By Theodore N. Beitchman
Take a walk south on 15th St. from Walnut until you get to Locust, stop at the corner and look around:
It is not readily apparent, but you’re in the epicenter of the greatest concentration of sports bars in Philly.
Across Locust is Fado and across 15th is Misconduct, a block away downstairs of the Bellevue is Tavern on Broad, and at 15th and Spruce is Fox & Hound.
But if you walk east on Locust, midway down the block at 1415, you’ll find Locust Rendezvous Bar & Grill, which is the granddaddy of the neighborhood watering holes and restaurants, having opened on Sept. 13, 1989.
And, although it isn’t marketed as such, the Vous — as it is called by a boatload of regular customers — takes the cake as “the most popular sports bar that isn’t” in this sports-crazy town.
Or as general manager Michele Recupido (above) calls the Vous, which is emblazoned on her snug T-shirt: “A mom and pop sports bar.”
She is the mom, since she has been at the Vous since Day One, and owner Nate Stone is the pop.
Michelle is married, though not to Nate, and lives in Bucks County, which makes her commute down the federal highway called I-95 sometimes a nightmare.
“One day when it was snowing, I called Nate and he said, ‘I’ll be right up to get you.’ He is the perfect boss. He used to have 10 bars and we are his last one. What works for him works for me. It doesn’t feel like a job — it’s the greatest life!”
It’s about 10 minutes before 11 a. m. on a mid-December Thursday, and the Vous is locked. A knock on the door brings a response from Dana Derose, who, on her second day on the job, is preparing for the day.
At 11 on the dot, Dana opens the door to the public and several customers stream in and take seats at the bar.
“We have a lot of regulars,” Recupido says proudly. “We have one fellow who reserves a table for every Eagles game.”
People have always been drawn to the Vous, and its décor — “paper signs, wooden walls, black ceiling,” Recupido says proudly — is one of its attractions.
“I would rather people have a good time because they’re surprised that such an ordinary-looking place is so good,” she says.
Another of the attractions — maybe the biggest — is the quality of food and drink the Vous serves at unheard-of rock-bottom prices:
A crock of French onion soup goes for $4.95 — made with red wine and apple jack brandy; a crock of chili for $5.50; a half-pound cheeseburger for $7.95, a plain burger for $5.95.
“And we have a Reuben with real corned beef,” Recupido points out. “Not lunchmeat. Real brisket. Same with our roast beef, roast pork and turkey — they’re all roasted here.”
And then there are the beers.
There are $2.25 and $3.25 beers of the week and a shot of the week, plus $8 pitchers of Yuengling Lager and Miller Lite between Sunday and Thursday from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Tap beers include Yards Philly Pale Ale, Blue Moon Belgian White, Goose Island 312, Stella and a host of others.
There are too many bottled and canned beers to mention, but you can get a 16-ounce can of Rolling Rock or Miller Lite for $3.27 and a 12-ounce bottle of Miller High Life for $2.75!
Plus, the prices for weekend brunch are just as reasonable: challah French toast for $5.50, green eggs and ham for $7, corned beef hash for $7.25 and an open-faced BLT for $7.25.
And then there are the sports.
There are 8 flat screens and two more coming soon — it’s a good thing they’re flat otherwise there wouldn’t be room in the cozy Vous!
“And 50 percent of our business is sports-related,” Recupido points out.
Then there is the loyalty of the Vous’ fans and employees”
“Eighteen people work here,” Michele says, “and one has gone on to become an attorney and still comes back to tend bar once a week because she loves the clientele.”
The Vous is open every day of the year from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and it has been the constant in a neighborhood that has changed for the better ever since Avenue of the Arts, a half-block away, became the realization of Mayor Ed Rendell’s dream 25 years ago.
“I can mark the first improvement in our business to when Make It A Night became a staple back in September 1992,” she says. “Now, Wednesday nights are a big night in Center City whereas before people didn’t come into town or stay in town as often.”
And in 2001 when the Kimmel Center opened a block away on Spruce St., there was more light on the area — and more foot patrol police.
Michele is a big believer in the Vous’ neighborhood, and “I like to keep the money right here. A guy across the street cuts my hair,” which is typically spiked and stylishly blonde.
She detailed the neighb’s lineage for Philly.com in 2015:
“[When we opened in 1989] Marabella’s was across the street. H.A. Winston’s was where Fado is. Tequilas was up the street where Misconduct is. Good Dog was Frank Clement’s. Applebee’s was Bookbinders. But there was no late night – even the bars I just mentioned would close at 11 or 12 o’clock. So we were adamant about being open till 2 a.m. We’re still always open until 2, no matter what – everyone who works here knows that. Because it only takes one time for a group to get done work at 1:30 and say, ‘Let’s go grab last call at the ‘Vous,’ and if we’re not open, they won’t come back next time.”
What’s your biggest day of the year?
“New Year’s Day. Even though they moved some of the parade over to Market Street one year, and now with it starting at City Hall down Broad Street to Washington Avenue. People will come back every year, because I’ll tell you what, we don’t jack up our prices on six-packs. We make cheesesteak soup that day; we have that every year. We do now charge a $3 cover, and it gets you a $3 credit. So when you come in, you give me $3, I give you a ticket, and you can use that toward your drink. Because you can’t pee for free. People were jamming up that bathroom; it was terrible.”
Just then, some more regulars come in for an early lunch of homemade soup and a burger, and Recupido politely excused hereself to do what she does best at the Vous:
Service with a smile!