Harlem barman Karl Franz Williams hopes to open an establishment in New Haven—with the New Haven crowd as not just customers, but seed donors, as well.
That was the message the 38-year old self-described “mixologist” and Yale grad sent to New Haveners in an hour-long conversation Sunday at his Harlem bar, 67 Orange Street at 2082 Frederick Douglass Blvd. He is hoping to raise the starting funds for his new New Haven bar through “crowdfunding,” a method of gathering individual donations online from community members rather than traditional investors.
He plans to call it “Bar Philosophi” as a tribute to the city’s intellectual footprint. The bar will have drinks “inspired by conversation-inducing writers and philosophers” that will have a story, and each story a historical figure – “a writer of note,” as well as a dinner menu of “elevated food.”
He declined to give the new bar’s address since he has not yet officially signed a lease. He did say that he is looking at space in the Chapel West neighborhood.
He chose Upper Chapel, he said, because it is nearby the high-scale New Haven hotel The Study at Yale, as well as the African American Cultural Center at Yale, where he spent a good deal of time as a student.
As of Monday, Williams had raised 2 percent of his $150,000 goal from 18 donors. Williams said he prefers to start with the crowdfunding method, as it will ensure that, from the start, his bar has a connection with the New Haven community that he will serve.
“You’re essentially partnering with the people in the neighborhood and the community,” he said. “I could just go to Investors and make the money that way…It’s giving the people a chance to be a part of it and make things happen,” he said.
Donation levels range from $10 for a mention on the new bar’s website to $10,000 for a Panasonic High Definition TV with Surround Sound System and DVD player with a commemorative video, discount and priority reservation for life, a private all-you-can-eat dinner and drinks, a commemorative golden key, and your name on a plaque that will line the new bar’s walls.
Dressed in yellow corduroys, a white button-down and a seersucker fedora, Williams described the journey that has led him to own his current 800-square foot bar In Harlem. He also showed off some of the bar’s more colorful quirks such as menus laid out in old books …
… local art lining the walls …
… and souvenirs from Harlem’s history.
From Fort Greene To 67 Orange
Karl Franz Williams didn’t originally plan on becoming a bartender. After graduating from college with a degree in electrical engineering, Williams worked for four years at Procter & Gamble in Puerto Rico, as well as another six and a half at Pepsi Co.
His work at Pepsi brought him to Harlem. After returning to the mainland, he initially searched for places to live in his native Brooklyn, then decided on Harlem because “it was a little too far” to drive from Brooklyn to Pepsi headquarters in Purchase, N.Y., and because Harlem was a “high-energy neighborhood” with “great history.”
Williams said he opened a coffee shop called Society Coffee in 2005 while working at Pepsi. After a while he realized he had “found a calling” as a restaurateur. He left his job at Pepsi.
67 Orange Street opened in 2008; Williams closed Society Coffee in 2011 so he could focus on his bar and because it had “served its purpose.” He said he has brought a new “drinking experience” to the Harlem neighborhood more commonly found in Manhattan’s downtown or its East Village. He said he also helps to participate in the area’s revitalization through a group called the Harlem Park Association.
Williams called himself a “pioneer” in Frederick Douglass Blvd’s dining scene and, in the bar’s early days, held evening drink-mixing classes to help make ends meet.
At 67 Orange Street, Williams tried out crowdfunding to replace the metal chairs that initially lined the zinc and tables of his 800 square-foot bar. It worked. Dedicated customers pitched in the money to buy replacement wooden chairs that fit better with the bar’s surroundings. They were commemorated as “chairholders,” with their names inscribed on a small plaque on each stool (pictured). They also got to taste 67 Orange Street’s newest cocktails before other customers.
67 Orange Street’s signature cocktails cost $13 each and feature diverse collections of ingredients. The “Hemingway Daquiri” features “ron matusalem platino rum, fresh grapefruit & lime juice, maraschino liqueur, simple syrup.” Williams said he sees the art of bartending as “both a science and an art,” a science with respect to “mixing [the ingredients] well” and an art with respect to “how to put all of that together.”
Next Stop, New Haven
Williams said he is committed to opening Bar Philosophi in new Haven whether or not he raises all $150,000 through crowdfunding.He pegged October as the earliest possible opening date.
In addition to New Haven, Williams said he has been looking at expanding further into Harlem, Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan. He said he chose New Haven because the city already has “a craft cocktail scene,” and he would not have to start from scratch as in Harlem. He cited Tim Cabral, an owner of Ordinary Bar, as a mentor whom he credits for having guided him through the initial steps of opening a bar in New Haven.
Williams also cited his affection for his alma mater, Yale University (see a video higher up in the story aimed at the Yale community), as a reason for choosing New Haven. Even though he did not end up using the electrical engineering degree he received there, Williams said, “Yale planted a lot of intellectual seeds that led to what I am doing today.”
Coming to Yale, he said, was initially a “culture shock,” and Williams said he volunteered as a mentor to New Haven children; that made him feel more at home after leaving the largely “poor, black, and Latino” Fort Greene, Brooklyn, neighborhood where he spent most of his upbringing.
Williams said he is not sure whether the prices for Bar Philosophi will be the same as at his Harlem bar, but said they will be “competitive.” He noted that 116 Crown charges as much as $18 for a cocktail.
Joe Goodwin, who has run the 168 York St. Cafe for 20 years, noted that Williams will face lots of competition in New Haven’s bustling nightlife district, but he said he can understand the impulse to try.
“There’s no other better nightlife in the State of Connecticut, only because of diversity,” he said. “If anyone’s going to come into Connecticut and do a test market, it’s going to be in New Haven.”