Q&A: Heather and Jeff Rush from Pine Box Rock Shop

Last summer when I found my current apartment, one of the biggest perks was that I’d soon be living just around the corner from one of my favorite bars, Pine Box Rock Shop. The name and casket theme alone make it pretty cool — the space used to be a coffin factory — but there’s a lot more to it than that. The counters are lined with concert tickets that come from owners Heather and Jeff Rush and a handful of their friends and family. The seasonal drinks are named after bands and songs (they’re currently serving the Yardbird and the Brown-Eyed Girl). And everything served in the bar is vegan, from the house-made Baileys and bloody mary mix (they’re known for their exhaustive bloody mary menu, which include the Sunday Bloody Sunday, My Bloody Valentine and the Dr. Feelgood), to the empanadas provided by Park Slope’s V Spot restaurant. Not to mention they have a months-old concert and event space in the back and a huge, totally affordable drink selection. So when it came to planning ETB’s first-anniversary party (Oh? You haven’t heard I’m having a party next week?), picking the location was a no-brainer.

I chatted with owners Heather and Jeff Rush — a couple of musicians who moved to New York from Seattle in 2003 — about the challenges of keeping a vegan bar, what inspires their cocktails, and where all those concert tickets come from.

ON THIS SEASON’S MUSIC-THEMED DRINK SPECIALS
Heather: The Yardbird (Kanon organic vodka pickletini with house-made brine, served with a baby Gherkin): Pickletinis have already been a thing, but somebody wanted to try it with our spicy pickle brine so it’s our version with our spicy brine, which actually isn’t even pickle brine, it’s pepper brine. And I’ve been on a British Invasion kick so that’s how it got to be named the Yardbird. The Brown-Eyed Girl (Seagram’s 7 and Cointreau with a splash of apple juice, served on the rocks in a cinnamon/sugar-rimmed glass): It’s a stripped-down version of a Legends cocktail which was developed for Oprah. It’s kind of an homage to my friend who’s in Cuba right now, she’s a big Oprah fan and she’s also a brunette like me so that’s kind of my good-luck wish to her.

ON PINE BOX’S COCKTAIL PHILOSOPHY
Heather: Everybody’s doing super high-end, ’20s-style drinks and I want to do cocktails where a lot of the stuff is not super fussy. They’re fun, they’re fancy, but it’s not so hard that you couldn’t turn around and make this in your own kitchen.

ON THE CHALLENGES OF VEGAN WINE
Heather: The most tricky thing was finding a decent vegan wine. Most are usually refined with bone meal or egg white. We wanted to do vegan and local, and we were able to accomplish that with the white wine. The thing with vegan wineries is that they’re usually very young, so it takes a while for a winery to get its feet under it. So there’s no New York vegan red wine right now that I love — there might be some great ones out there, I just don’t know about them. But we managed to get Cycles Gladiator out of California. I’m hoping somebody actually picks up the gauntlet and does it here. I think most of the wineries out on Long Island are white wines anyway, but I think it’s gonna be a while before a really good New York vegan red wine comes out.

VEGAN BAILEYS? WHAT?
Heather: We use Soy Blenders vanilla soymilk, Absolut vanilla, Kahlua and Frangelico. It probably would be less likely to give you a hangover, and it’s not as creamy as Baileys but I think it mixes better for that reason. Baileys has a cloying sweetness and you could probably drink a little more of ours. It’s almost like a mudslide, and we mix it with root beer or Stoli or white Russians.

ON HOMEMADE PICKLE AND PEPPER BRINE
Heather: Jeff has two big vats, one for the super hot and one for the regular. There are habaneros and ghost peppers, Italian long peppers, dill, rosemary and garlic, and he’ll put two or three cucumbers in just for flavor. Then he slow cooks it for about five hours and lets it cool for two more hours. We’ll go through a gallon of pickle brine in a weekend. It’s crazy.

ON CHOOSING THE BAR’S SOUNDTRACK
Jeff: It’s mostly just music I like, music I download, music I own. I just develop playlists out of it. This is one of our afternoon playlists for more mellow times or [we have others for] more crazy-busy times. I just try to put a new selection on there every week or so, so there’s a ton for the bartenders to choose from.

ON THE BAR’S MOST MEMORABLE CONCERT TICKETS
Heather: We had two people who actually became friends of ours that showed up after a Gwar show, like 10 minutes before I was about to pour the resin over the bar. They were covered in Gwar goo and they proudly handed me their Gwar tickets and that was pretty cool. That and my Bumbershoot performer pass [from when my band played the festival] were pretty special.

ON GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THE BAR’S NEW-ISH BACK-ROOM PERFORMANCE SPACE
Jeff: I play some music with some friends of mine and we just started doing it back there recently. It’s been really cool to have the space to do that with. We have to do it during non-business hours, of course, so it’s earlier band practice than I’ve ever had in my life, but we’re all mid-30s now so we’re OK with that.