Behind Bars with Philip Schulz of the Kleines Phi in Hamburg
In May 2015, Philip Schulz opened Kleines Phi. Located on Feldstraße in the Karolinenviertel area, he transformed a former football pub into one of the new hot spots of Hamburg’s bar scene. Kleines Phi is, however, more than just another bar. Specialising in rum, mezcal and tequila, head bartender Pät Barten mainly offers his own drink creations. For another episode of Behind Bars, we spoke to Philip Schulz to learn more about the idea behind Kleines Phi, the importance of Thomas Henry and the nightlife in the Hanseatic City of Hamburg.
You’ve opened “Kleines Phi“ not even a year ago. What’s your concept? As we understand, serving food was not part of the original plan.
From the very beginning, we wanted to create something unique for Hamburg. Not another bar with just comfy sofas, not a pub and not another gin & tonic or whiskey bar either. Every dive bar in the city is serving at least 20 different varieties of Gin & Tonic. So that was out of the question. I spent 7 months in Mexico, lived in Chile for 3 months. Being over there, I really fell in love with Latin America. I had the idea to make Kleines Phi all about rum from South America. It is one of my favorite spirits, too. To make it more interesting and diverse, we added Tequila, Mezcal and Pisco to the mix. Then I met Thomas Kosikowski (Cozy) and Johannes Riffelmacher (Jo) aka “Salt & Silver“, a team of chefs who had just got back from a long trip to South America. They were working on a cookbook at the time, but we realized that we were sharing a common passion for these countries. At first, we were just talking, but very quickly agreed that it would be a great idea to have them serve food at Kleines Phi. We ended up doing a couple of projects together, for example the Taco Tuesday and the Ceviche Thursday. Right now, they are back in Mexico to work on another book. Once they are back, we want to continue our collaboration.
You are no freshman in the bar business. Where have you worked prior to opening this place?
After studying hotel management, I worked as a management assistant at “Bank“. I also helped establishing restaurants like “River Grill“ and “Mehl“. Later on, I was the head bartender at “Mandalay“ for 18 months.
Offering food and good drinks at the same time is not common practice in Germany. You eat at a restaurant and have drinks later on, in a bar. If you’re lucky, there are peanuts and pretzels available. Quite odd. And very different in other countries.
Both things always worked very well together in my mind. I’ve worked in both bars and restaurants and wondered, why these 2 things are considered to be separate activities. In the future we want to extend our food menu, offering snacks like home-roasted nuts or grilled cheese sandwiches. We like it simple, spartan even, always focusing on great quality. For the summer, we want to get selected food trucks involved.
With its garden and the open kitchen, Kleines Phi is not a traditionally designed bar. It is not a place you would expect to open only in the evenings.
We don’t want to commit to that rule at all. Every now and again, we are opening Kleines Phi in the mornings, serving Eggs Benedict and coffee instead of cocktails. Nothing is set in stone, we want to keep it interesting.
What is your philosophy for Kleines Phi?
Pät Barten is my head bartender, the “creative director“. I’m very happy to work with him. Thanks to Pät, “Kleines Phi“ made a name for itself very quickly in Hamburg. We only offer cocktails we are completely positive about, using the best ingredients, seasonal products. This spring, we want to grow vegetables and herbs in the garden, we are already producing our own syrups and plan on making our own Bitters as well. We want to use and sell what we like, what we think is best. Pouring contracts and other market restraints are not welcome here.
For many cocktails on the menu, you are using Thomas Henry. Why?
Actually, we use Thomas Henry for most of our drinks. The Paloma is topped up with Ultimate Grapefruit (new product since 2020: Thomas Henry Pink Grapefruit), the Mystic Sailor with Mystic Mango. For tonics, we only offer Thomas Henry. For one, it’s great value for money, cool products. For me, Thomas Henry Spicy Ginger is currently the best Ginger Beer out there.
What is the bar scene in Hamburg like these days?
New places open up all the time. The “Chung Club“ for example opened around the same time as we did. There is however room for improvement. Hamburg is not as up-to-date as cities like Munich or Berlin. There is a lot of stuff going on, though. That’s a good thing, I like it.
Hamburg is well-known for its traditional pubs and sofa bars. Does this tradition make the city conservative as well?
Yes, but that is not a negative thing. It’s part of the city’s DNA. I just wish there would be a little bit more variety. You’ll see a Gin Basil Smash or a Mojito on pretty much any menu in Hamburg. Finding something more interesting, though, something more ambitious is difficult at times.
What does the future hold for Kleines Phi?
First of all, we want to become an integral part of the local bar scene. Using more local produce, manufacturing our own ingredients and continue creating interesting, new cocktails are important, too. “Kleines Phi“ is supposed to be a place, where our guests feel at home, where they can let go, even longer on the weekends.We want to make this experience even better in the future.
Opening Hours: 7 pm to 3 am