Vegan food, coffee and a cultural hub at South Philly’s The Pharmacy (soft opening tomorrow)
From the outside, The Pharmacy looks like an old decrepit warehouse. Soon, though it’ll be a vegan café with visions beyond coffee, built in true DIY spirit. However, with opening a new business comes many municipal loopholes to pass through.
It’s been just a little more than two years since Gary Viteri, lead singer and guitarist of South Philly punk band Le Yikes Surf Club, got the keys to the former in-patient care office. It’s essentially a “fixer-upper” since it’s been empty for decades – and Viteri has handled most of the remodeling himself with a crew of friends – but as far as he’s concerned, the hard part has been getting the neighborhood on board with turning the corner building into a commercial business.
“I started the process last summer,” Viteri says. “That involves petitioning and getting approval from the neighborhood councilman. And for example, since we have churches on our block, we needed their approval too and they had to notify their congregation. It all really puts you on blast. Plus people from the public were at meetings accusing us of potentially turning the spot into a bar or a nightclub because our application mistakenly said there will be ‘alcohol, a DJ and live music regularly’ and that’s just not true.”
He believes that some people at the meetings simply viewed him as a delinquent; they simply didn’t believe that he’s capable of producing a business with a positive outcome on the community. But the building has been empty for years until Viteri bought it. He’s already gained support from his immediate neighbors – including a woman who’s outspoken goal is to rid her block of the unsightly empty facade.
Still, Viteri had to go to meetings repeatedly just regarding The Pharmacy’s location. It stands on the southwest corner of 18th and Wharton Streets; 18th is the border between the Newbold and Point Breeze neighborhoods. Consequently, Viteri had to get approval from both districts. But the payoff, he believes, will be positive. The Pharmacy is its envisioned will be less of a coffee shop and more of a cultural hub. Inspired by DIY venues Viteri had played at while touring Europe with his former band, Dirty Tactics, he plans to eventually use The Pharmacy’s many extra rooms for recording, rehearsal and art gallery space.
“I think the mentality here is that we’re using a space that’s stripped down and just making use of all the space we have,” Viteri says. “We’re a coffee shop during the day, using all of the upstairs space during the day and at night we’re using it for art and music; especially after seeing how many places, mostly overseas, that have done that.”
That time spent touring in Europe is also an inspiration for The Pharmacy’s menu. Viteri became a vegetarian while abroad; there was a recall on beef and everyone he was with advised him not to eat the meat so he didn’t get sick on tour. Viteri’s mother has offered to make homemade soups and different friends of his will make pre-made vegetarian and vegan options, while the coffee will come from Reanimator.
As for tours, Viteri and the rest of Le Yikes Surf Club will be going on the road with Long Beach’s bouncy surf punks, Tijuana Panthers for a quick tour July 30th-August 7th. Yikes is expecting their first LP, Apocalypsos, to be released this summer on Grizzly Records. There are also plans for their homecoming show at The Pharmacy on August 2.
But before all that will happen, Viteri will be throwing a block party at The Pharmacy, Saturday June 15. It’ll be a soft opening, mostly to show what The Pharmacy will look like and have a small introduction of what they’ll offer off their menu, as well as many showcasing many artists’ work adorning the interior of The Pharmacy.
“The biggest point of the block party is to show that we are just going to be a coffee shop,” Viteri says. “After being accused of wanting to turn it into a nightclub and a bar, we’re going to show we’ll be a coffee shop that can offer much more.”
Philly Phreakout Block Party and Fix my Head Art Show, Fri., June 15, 3 p.m., The Pharmacy, 1300 S. 18th St., w/ Jackie Paper, Gypsy Wig, Window Liquor, The Shakes, Likers, Micah Schnabel, Mean Streets & Le Yikes Surf Club and various artists.