"It's been an ordeal," says Joe Phillips of opening Fellow Traveler
— a five-year-long ordeal, to be exact. After working as a bartender for years, including nearly a decade at Sputnik, Phillips knew that bartending wasn't sustainable as a career. "I was tired; it's hard work," he admits. So in 2017, he began the process of opening what he calls "the bar that I would like to go to."
But then the first two potential locations for Fellow Traveler fell through. After running into more trouble securing a liquor license for a space in West Wash Park, Phillips and the bar's co-owners, Singkorn Dhawornvej and Phillips's wife, Kimberly Kutt, looked at 3487 South Broadway in Englewood and decided to purchase the building.
The team was working toward a June 2020 opening when, as the pandemic worsened and the future for bars and restaurants looked bleak, the bank decided to pull out three days before the loan was supposed to come through. "We had to scramble," Phillips says, explaining that they borrowed from family members and mortgaged their homes in order to finance the project themselves.
And now Fellow Traveler is finally becoming a reality, and will celebrate its grand opening on Friday, January 21, at 5 p.m. "It's hard to wrap my brain around," Phillips admits. "Over the course of years, you start wondering, 'Is this even going to happen?'"
The name is in part a nod to Sputnik — which means "fellow traveler." As Philips notes, the bar with that name, at 3 South Broadway, "was my home for so many years." The term also has a history of being used by groups like the LGBTQ community to identify allies, a fact that aligns with Phillips's own "left of center" politics. Plus, it refers to the inspiration that he's taken from his actual travels with his wife, particularly in Spain and France.
"The goal is to make this a place that would fit everyone," Phillips says, whether you're looking for a $3 domestic beer or a $40 pour of bourbon. But there is one thing you won't find here: meat. Phillips has been a vegetarian for a number of years and wanted his bar to serve the kind of food he enjoys eating. Chef Ross Pullen, who most recently ran his own takeout and delivery vegan barbecue concept, JackBeQue, will head up the kitchen.
"We want to make food that your great-grandmother would have made," Phillips says — if your great-grandmother made whole, vegetable-forward dishes that didn't lean on meat substitutes. The kitchen will be open until midnight for a much-needed late-night food option in the area; along with lunch and dinner, a weekend brunch will also be available on Saturdays and Sundays.
"I would love for more people to embrace a meat-free lifestyle," Phillips notes, adding that he's inspired by restaurants like Somebody People, which serves Mediterranean-inspired food that just happens to be vegan.
Though the opening date is finally in sight, Phillips knows that Fellow Traveler will continue to evolve. "Kindness and curiosity" are the drivers for his team, he says, "so teaching and learning from each other" is the next phase of the plan.
Fellow Traveler is located at 3487 South Broadway and will be open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to close Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit fellowtravelerenglewood.com.