: Things have changed a little bit in the neighborhood. And so, it seems that there’s about ten restaurants opening and closing every week around here. And then with the advent of Uber, it seems like there’s less street traffic in the area. Also, I’m older now than I was when I got out of college so I’ve got to tap back into that millennial mindset. On top of that we’re trying to hire some number of people, possibly some to do things with social media to kind of, you know, get the word out.
Margaret: Absolutely. I’ve been following your Facebook page for a while now. A year or two after Katrina, I worked at Fresco, and it was not uncommon for people that just finished their shift to drift between Phillips in the old Bruno’s, both places were often packed. Have you considered ways to make the new Phillips get the kind of crowds the old Phillips did or is the demographic a bit different now?
Joseph: Aside from utilizing social media more and revamping the courtyard, we’re going to have a speakeasy-style bar with red lighting that’s going to open up very soon.
Margaret: That’s very sweet. Exclusivity right?
Margaret: I love the idea. In a perfect world, what would you like to see Phillips grow into?
Joseph: I want it to be as successful as it was back in the day, you know. We were sort of the only game in town in the late 80’s and early 90’s people walking up and down Maple street didn’t go anywhere else. Our place has been and will always be to stand apart from the TJ’s and Bruno’s type places on Maple. They let 18 year olds in and we’re strictly 21, and we want to cater to the more mature and sophisticated crowd. We never have fights in here and not like the Boot, you know. So that’s our niche.
Margaret: It’s true.
Joseph: I’d much rather not be as crazy busy and have people drinking more expensive stuff and not fighting and breaking up everything and respect and in place.
Cause look what they have down the street, “penny” pitchers of beer. I mean, who wants that? All they do is fight. You can’t get a drink. You’re not making any money on that. That’s why they’re drowning down there, you know.
Now they have this $5 bottle of wine thing and you should see the people that are walking in there, I mean the girls are so young they still have braces on their face, they have to be letting in high school people. I mean it’s, it’s crazy. I wouldn’t take that risk.
I’d much rather sell quality alcohols for fair prices. But we’ve got major parties booked up. So you know, that keeps us in business right now until we can build more of a neighborhood crowd, you know. Usually, the summers really kill us, but this has not been a bad summer for us at all.
Margaret: What kind of private parties do you generally do?
Joseph: Last week we had the LSU Med school. We loved med school and law school parties. Now we’ll bend the rules a little bit to do like fraternity things. But it’s just for three hours. They come in, they get dropped off on a bus. They get picked up in a bus in three hours and they’re gone. And then we shut the bar down for at least three hours. It’s private. We make them pay for that. They have to spend a finite amount of money to be in here and do it. So I get my money, they get in, they get out and the story and then back open again three hours later.
Margaret: Sounds like a good gig.
Joseph: It’s great, especially during the slow season.
Margaret: How do people find out that you do private parties? Is it mostly word of mouth?
Joseph: Yeah, you know, mostly word of mouth. We’ve been building it up over the past couple of years, we do crawfish boils for quite a few of these parties so it’s also a good venue for that.
Margaret: So what are some of your top short term goals for Philips during the fall semester?
Joseph: Hire some more people definitely. We’re short on just about everything. We lost a bunch of good people when the season ended. So we’re on a hiring spree right now, a bartender, bartenders. Just a little bit of everybody. I mean, it’s so hard to find good people. You need to be able, you need to have experience behind the bar. You need to know how to carry your stuff and you’ll have to speak to people. You need to know how to be fast and efficient. That’s what it is. That’s what it’s all about. And you can teach that to somebody, but it just takes, it takes time.
Margaret: What are some of your favorite current food or beverage items?
Joseph: Well, we do our seasonal watermelon mojito, which are always delicious. We’ve always been known for our Martinis on Fridays. We do Bacon happy hour, which is always a good. Our hot blonde is always one of my favorites. Uh, plus all the old fashioned. We do a lot of old fashions and we also have the “New Old Fashioned” on our drink menu.
Margaret: Oh, yeah, my boyfriend loves the Old Fashioneds.
Joseph: Cool. Here’s where I consider Phillips. You got your trash places, you know, that just bang out your bar brand stuff and that’s fine. Then you got your over the top places like Cure that’s got smoke and spears and all that stuff, places that take 30 minutes to get a drink. Phillips is right in the middle. I’ve got fresh ingredients but I can bang that drink out to your fast. You’re not waiting. I mean I’ve been to some places where the pizza has gotten to the table before the f******g drink.
Margaret: I hear that and I know what you mean.
Joseph: because I mean they’re like making drinks with eye droppers and stuff. I’m all for like mashing up a sugar cube to make a good old fashioned, but I don’t mess with all that eyedropper b**llsh*t. They’ll charge you $15 for a drink. I like to be right in the middle, like $8 to $9. You’re gonna get it fast and it’s going to be fresh and it’s going to be good liquor.
Margaret: In closing, is there anything you would like to say to readers and potential future customers?
Joseph: Well I’d like to say, we’ve made it through the hot slow summer and now the weather’s about to be really wonderful for this courtyard so I’d like to encourage people to come check it out. We have a great Tiki bar out here and the speakeasy is under construction and I think people are really going to like it.
Margaret: Thanks so much for your time I share your high hopes for the new additions and what they will bring to the neighborhood.
After the interview, we were given a peek at the aforementioned speakeasy area in the works and are confident it will be a hit!
One would be depriving themselves of a great experience with wonderful food, drink, service, and ambiance by missing out on this gem of Uptown New Orleans.
Margaret Marley Armstrong is an actress as well as a regular contributor of culture and lifestyle content at Big Easy Magazine. You can view more of her work here.