Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.Anvil Pub on Elm Street in Deep Ellum. [Photos: Andrea Grimes]
Last fall, there were a few bars open on Elm Street in Deep Ellum--La Grange, the Black Swan Saloon, the perennial July Alley--but oh, what a difference a year can make. The arrival of the Anvil Pub has jump-started the regrowth on Elm, thanks to owner Patrick "Pop" Bridges and his sons Joshua and Jeremy, who opened the bar in honor of a family patriarch as a place for the common folk to come and have a beer, a sit and a lively conversation. Seven nights a week, the Anvil Pub opens its doors to neighborhood folks, Uptowners, Downtowners, bikers, bicyclers and anyone else in need of some upscale bar food and a cold drink.
Bridges says he'd never have imagined opening a bar in Deep Ellum--especially not one he'd cashed in his live savings and retirement to build. But a year later, he says, he'd do it all over again. We sat down with Bridges to chat about Deep Ellum camaraderie, his family's blacksmith history and what bar ownership looks like one year in.
This place was built in honor of your grandfather. What's that about?
Bridges: "He was a very big part of my life. My dad was in the service so he wasn't home a lot and we stayed with our grandparents. I'd go to his blacksmith shop. I learned blacksmithing at a very young age. When my dad got to where he wasn't stationed in other places, I spent time between Fort Sill and the blacksmith shop. My granddad and I shared a room from the time I was 12 to when I left home at 19 to get married. Some people thing it's strange, they go, 'That must have been a bummer,' but it wasn't. He and I would go during the summer, three or four weeks at a time, camping in the back of his station wagon. We built boats together. We went fishing together. He was a big part of my life."
So that's where "Anvil" comes from?
"When we were trying to come up with a name, we said we wanted a one word name that everybody could relate to. Nothing fancy, nothing off the wall. I was telling the boys, a pub is a place for the common man. I said, you go to Western shows, every Western show, you'll hear the ping of an anvil, or you'll see it. And I said the blacksmith was really the head of the common man, the blue collar workers back then. We were pitching around names, and we wanted a one-word name, when someone leaves a bar, people say 'Where you going?' and they say, 'We're going to such and such.' One word. So Jeremy [Bridges] threw out 'Anvil.' We took six or seven people that worked at other bars, we said let's take a vote. We put the names out there, and Anvil won."
What does "Anvil" mean in terms of the blue collar ethos of the bar?
"It seems to work. People come in here and they don't expect frills. They don't expect overpowering. We've got 'em used to the type of food we have. It's not your five-star restaurant, but it's way much better than some of the other restaurants. It is good, kind of middle-upper-upper class food. We have a lot of people that come in here. People that don't make that much, people that make a whole whole bunch of money. But people come in here and everybody's held themselves on the same level. Nobody's better than anybody and nobodys' worse than anybody. They'll sit down and talk to each other. They communicate."
Anvil's the kind of place where it's really easy to make friends.
"You come in here by yourself, but you're not by yourself when you come in here. I've seen that happen a lot of times. New people to the area, new people to the neighborhood come in here and they sit down here and you can tell. They sit in here like the new kid in school, not talking to anybody. And I say, is it your first time here? They say yeah. They say, you got a nice place here, and somebody else is sitting next to them, saying, "I'm so and so, I live over here.' Before you know it, they've made a friend and they've made more friends and they come back.
I have a lot of customers that came in the first week we were open, now they come in every weekend. They bring anywhere from four to six to eight more people with them. They say, this is our Friday night, our Saturday night, our Sunday afternoon place. They come down here every cotton-pickin' weekend. I like seeing new people come in, but I still like seeing the old people come in, too."
How much is being a proper, Deep Ellum-style neighborhood bar part of Anvil's mission?
"You make friendships. When something goes wrong, you would be amazed how many people in the Deep Ellum community, they'll say hey, you need some help, you call me and I'll be over there. No problem. They'll be over here. But we in turn do something for everybody else down here."
Why open in Deep Ellum--especially considering the reputation it's had in the last few years for being a down-and-out neighborhood?
"I was in electronics for 43 years. Joshua [Bridges] was in finance. Jeremy [Bridges] was the only one remotely connected with anything like this and he was an assistant chef. I lost my job. They didn't have jobs. My wife said, 'Do something!' so we came up with this. We looked in Plano, but we just couldn't find a place that we thought was suitable. We couldn't find a building that we thought was suitable, and quite frankly working with City of Plano wasn't suitable. Joshua said let's go to Deep Ellum. I said no way! I remember Deep Ellum ten, twelve years ago, when you got out of your car, you put your gun in your pocket because you may need it beforee you ever got to a bar. And that's true, it was really that way. Joshua said let's just drive around and let me show you.
So we drove around during the day and I saw all the changes, then we drove around at night. At that time, July Alley, Zini's, Deep Sushi, and La Grange, which had just opened, that's all that was down here. I said, there's no business down here Josh, there's nobody down here. He said i know, but it'll take us a while to build and by the time we build, there will be people down there. So I convinced my wife to let me cash in all my retirement and my 401k and everything. I sit down and tell [Jeremy and Josh], this is the budget. We got to do it on this budget, because we're not going to borrow any money. And we did. By the time we opened, you had street traffic at least Friday and Saturday nights. Now you have street traffic every single night. Trees is open, La Grange doesn't open as much as they used to, but when they're open they still have crowds. Dada's open, Black Swan's open, Boiler Room opened, a lot of bars opened and started drawing people down here."
What's the Anvil Pub crowd?
"We're drawing people from Uptown. We're drawing some of the SMU crowd. They like coming down here for one reason. They don't have to compete image-wise with any of the Uptown people at Uptown bars. They say, they don't take you for what you are, they take you for what they think you are or what they think you should be. Down here, people are taken for what they are. We've got people in here, tattoos from fingernails to toenails, they'll sit here with a $600,000 per year lawyer and they talk about the world events. Catch up on what've you been doing this week. Sit for three hours. We try to create a comfortable place. We pay attention to what our patrons say their likes and dislikes are and we cater to them the best we can without getting ridiculous or anything. And they don't ask too much."
How have your patrons contributed to the menu?
"They come up with ideas, like our Rhonda sandwich. We had a lady come in and she goes, I don't like corned beef but everything on this sounds good, why don't you make me a Reuben minus the corned beef? We go okay. She said how about putting some avocado on it? Okay, we put that on it. Her name was Rhonda, guess what? We have a Rhonda sandwich. Vegetarians love it.
We have a vegetarian and a vegan menu. When we opened we had a black bean patty and a chicken type patty for vegetarians, and that's it. Now we've probably got 10 or 12 items on the menu that's vegetarian or vegan. We've had vegans come in, inform us what a vegan is, because I had no idea what it was. But we learned, and we have a lot that come in. And vegetarians too. When we can, we cater to them, when we can't we tell them we can't and tell them why. It's been good. Neighborhood's been good to us."
Talk more about that -- Deep Ellum folks seem to be real proud of their neighborhood.
"We've tried to set up a product of friendship, warmth, and a place to go where nobody's going to judge you. You can be yourself. People take you for what you are, and not what they think should be.
Deep Sushi says they have customers come in who used to come three times a month. Now, they can come in once, twice a week. Because they used to have to get in their car and leave and go somewhere else to drink, but all they have to do is walk across the parking lot and they can come over here and drink. They sit here and drink for three or four hours, say, 'Well, it's time to go home, but sushi's still open. They have this great dessert, let's go over there and have a dessert.' We have people that come in here that have never been over there, they say how's the sushi, 'It's great. Go over there and try it.' They come back over here and drink, and go, 'You were right, we know now we can come down here and eat with y'all but if we want sushi, we can go across the parking lot.' We're not trying to compete food-wise with anybody down here."
Tell us more about the menu--it's pretty classy for a common man's bar.
"We came up with our menu according to pub style food, but one kick up. We didn't want to do your basic a few sandwiches, French fries and a couple burgers and that's it. We have fish, we have chicken tenders, we have fish 'n chips. Various and sundry things. We worked real hard."
Specifically, tell us about the Hammertime. Mac 'n cheese with chili in it? Yes please.
Guy came in this winter, had a bowl of mac n cheese. Which people look forward to, our mac 'n cheese. And our chili, which is from a homemade recipe. And it was cold out. He ordered mac 'n cheese and he ordered the chili, and he looked down, and said, 'Bring me a bigger bowl.' He mixed the two together and goes, "Boy, that's a hammertime!" Hence, that's where Hammertime came from. A lot of the little phrases and stuff come from being a blacksmith."
This is a hard economy to open a business in, isn't it?.
"When you sink your life savings and your life's retirement, when you sink 43 years of electronics work and your 401k in it, you make it work. My wife said, she said, 'What if it doesn't work and we end up closing?' She said we'll lose all of it. I said no, not all of it. There's the kitchen stuff I bought, we can sell it. No, the wood and stuff, we can't get anything out of that. The bar's going to end up being here. If the landlord said well you've got to tear it out, that would really hurt my feelings. I got down to where we had not very much in the bank on a Tuesday afternoon. I got everybody together, said, 'We've got to start cleaning up and get everything done, and we've got to open this weekend. We don't have money to pay the rent and it's due in two weeks.' We already ordered beer. Then the liquor salesman came in and said, 'I can help you out, here's your liquor bill, I'm going to date the order three days later, so it pushes you out for a 30 day bill.' Okay! We opened the door owing for the liquor, but within two weeks we had it paid off. As soon as we make the money, I said, we will pay it. We did.
We have been real fortunate that we haven't had to put any more in it. It's paying its bills. I'm not making very much, and what we are making--we had refrigerator beer boxes go out, put another TV in, put security system--we've taken everything we made since we opened and put it right back in. It's worked. It's been working good. Would I do it again? Yeah. I think. if I had known then what I know now, there's a few things we would have changed, but not much. Really, the only thing we would have changed is the progression we worked in. We put the cart before the horse a couple times. Sometimes we're standing there with a horse and we need to haul stuff off with a cart, but we don't have it but we got a horse to pull it if we did!"
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