Combine a punk rock sensibility with an old casket factory designed with sustainable materials. Then add a music venue, a trivia night, karaoke, a gallery space, and a vegan bar and menu, and what do you get? The coolest neighborhood bar in Brooklyn. Jeff and Heather Rush, along with self-proclaimed “booze and music hound” Colin Peer, set out a few years ago to make their dreams of building a music venue and bar a reality. With their creativity and vision to build a place where you would want your band to play and you could bring your mom to, they have created a haven for those lucky enough to live near their Bushwick location. With their music venue recently opening and an already popular waffle brunch, Pine Box Rock Shop will no doubt become a destination spot for music lovers and those looking to enjoy a vegan beer or cocktail. Or both.
How did you both meet?
Heather: Jeff and I met in high school. We became friends a couple of years after from running into each other again and then we were in a band together for several years.
Jeff: In Seattle.
Heather: And then we ended up dating. [to Jeff] We started dating when we were 24?
Jeff: 2000. We just had our 11th year anniversary recently.
Congrats! What kind of band did you play in?
Jeff: We played in an indie band in Seattle. And then started another one when we moved out here. They were very similar. Heather is a vocalist.
Heather: I was trained as a jazz singer. So I knew the Cole Porter songbook: brassy, showy kind of vocals. We did pretty well; we released an album and had a great time. We played festivals and then we were in a band out here, tried to do an album, and then we opened a bar and that totally took our whole life.
Jeff: Just this week actually we’ve been in touch with our old band mates about starting to play again on our stage. After about roughly a two-year hiatus we’re going to try to get that going again.
Heather: It was playing in bands and playing out in venues, especially in Seattle, that made us want to create a venue and not just a bar.
What else inspired the idea of this as a venue and vegan bar?
Heather: It was a coming together of these different concepts that evolved separately. We moved here with the idea that we wanted to get involved in the food industry. And before that, I had worked for a university and he had worked for a —
Jeff: — A dot.com for a few years.
Heather: We moved out here and we knew we wanted to open a bar so we worked in the industry for eight years. I started out as a bar back. He started out as a barista. We went vegan about three years ago.
Jeff: I don’t think we ever really sat down and said, “We’re going to be a vegan bar.” We were both just vegan and so we weren’t going to carry Bailey’s. Why would we do that? We can make our own milk.
Heather: Which we do and it’s awesome.
Jeff: Bloody Marys are the same thing. We’re not going to use standard Worcestershire that has anchovies in it. So just through doing things the way we knew how to do them from being vegan we ended up becoming a vegan bar.
I think it’s a really interesting concept. So what are some of the challenges of having a vegan bar?
Jeff: Really you just have to keep an eye out for everything. Beers, for example. A lot of beers have bi-products that you wouldn’t think about. There’s a lot of gelatin in beers.
Heather: Bone meal.
Heather: They use it as a fining agent.
Jeff: There’s a great online resource we use called Barnivore.
What is the most popular drink and why?
Jeff: Our Sundays are really growing; we go crazy with Bloody Marys so that’s a huge one for us. We have a menu of four different types of Bloody Marys and a lot of other brunch cocktails to go with it but they are really the centerpiece. We take them very seriously. We use a lot of fun garnish: tomatillos and okra and all sorts of other stuff that we like to dress them up with. That’s probably our biggest and most popular beverage.
How about during the week?
Heather: Off the seasonal menu, it’s probably the Blue Orchid. Although, there is a cocktail that has a chile ginger infused with simply syrup; it’s a tequila-based cocktail and that one is almost as popular. That’s the Blonde Redhead. The seasonal cocktails are named after song lyrics, bands, or album titles.
Jeff: We have our standard house menu of drinks that never changes. One of them is called the Sam and the Sweater.
Heather: It’s from The Venture Brothers. We named it after Rusty Venture who always orders it in a strip club. Every once in a while someone gets it.
Was the design of the space inspired by it formerly being a casket factory?
Jeff: That’s actually kind of a funny thing. We had a different name in mind for the bar for years and ended up leasing a space that used to be a casket factory. It was going to be called Quaterolas (the name of an old dive bar that my dad use to hang out in when I was a kid). We had a couple of friends who have designed spaces before; they gave us their input. They thought wood cladding would be really good.
Heather: Jenny, a friend of ours, went to Bolivia and worked on sustainable living projects down there and she said, “What about palettes?” Apparently they use them for building all over the world. We didn’t have a lot of money so we had to do something that was free and that would look good. Once we knew we were using salvaged wood it drove so much of the rest of it. Our bar is built out of scaffolding planks; all of our lights are resourced. I like the ones over the bar because they are from different eras.
Jeff: But it was after we had come up with that idea and started collecting palettes that randomly one day I ran a search of the address online of the bar and through that I found out that it used to be a casket factory. It’s just kind of a funny coincidence.
Heather: Once we found out we had to embrace it.
Jeff: The design itself came before the name of the bar and the concept.
The bar is also a music venue. Do you handle the bookings?
Jeff: Basically the entire bar was a big elaborate arrangement to allow me to spend my life finding bands I like and letting them place music. I love doing that. Since we opened six months ago, and now we’re starting the venue, we are in the position that a lot of the cool people we’ve met over that time know that we’re opening a venue and they want to play here. So it’s a little easier than if we had just opened our doors and decided we were going to start having music.
Can you describe a pickle back?
Heather: It’s a shot of bourbon and a shot of pickle brine, but we use Irish whiskey because we think it’s smoother because our pickle brine is so very spicy.
Jeff: We do some pretty crazy pickle backs here. It’s something I always liked. And right around the time we were opening I went somewhere else and got a pickle back and it was the worst thing I ever put in my mouth. It was just dreadful, so that inspired us to do really awesome pickle backs. We have a lot of people who come back just for stuff like that. That also plays into being a neighborhood bar, developing a lot of little things that people like and remember about your place and want to come back to.