Heather DeRussy is one of the owners of Spring Garden/Callowhill bar and restaurant The Institute (549 N 12th St.). For six years, the spot located on the corner of 12th and Green streets had been one of the only places in the neighborhood to offer craft beer and made-to-order bar dishes. Now DeRussy is conquering another first for the developing area, and then some.
“The neighborhood has been pretty devoid of coffee shops. One of the things that my husband noticed was that if you look at the more heavily developed neighborhoods in the city, you’ve got a bar, restaurant and retail. Also a coffee shop and a tattoo studio.” So now, directly across from Union Transfer, sits her and husband Charlie Collazo’s newest venture: Vice Coffee & Tattoos. "I thought it was crazy, but here we are!"
The idea of combining something like food service with tattoos may freak some folks out, but the layout of the shop keeps the coffee and studio completely separate. Behind a closed door in the back is where the intimate studio is set up, and something that DeRussy and her team of tattoo artists emphasize more than anything is keeping things hygienic and professional. “This is not a flash studio,” she says. “We take every precaution that any other professional shop would.” Walk-ins are welcome, but you can also make an appointment ahead of time with any of their six talented artists.
So why Vice? “We were tossing around ideas and I said that if we were to do another bar we should call it Vice, and it just kind of stuck. This incorporates my three vices: books, coffee, and tattoos.”
A majority of the walls in the store are covered with shelves containing books that pique anyone’s interests: cooking, sci-fi, travel, music, classic, something for the kids, and much more. Even better, you can actually take out a book if you want, and they trust you'll return it in a timely fashion.
Something Vice also prides itself on is the way they do First Fridays. In coordination with The Institute, they pair up with a craft brewery and a distillery to offer beer and scotch, whiskey, or bourbon samples – for June it’s Baltimore’s Heavy Seas Brewing and Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Each month a new grouping of artists can be seen on the walls of the shop, and soon they hope to be featuring more of their in-house artists’ work. Almost all of them dabble in different forms of mediums outside of tattoo work, anything from painting to sculpture, which is a true testament to the team’s talents. After enjoying some samples at the shop, attendees are invited to continue the party at the bar where the selected brewery does a tap takeover.
"I’m not going to say it’s easy doing this because it was very very difficult," DeRussy says. "The biggest thing that held us back was that we needed to get our zoning and that’s more of a waiting game. In terms of having coffee on one side and tattoos in the back, it’s actually not that difficult because there’s nothing that says you can’t do it."
In the future, she hopes to expand into the basement of the building to allow the artists a space for consulting and sketching, freeing up more space upstairs for sessions. She also hopes to partner with local schools and religious organizations to host reading events. “This is something to kind of enforce how important reading is. Not just off of a Kindle, but making sure kids understand the magic of having a book in their hands. There’s really no replacement for it.”
Vice Coffee & Tattoos is located at 1031 Spring Garden St. in Philadelphia – follow them on Facebook for more information on upcoming events.