Bill Hanson and his brother-in-law Tommy Joyner were down the shore, watching the Phillies and drinking Scotch when Joyner got a phone call. The owner of a Center City building was looking for a tenant who would bring life to a long-neglected corner of Philadelphia.
After he hung up, Joyner looked at Hanson and asked, “Want to open a restaurant at 11th and Chestnut?” Hanson, who had worked in the restaurant business for more than a decade by then, immediately said yes.
In September 2011, the pair—along with business partner Jamie Lokoff, opened MilkBoy Philadelphia, a restaurant, bar and 200-person capacity music venue in the heart of the city.
Open for 19 hours per day, seven days per week, the spot has become a favorite hangout for music lovers, office workers, and doctors and nurses from Jefferson University Hospital, located across the street. MilkBoy has a “3rd shift” special, with the bar opening at 7 a.m. specifically for the folks in scrubs.
They specialize in canned beers, with around 30 varieties regularly available and another ten rotating with the seasons.
“I chose cans because it seemed more rock ‘n’ roll,” says Hanson, who worked for Stephen Starr, Jose Garces and the Hard Rock Café before joining forces with Joyner and Lokoff.
There are six brews on tap as well. “Our beer list is a microcosm of our band list,” Hanson says. There are a number of spectacular beers from across the country behind the bar— from The Brewer’s Art, Oskar Blues Brewery, Half Acre Beer Company and Sixpoint Brewery, among many others, with a sprinkling of local brews. It’s the same formula with their music— they have touring bands from around the world and they blend in local talent.
A South Jersey native, Hanson has always been around music. His father emigrated from Australia to America as a rock musician. His first job after graduating from Ithaca College was at the then-brand new Hard Rock Café in Atlantic City. He’s known and hung out with Joyner, a drummer who co-owns MilkBoy The Studio and MilkBoy Coffee in Ardmore with Lokoff, since the early 2000s when Joyner started dating Hanson’s sister Renee.
“Bill is my kind of guy,” says Joyner. “He works hard and he plays hard.”
With this location, the three owners think they have found a model they can replicate in other parts of the city. They are already shopping for another location.
“There’s a duality to this space,” says Hanson. “As a bar and restaurant, it could be thriving on its own. Music gives it a cool factor.”
The trio also dream about developing a larger venue, with a capacity for around 400 or 500 people. And they think they could take their business model—beer, food and music—to college towns across the country.
“People say that you should keep business and family separate,” says Joyner. “But I think that’s said by people who’ve never been in business with family. There are plenty of examples of successful family businesses, and we are striving to be another.”