While the Bourgeois Pig, located at 6 East 9th Street in downtown Lawrence, will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The Pig – as it's usually known – was previously owned by Charles Whitman and Russell Livingston, but current co-owners and brothers Rob and Ryan Pope took over the longtime bar and coffee shop in 2007.
“It was our favorite bar. It felt like home and we wanted to make sure that it kept going – keep it alive,” Ryan Pope explains as we sit on the small back deck of the bar one spring afternoon. “The previous owners, Russ and Charlie, they had done a great job and then they kind of ran out of gas for running the business. Then, they kind of tapped me on the shoulder, and were like, 'Hey, do you want to buy this place,' and I was like, 'Yes. Absolutely.'”
As Rob now lives in Brooklyn, Ryan is the one who oversees the regular operations.
“He hasn't lived here in a really long time, so I guess you could say, 'operating owner,'” Pope suggests as his job title.
In addition to co-owning the Pig, Pope also co-owns Repetition Coffee – a specialty coffee roasting facility located at 900 New Jersey Street in Lawrence – with his wife, Amy. Their unique and flavorful blends supply the shop with its coffee, and are available at various shops in Lawrence, as well as a weekly Saturday morning coffee cart as part of the Lawrence Farmer's Market.
“She runs things more than I do there, because I've got this place and I'm traveling quite a bit, so that's her main gig, whereas this would be more my main gig,” Pope explains of his multiple enterprises. That's understating things a bit – Pope's travels are as the drummer for the long-running indie act, the Get Up Kids, which is another endeavor he shares with his brother, Rob, who plays bass.
The Pig's experienced some renown over the years: in 2011, Complex magazine named The Bourgeois Pig the fifth best College Coffee Shop in America and the magazine Travel + Leisure named it as one of “the greatest college coffee shops in America” in 2015. 2011 is also when the bar and coffee shop underwent a bit of an interior redesign, renovating the entire area behind the bar and putting in striking black and white tile floors.
“Basically, we ripped this whole place apart,” Pope recalls. They'd been doing what he refers to as “incremental, small things” up to that point, but that's when they decided to just go for it, for a couple of reasons: “One, for functionality; and two, to improve the overall experience to the customer.”
As Pope explains, everything the bar had for sale – liquor, beer, et cetera – was hidden beneath most customer's line of sight. The item which was the most prominent was cigarettes.
“That wasn't necessarily the kind of business we wanted to be running, so we fixed it,” he says with a shrug. Now, however, a veritable panoply of attractively-displayed bottles line shelves behind the bar, along with tonics, syrups, and more eye-catching items. Prominently displayed next to the register are bags of Repetition Coffee to take home, along with locally-produced snacks.
All of that's to a point of connection with the community, Pope continues when I ask if, given that he's on the road so much, touring and otherwise traveling, it's important to have a connection to Lawrence as a town.
“I think so,” he replies. “I even lived in France for two years while we owned this place, so having this here definitely makes it feel more like a home.”
Given that Pope is on the road so often, the staff of the Bourgeois Pig is, as Pope puts it, the part of the business that makes it all happen. Part of why Pope fell in love with the Pig twenty years ago was the people who worked there.
“Any time you walk into a business and the staff is unhappy or unfriendly, it just spreads throughout the whole vibe of the place, so it's important for everyone to feel connected to the place where they spend so much of their time, and hopefully enjoy that,” Pope muses, acknowledging that it's still work and a job, but the atmosphere of the place is due in no small part to the fact that employees like bar manager Adam Lott do a great job of creating it.
“I always say to people that work here, 'Think of that bar like a stage,'” Pope says, drawing on his decades of live performances. “'Essentially, everybody's going to be looking at you, and for better or for worse, you're on display, here.'”
Also on display at the Bourgeois Pig are rotating monthly art exhibits from local and regional artists, many of whom – such as Alicia Kelly, Molly Murphy, and Wayne Probst – can be found hanging out at the bar and coffee shop on a regular basis.
“The more people on a local level we can involve with what we're doing here, the better,” Pope explains of the art and all the other local items on display. “Back to the whole idea of the community coffee shop/bar as a place where people come and take meetings or blow off steam or whatever needs to happen – I think people in Lawrence are searching for that, and if they're not, they go to Starbucks.”
Continuing on with the idea of community, it therefor makes perfect sense that the Bourgeois Pig would use Blue Collar Press for their merchandise.
“I've been friends with those guys since forever – since I was an adult,” recalls Pope, who was one of the original founders of Blue Collar, along with his brother, Rob, and the company's president, Sean Ingram. “They've continued to get better and better at what they do, and expand in what they're able to do, and – in my opinion – they're just one of the coolest local businesses around.”
Pope says that he wants to support not only his friends, but local businesses which are doing cool things and employing people of Lawrence, as well. Plus, he says, they have a brand there at the Pig, and they want to be able to work with that in terms of freshening up the brand's image with a haircut and a shave.
“We want to be able to do cool things, but also make that readily available,” he explains. “Blue Collar allows us to make that happen.”
Also in terms of community, Pope and the Bourgeois Pig will bring back their block party, the Big Pig. While the first installment took place during the summer of 2017, they took 2018 off, but return this year to again block off the section of 9th Street in front of the building. And this time, they're bringing air guitar.
Specifically, the stage in front of the Pig is where, on June 22, “the Midwest's best air guitarists battle it out to represent Lawrence in the US Air Guitar Championships in Nashville.”
“I mean, we're turning 25 this year,” Pope concludes. “We got to have a party.”