Day Drinker: Phil-Tastic Philthy Phil's

Who says you have to wait until the sun goes down to have a good time?

I said we'd be gone by noon. I said I wasn't going to give José a ride. I said I didn't know the second line to the chorus of Manfred Mann's, "Blinded By the Light". Only one of those statements turned out to be true.

It's not my fault. It's Phil's. Philthy Phil's.

Who knew the brawny baldhead my day-drinking gal-pals, Ronda and Tana, and I saw tearing down boxes by the garbage at 10 a.m. was the in-charge charmer we'd be downing tequila shots with later that morning? Phil. Philthy Phil.

"Mornin' ladies," he said as we walked by, "Let me unlock the front door for you."

The outside of Phil's is stark. Not much to look at. Bare-bones stuff. A few bottle caps on nails in the wall. Inside, it's dark. Super dark. So dark I had trouble locating the right buttons on the ATM machine after noticing the "Cash Only" sign above the bar. No worries. We had the place to ourselves.

"I've gotta get home by noon today," Ronda tells us, "so promise me, you'll push me out of here."

We tell her not to worry, that's our plan, too.

"What can I get you this morning?" The man who was box-breaking in the back was suddenly behind the bar. We ordered up: Bud, Bud Light, Jack and Coke.

"Are you Philthy Phil?" we ask.

"That's me," Phil says, and sticks out a friendly paw. Introductions all around. Grip 'n' grins.

Phil tells us he's owned the joint for eight years - seen a lot of places around him come and go. He gets a good crowd most nights, although recently, a lot of his regulars (bust-ass blue-collars) have lost their jobs and stopped coming around. We watch and listen as he takes us on a finger-point tour of the bar: Pool tables, crazy bar clock, paintings done by a friend, the wooden box where bands used to play (it got too expensive), and the dance floor and disco ball for DJ and karaoke nights.

We ask the question everyone wants to know, "How'd you get the name Philthy Phil?"

"I'll show you," Phil says, and takes down a beer coozie from the shelf above the bar, "It's from a place I managed in Florida called Philthy Phil's. Great hang out. Since my name's Phil, I thought, 'If I ever get my own place, I'm gonna name it Philthy Phil's, too.' I used to have the Philthy part on the sign outside, but people thought it was a strip club and wouldn't come in, so now it just says Phil's. I might put it back on, but smaller. I like the name. I worked in Florida for a few years, but I'm originally from Detroit. Where are your girls from?"

Cue wide eyes and stifled screams.

"I'm from Detroit, too!" I yelp, "Pontiac!"

"I'm from Farmington!" Tana chimes in.

"Is that so? Well, I'd like to buy you girls a shot."

The four of us toast tequila shots to Michigan, Detroit, and Philthy Phil. Grinning like idiots, we reminisce on cars, coney dogs and Cass Avenue. Phil tells us he's an orphan - raised up by an Aunt. After attending Henry Ford High School and working with his Uncle selling sandwiches to third-shift automotive workers from a "maggot wagon," he headed off to Oakland Community College on a trust fund set up by a female relative who was the first woman lawyer in Detroit. He lived in Florida for a while, then California, before getting married, having two kids, then getting divorced in Phoenix.

I'd like to say hearing Philthy Phil's life story happened in the course of one shot. It didn't. It happened in the course of four. All on Phil. He was draining them right along with us either behind the bar or stool-side when Carolyn, the afternoon barkeep, took the reins. Carolyn's a tough-talking treat. She looks like a rock-'n'-roll cheerleader: Pigtails, white buckled go-go boots, black mini skirt, and metal and leather accessories.

"Where'd you get the bracelet?" We ask, eyeing her leather cuff with the silver crosses.

"It's my ex-boyfriend's," Carolyn tells us, "I figured since I was sleeping with him, I could take it."

Right on.

During the shot-fest, we day-drinking gal-pals were singing along to classic rock, smoking out back under the make-shift patio canopy and talking to one of the regulars about the importance of comfortable work shoes, arguing over which one of us used the Glade in the women's bathroom (Phil tried to make it nice with paintings of clouds, a vase filled with artificial flowers and a folk-art rooster statue), and proposing to Phil in the event one of our husband's should bite the biscuit. Good times. A little blurry, but good.

Around this time, José, an older Mexican gentleman speaking very little English and wearing a Diamondbacks ball-cap, beige corduroy jacket, and bright white tennis shoes, keeps leaving his suds station at the end of the bar to chat with us chicks. From what little we could understand, José tells us he used to know a couple of professional ball players (one from the Diamondbacks), the Spanish word for moustache (bigote), and that the Phoenix Ranch Market on Roosevelt and 16th St. used to be a Kmart. Phil chases him back to his stool whenever he thinks we've had enough.

José asks me if he can hitch a ride up the street. I ask Phil if I should do it. He tells me no.

Post-alcohol. Lots of Red Bull on ice. Phil and I are discussing the finer points of war (he's a huge history buff), Carolyn's talking with Tana and Ronda about her other job at the casino's high-roller table, the regulars (now numbering four including José), are taking bets as to how tall I am, and Ronda has completely forgotten why it was she had to leave at noon. Phil tells us he needs to go home to do his taxes. Hugs all around. He says he hopes to see us again, soon. That shouldn't be a problem.

Phil. Philthy Phil. A good man. Detroit through and through.

Flash forward to 3 p.m. It's cold and windy. José's riding shot gun (Tana tells me later she sat in the backseat in case she needed to stab him in the neck with a ball point pen - you do not mess with that girl). We take him out to lunch at La Frontera where he devours a lengua burrito in my car and then drop him off at the Furia Musical nightclub on McDowell, where Dios only knows what he's going to do next. He thanks us for the ride, and lunch.

We thank Philthy Phil's, and Philthy Phil, for a damn good day of drinking.

Philthy Phil's 2939 North 16th Street 602-279-4339

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld