Greenpoint’s metal bar, Saint Vitus, is a dream-come-true for local Renaissance man Justin Scurti. When he’s not at his custom-made hang-out, which he co-owns with his best friends, he’s playing guitar with Primitive Weapons and I Hate Our Freedom, touring the world as a guitar tech, and pursuing his fourth career as an accomplished rock photographer. We talked with him about balancing a handful of dream jobs, cheese steak steamed buns, and whether or not librarian-type ladies can mix with the metal heads at Saint Vitus.
The L: Where in Brooklyn do you live, how long have you been here, and where are you from originally?
Scurti: I currently live in Greenpoint. Been here for 2 years. Before that I was in Fort Greene for almost 2 years, after leaving Long Island City. Originally I’m born and raised in Queens.
The L: Can you tell us a little about your bar and restaurant experience, and how you ended up opening your own place?
Scurti: I started working in restaurants at 17 years old. I worked at a new Italian place in my neighborhood in Queens. My mom got me the job through one of her friends. I learned how to do everything there. Bus, serve, prep, cook, everything. Since then I’ve worked at the Zen Palate in Garden City, Long Island, Lil’ Frankie’s and Frank Restaurant in the East Village, Matchless in Greenpoint, and No.7 in Ft. Greene. My friendship with some of the guys at No.7 led to me getting involved with the right people and making my own place, Saint Vitus, happen. My best friends and I were able to finally do what we spoke about during so many late nights, while working at other places. You meet a lot of people in this world and sometimes the right person is listening.
The L: So, you’re a guitarist, a rock photographer and you’ve worked as a roadie, too? Can you tell us a little bit about how you ended up doing all this cool stuff?
Scurti: I started shooting photos in high school. Was on the year book staff using my Dad’s old Canon AE-1. I kept that camera on me through college and then left the college life to start working as a a customer service manager at Color Edge Labs. I dealt first-hand with the photographers and studio managers as well as all the magazine photo/art editors. As I started showing my book around, I started getting freelance work. After a while, I was getting too many jobs and it was time to join the freelance world. Then, I started getting the bigger jobs I dreamt of. Major label album covers, band promo pics and magazine features. I really wanted to document bands on tour, so I took a job as a guitar tech. Traveling, new adventures every day and unlimited access to the band for shooting, all while making a good living. And when i was off tour, I would continue to bar tend. Being around music all day every day kept me playing my own music and meeting more people to play with. I currently play in 2 bands. Primitive Weapons and I Hate Our Freedom. Both have records coming out in March. I also have a group photo show coming up March 3rd at Saint Vitus with some old friends. So I definitely get to mix it all together.
The L: A lot of people I talk to for this column work at a bar or restaurant to fund their artistic dreams. Is that the case for you, or is Saint Vitus as important to you as your music and photography work?
Scurti: Saint Vitus is Number 1 in my life. It’s a dream my partners and I have had for many, many, many years. In previous gigs it was all about funding my ability to leave for weeks and months at a time to be on the road traveling and learning. A lot of what you see at Saint Vitus comes from our experiences at other bars around the world. We were able to incorporate a little from everywhere. I am, however, about to begin touring for Primitive Weapons’ new record, along with one of my business partners, who is also a band mate. We are definitely fortunate to be our own bosses and have a third amazing partner who allows us to continue being artistic.
The L: Do you spend a lot of time working at the bar? Or, as an owner, do you get to stay at home and work on your photography and music?
Scurti: I am at the bar 7 days a week! I run the day-to-day part of the business. Inventory, stocking, ordering and dealing with purveyors and company reps. I also bar tend 4 nights a week and on busy nights I’m there just in case it really gets too busy. There are nights where it’s just 5 deep and raging. It’s nice to have a person to be able to run around to any of the areas that need attention weather it be the bar, food, door or live room. Or just an extra hand to change a keg. I’ve been told I’m there too much but, really, why would I wanna hang out anywhere else? I’m super proud of Saint Vitus and it’s the exact place I always wanted to hang at.
The L: So, how to you balance all your work?
Scurti: Again, luckily I have amazing partners. George, Arty and I are all touring musicians and have all been working in bars and restaurants for what seems forever. We are all there to cover each other if something comes up. I am fortunate that I also get work as a tour manager and guitar tech. I have stopped taking long tours but I can never say no to one-offs and mini tours. I love the work.
The L: Do you ever sleep?
Scurti: I often wonder this myself. Working long late hours for so many years my sleep schedule is pretty bizarre. There are nights where i sleep 3 to 4 hours a night and then there are days where I wind up sleeping 11 hours! Lately I have been trying to go to sleep at a normal hour, a request from my girlfriend, but I constantly dream about being at work and often wake up with work-related stuff on my mind.
The L: Oof. So what’s deal with the Saint Vitus Brew on draft at the bar?
Scurti: It’s a lager. Light, refreshing and CHEAP!
The L: I want to come to your bar and eat the cheese steak steamed buns, but I’m a bit librarian-ish. Is the St. Vitus crowd accepting of non-metal heads?
Scurti: ABSOLUTELY!!!! We have definitely been put into the “Metal Bar” niche but there are plenty of people of all types here all the time. Depending on the day and the show you can gauge what the crowd is going to be like. But there are plenty of indie-type shows here as well as the heavy stuff. And we have a really great cast of regulars, neighbors that love the food, beer and good vibe. We all bar tend and try to have a good time while working, and the cheese steak buns are way worth the trip!
The L: Okay, I’ll just try not to wear my new polka dot cardigan when I come by.
Scurti: I’m sure polka dots will fit right in… just look at Randy Rhoads, Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist for many of the good years.