Philthy Phil's (2939 N. 16th St., 602-279-4339) isn't exactly philthy, but the place is pretty phunky. The lighting is dark, almost cave-like, while the wood-panel walls emit old aromas of beer and cigarettes. A pair shoots pool in the back while the sweet sounds of Boston play over the speakers. With such an austere ambiance, it's not immediately apparent why this bar is so phamous (having won several Best of Phoenix awards, including Best Neighborhood Bar in Downtown Phoenix in 2009 and Best Dance Night in 2010), but you get it once you meet Phil Edwards, the bar's owner and namesake as well as the phriendliest bartender you'll ever meet. The winner of the coveted Best of Phoenix Best Bartender award, Phil goes all out to make sure his customers have a phun time.
Where did the name Philthy Phil's come from?
It was the name of a bar in St. Petersburg, Fla., where I used to live. I thought it was a catchy name, so I adopted it when I bought this place.
Why did you want to become a bartender?
I kind of fell into it. I was working in Detroit for my uncle, driving a catering truck around the time I was 22, and I needed more money. There was outside the city called the Wagon Wheel Saloon, so I went there, got a job as a doorman, and the next thing you know they needed a bartender, so I became the bartender. Later they needed a manager, so I became the manager, and I just fell in deeper.
Why do you like it?
It's fun dealing with the people. I enjoy the customers, being around people and having fun, making drinks, talking, joking with the employees. It's a people thing.
What bar was originally here before it became Philthy Phil's?
It was called Wick's Tavern -- just a little neighborhood bar. It still is that in the daytime, but we're trying to change the night scene for a younger crowd with dancing, DJs and entertainment.
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What changes did you make?
We painted, we moved the pool tables out and made a DJ stand, we painted the outside. Not a whole lot. I always liked the look of the wood paneling, so we kept that. We painted a few murals. It's just kind of eclectic. Whatever stuff we come across that we like, we'll add to the walls.
You won a Best of Phoenix award last year for being the best bartender in the Valley. What makes you so awesome?
I really don't know! I think technically, I'm not. But I think talking with people is what matters most, and I've been doing this a long time; I can pretty much relate to anyone. I'm less about making the drink and more about personality, talking about anything a customer wants to talk about, and making sure they have a nice time.
So what makes a good bartender?
Personality in dealing with people is number one, of course. Next to that, of course, is knowing your drink recipes and how to make them for those people. Then there's being able to do more than one thing at a time -- being able to balance numerous drinks, inputting each thing in the register correctly, making change and taking care of each person. Those are the most important things to me, anyway.
What was your best night as a bartender?
We used to do karaoke here, and a lot of people would come in for it, including a guy who always dressed as Elvis. He would come every Friday or Saturday and do his Elvis impersonator thing. One night he was in here and another came in dressed up with this big hair and thick sunglasses. I asked him who he was and he said, "I'm Robert Goulet!" The next thing I know, they were both eyeballing each other, these two impersonators having a stare-down. I just thought it was hilarious. Even better was at the end of the night. There used to be this place called Heavy Metal Devastation across the street, and their punk rock crowd came in. By the end of the night, they were all out there singing together: the punks, Elvis and Goulet. You want to talk about a diverse crowd.