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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hat Rack Pub: Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Lorena Villalobos knew what was missing from Laveen after a trip to England three years ago.

“I loved the whole pub feel,” she said. “Nobody cared who you were or what you looked like. It had such a neighborhood camaraderie.”

A year after she returned, she developed a business plan for a pub in four months, and signed a lease in the Laveen Pavilion plaza at 35th Avenue and Southern two months after that. The Hat Rack Pub opened Aug. 6.

Ever since, it’s been bringing residents of Laveen together, providing a casual, friendly gathering spot that’s built a regular following. Villalobos knows her customers by name, and they comfortably kid with her and her boyfriend, Phillip Alvarado, who tends bar.

Patrons chat with each other as if they were long-lost friends. Another bartender, Justin Randall, pretends to bang out a tune on the player piano and hams it up to a round of applause.

Daryl Forbes of Laveen compares the Hat Rack Pub to Cheers, saying it has a “down-home feeling.”

Villalobos said area residents who didn’t know each other before have met at the pub and formed relationships. Forbes agreed.

“I’ve met a lot of my neighbors in here,” he said. “I come here three to four nights a week for a little while.”

Laveen resident Tracee Rogers ran into neighbors one Tuesday, in fact.

“They live two doors down from me,” she said after greeting them. “I haven’t seen them in over a month.”

Forbes also enjoys football on Sunday night and Monday Night Football on the bar’s several big-screen TVs, and has a fantasy football league with other patrons. He also likes that they only serve beer and wine, no hard liquor, so things don’t get out of hand.

“My family comes in here,” he said, including his wife, sons and daughters-in-law. “It’s a safe place.”

The pub serves 10 beers on tap and 20 by the bottle, and 11 wines that Villalobos plans to rotate. Some beers will be seasonal as well. Villalobos learned about beer while working at Bennigan’s and then began attending beer festivals and beer samplings.

She also loves to cook, saying, “I was raised in the kitchen. My grandmother was awesome.”

The menu has evolved since the opening days of just cheese and meat plates. Now, she offers fish and chips, a roasted turkey leg, mozzarella sticks and other bar favorites. But everything is baked, not fried.

And on special occasions, Villalobos makes homemade tacos with juicy beef that’s stewed in the slow-cooker overnight along with spicy homemade salsa for $1 each. The first time she offered them, before her kitchen was up and running, she didn’t realize how popular they’d be.

“I sold over 200 tacos that night,” she said.

Mike Nordenstrom, who lives three streets from the pub, said he’s “tried to conquer everything on the menu.” He said he’s been to other places in the neighborhood just to grab a bite, but the Hat Rack Pub is not just food, he said; it’s “more of an experience.”

The bar has a traditional set-up, with a long bar on the left as you walk in, tables in the middle, and a booth on the right wall made from old church pews that Villalobos bought online for $50. Table bases are made from Napa Valley wine barrels.

In the front, the sofa and plasma TV are for relaxing in the “memory lounge,” a corner Villalobos has dedicated to family and friends who have passed.

She started the process of ownership while working in Information Technology for University of Phoenix. It took a year for everything to come together after numerous setbacks, including contractor issues, plumbing problems and added costs stemming from stolen TVs and stolen copper from the air conditioning unit.

Also, the day she was supposed to attend a liquor license hearing, she had to have emergency surgery.

“Everything that could have possibly happened during the opening happened,” Villalobos said.

Then, just a few weeks after opening, she got laid off from her day job.

But it was worth all the work to be her own boss and have her own place, she said. Besides, she added, the hardest battle of her life was beating thyroid cancer – twice. The first time, at age 18, she had her thyroid removed, so she was incredulous when it returned at age 28. Now, she’s clear again.

“This cannot be that difficult,” Villalobos said. “I already went through the hard parts.”

Hat Rack Pub

What: The Hat Rack Pub got its name from Lorena Villalobos’ former boss. When she had a good idea, he’d tell her, “See? It’s more than just a hat rack,” and point to her head. She incorporated the saying after getting the bright idea to start her own business.

Where: 3320 W. Southern Ave., Suite 120, Phoenix.

Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sundays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Information: (602) 268-2226.

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