Seven years ago, the Bushwick community was so eager for a good bar to open in the neighborhood that somebody actually tagged “Please open already” in graffiti outside of what is now Pine Box Rock Shop, the vegan, craft beer bar and music venue housed in a former coffin factory, located at 12 Grattan St.
After countless calls, a never-ending series of forms and inspections, three former bartenders from the Crocodile Lounge, who had pooled their money to start their own business, were finally ready to open up their own place.
There used to be so very few bars in Bushwick seven years ago that somebody tagged “Please open already” in graffiti outside of what is now Pine Box Rock Shop.
“Originally, I wanted to name it Quatarolla’s which was an old guy bar across from where I grew up,” owner Jeff Rush told Bushwick Daily.
“Yeah but luckily our partner Colin Peer did an intervention and said that the name Quatarolla’s was totally ungoogle-able,” his wife Heather chimed in. “Seeing the space had been a casket factory and we were all musicians and planned to eventually host live music, Pine Box Rock Shop just made a lot of sense.”
At the time, being scrappy and diving into the DIY market also made sense.
The three owners rolled up their sleeves and got to work painting the place. They poured resin on the bar counter, sealing all the concert tickets stubs that friends had shared. Heather even managed to salvage the old bar stools that Crocodile Lounge had discarded.
“If there was a YouTube video for how to get it done, we’d figure out,” said Jeff.
Pine Box’s soft opening in 2010 coincided with Heather’s Birthday on Oct. 7. The owners had $600 to their name and spent half of it on beer. Distributors gave them break and extended lines of credit for the liquor.
The next day, still hungover from the party the night before, Jeff, Heather, and Colin got behind the bar and Pine Box opened to the public.
“I’ll never forget that night,” said Jeff. “We rolled up the gate and a sea of people was outside waiting and just crowded in. It was just the most incredible thing to witness. We’ve opened another bar since then, but nothing will ever compare to that first night.”
“We rolled up the gate and a sea of people was outside waiting and just crowded in. It was just the most incredible thing to witness. We’ve opened another bar since then, but nothing will ever compare to that first night.”
When Pine Box first opened, it was just a bar. That first year, prank callers would ring the bar up that and ask, “Where are the rocks?” so often that Heather kept a list of local geology shops next to the phone.
A year later, the back room opened and seven years later they still offer weekly live music along with a popular karaoke night.
Jeff recalls brainstorming other ideas for making the bar more popular, including the vegan question.
“I remember just saying ‘What if we had vegan jerky?’ and from there we decided to just go with it and make it all vegan,” Jeff said.
“You’d be surprised how much animal-based stuff is in what we drink, especially red wine,” noted Heather, who personally calls vineyards and distributors to ensure they only buy plant-based liquors for the bar.
Every month a third party hosts a Vegan Shop Up, an animal cruelty-free pop-up marketplace featuring food, crafts and jewelry for purchase.
But what about Pine Box’s arcade deer-shooting game? Jeff jokes that it’s all irony.
“[It’s a] vegan-friendly hunting as no animals are actually harmed in the playing of the game,” he said.
Being vegan appeals to a very niche community that is willing to come from all over to support us, says Heather.
“It’s also good to have a theme people can grab onto too. The whole coffin factory theme is worked into our cocktail menu and I’m literally like The Casket Lady,” she said, touching the casket charm hanging around her neck. “People love to give me skulls. We have them all over our house.”
While some may think it’s a bit scary to run a business out of a former casket factory, Heather says there’s nothing to it.
“Nothing spooky happened at all,” she emphasized.
“[A customer at the bar] just pulls a dead cat out of the carrier and sits at the bar petting it. A dead cat isn’t exactly good for a business.”
So while the building itself may not spook people, sometimes it’s the customers that do. Jeff recalls one time a crazy cat lady came in.
“There was this one Tuesday afternoon when this woman came in and sat at the bar with a pet carrier … Then after a while, she just pulls a dead cat out of the carrier and sits at the bar petting it. A dead cat isn’t exactly good for a business. Luckily, she left shortly after,” Jeff said.
Things have changed since Pine Box first opened its doors seven years ago. These days, people come from Manhattan to check out the Bushwick bar scene.
“We’ve got people coming from the East Village and we’ve even got tourists from France, Germany, and Asia that are staying in local Airbnbs. The crowd is pretty diverse. We’ve got meatheads from New Jersey, guys with Mohawks on their way to get tattoos, off-duty construction workers, football fans coming in to see the games,” Jeff said.
“Our customers have gotten younger and more affluent over the past few years,” Heather added.
“Yeah, it’s a lot less beer and shot requests these days, says Jeff. It’s really mostly a craft-beer crowd now.”
That’s not all that’s changed. Eighteen months ago, the two became parents.
“Yep, no more late night shifts for me. Well, at least not at the bar!” Heather says.
Around the same time their son was born, they opened a second bar in Bushwick — Precious Metal. This one used to be the site of a former chicken slaughterhouse. Jeff laughed at the further irony.
“Somehow we just can’t seem to get away from the macabre.”
Pine Box Rock Shop
One of Bushwick’s staple bars & venues located in a former casket factory.
12 Grattan St, Brooklyn, NY 11206
Mon-Tue: 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.; Wed – Fri 4 p.m. – 4 a.m.; Sat-Sun 2 p.m. – 4 a.m.
Follow the Pine Box Rock Shop on Instagram.