On a recent Monday night at Amis Trattoria, Arnab Maitra of Jersey-based pop-up Pizza Crime slid a Neapolitan-style pie out of his portable lime-green Roccbox pizza oven and examined it. Its edges were perfectly blackened. The pepperoni had curled and crisped on top of the oozing mozzarella. A tantalizing aroma permeated the Washington Square West restaurant kitchen.
“I bought this thing from a seller in the U.K.,” Maitra said. He gestured to the flames at the back of the satchel-sized oven, still going strong. “It goes up to 900 degrees. I have it on gas right now, but it can also be a wood fire.”
Pleased, Maitra placed the pizza onto the metal counter that usually acts as the pass when Amis is serving brunch, lunch, or dinner service. The appearance of the pie elicited delighted “oohs” and “ahhs” from the group of off-duty chefs, waiters, and waitresses milling about the restaurant. His friends worked behind him: tossing dough, spreading on Maitra’s from-scratch San Marzano tomato sauce, and finishing the pies with torn basil leaves and fresh Parmesan.
“That s— smells so good,” said Michael Lipson, an independent pastry chef and chocolatier who lives around the corner from Amis. He picked up a slice of pizza, folded it in half, and took a huge bite. “Incredible. I love coming to these things and supporting fellow people in food. It’s great to be able to try new things.”
Amis is typically closed on Monday nights, but since its opening in 2010, the restaurant has hosted monthly “industry nights” for people in the hospitality industry to come in for discounted food and drinks. Past industry night events at Amis have featured spectacular food from the likes of Pierre and Charlotte Calmels of Bella Vista BYOB Bibou, and D.C.-based Top Chef alum Mike Isabella.
“Our idea was always to find another restaurant and another chef, let them dictate the theme, which sometimes comes from their restaurant or sometimes is just a project they’re working on,” said Martin Cugine, brand director for the Amis restaurant group. “It can get really exciting.”
Amis’ industry night is one of many in which servers, chefs, bartenders, and other workers meet over drinks and eats in Philly. According to Cugine, these events have gone on since at least the early ’90s, when the service industry would party late into the night at the soon-to-close Trocadero Theatre.
Square 1682 holds Clocked Out, a monthly event featuring work from local artists and a DJ to set the mood. In the summer, Continental Midtown hosts a staff meal on its roof deck, complete with $5 drink specials and live music. Other locations — including R&D, Philadelphia Brewing Co., Twisted Tail, and the International Bar — offer discounted drinks and food to industry folks as well. Word of the events spread mostly through social media.
In a way, Square 1682’s industry night began in Pittsburgh, in 2017, when current general manager Seth Kligerman was working at a gastropub downtown. He reached out to a local promoter, Cody Baker, and they began trying to create an industry night that was more than just cheap cocktails and a few food specials. When Kligerman moved to Philly in mid-2018, he brought the event with him. The gathering, held on Thursdays, can bring in 75 to 150 people.
At the most recent Clocked Out, dozens showed up to groove to Drake and Meek Mill, browse through pieces from local photographers, and shop for skeleton keys and crystals (made by a waiter with a jewelry-making hobby). Groups of friends chatted at the restaurant’s empty tables, cleared of their usual silverware. They ordered dishes of blistered shishito peppers and corn bread with butter and honey, and sipped on whiskeys from Cooper Spirits. The event created so much buzz, hotel patrons passing by wandered in to check it out.
“I’ve been to a lot of industry nights but didn’t even realize that this was one,” said Jaz Malone, an animator and artist whose work has been featured in the New Yorker. Malone, who heard of the event through Instagram, has worked in a number of restaurants and restaurant groups in the city, including Starr Restaurants. “It’s pretty cool because it’s more arts-based and a lot of people in the industry are in art. It’s a pairing that makes sense.”
In the past, the event has featured fun twists like a Capri Sun cocktail riff in a plastic pouch, portraits by sketch artists, a freestyle poet with a typewriter, and even exotic plant experts. Kligerman said that restaurant tries to keep things hyperlocal by inviting artists who aren’t showing in one of the city’s many galleries.
“People come because there’s good music and art they’ve never seen before,” Kligerman said. “It’s down-to-earth and a very comfortable event.”
R&D, the ‘50s-inspired Fishtown cocktail bar that replaced Root, began hosting industry nights shortly after it opened last fall. (They kicked things off with a Halloween-themed rager.) Every Monday night, they offer 20 percent off entire checks for service industry folks. The bar has also been experimenting with more “involved” events, like those held at Square 1682 and Amis. Most recently, they hosted a deejayed Fat Tuesday party.
“Because we’re a cocktail bar, we’re never crazy during the week,” said Aaron Deary, the bartender who developed the drink menu at R&D. “I’ve been working in Fishtown for two years, and I always wanted to have a medium-level place to go after finishing work. We wanted to be that place. If you wanted a negroni or daiquiri after work, we wanted to offer that.”
Cugine said that industry nights give workers a chance to try items from new restaurants’ and bars’ menus, and an opportunity to meet and collaborate with other professionals.