If you’ve ever cozied up to the beautiful bar at northern Greenpoint’s Milk and Roses (1110 Manhattan Avenue), you may have met a particularly charismatic French bartender named Simon. If you have ventured to ask him about his life, you have likely heard a tale as steeped in adventure and romance as the most swashbuckling of old Hollywood screenplays. However, it is not the plot line of some seductive old silver screen flick, it is the tale of Simon’s own life, which began under a gypsy moon at Lenox Hill Hospital.
Simon was born on New York’s Upper East Side in the mid-eighties. When asked about his French parents in New York, Simon replies with a nonchalant smile, “It was the late seventies, early eighties, they were just having fun.”
The more you talk to Simon, the more you realize how much this devil-may-care attitude has informed every decision he’s ever made, leading to a life that has, in its’ own small way, redefined the phrases “carpe diem” and “laissez les bon temps rouler.”
As a toddler, Simon moved to Lyon, France with his parents, where he grew up and developed an interest in woodworking from his painter/carpenter father. He attended a two-year vocational school for carpentry called Le Lycée professional Georges Lamarque, which he graduated from at 15. After graduation, he moved to Bordeaux, where he started working in restaurants.
Before he knew it, ten years had flown by and Simon was looking for a new adventure. On a whim, Simon decided one day that he would travel to New York and explore the land of his birth.
“I wanted to check out the place,” he says casually. “So, I packed up my little backpack, took the couple thousand dollars I had saved and came here with no family, no job, no apartment, no friends, no nothing.”
Simon quickly found an apartment in the East Village, and over his first eight months in NY proceeded to work at such establishments as the now defunct Casimir in the East Village and Parigot in SoHo. Everything went well until suddenly, he lost his job. However, rather than seeing this as a reason to worry, Simon saw it in his typically roguish fashion as a reason to live a little.
So, he and a friend set out on a Kerouac-inspired road trip across America. Over several months, they visited such cities as Miami, Key West, Tallahassee, New Orleans, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Austin, Taos, and Alpine. It was an incredible trip, until, after a particularly festive display of New Year’s Eve bacchanalia in California, they awoke to a harsh realization – they were broke.
They hightailed it back to NY, where Simon found himself unemployed and crashing on a friend’s couch in Harlem. However, he soon found an opening at Milk and Roses, a place he had been once before and remembered fondly for its’ beautiful garden, delicious southern Italian-inspired menu, and generally enchanting atmosphere.
Delighted with his new job, Simon devoted himself to his work, and moved to the Bronx for super cheap rent. The commute was terrible, but there was a bright side—he finally had a spacious backyard, which perfectly accommodated a yearning that had been steadily growing in him—to return to his carpentry.
Feeling inspired, Simon contacted his father and asked if he still had the plans for a beautiful Adirondack chair he remembered him crafting as a child. He said he did, and that he would send them stateside as soon as possible.
Working with his hands again, Simon felt his passion for woodworking return with overwhelming intensity. After completing a few projects in his Bronx backyard, he found a similarly spacious place on Box Street in Greenpoint.
Now with a commute not even long enough for a morning cigarette, things were really coming together for Simon. He had lots of free time and felt invigorated by the industrial, waterfront energy of Greenpoint, an area says is rife with welders, woodworkers, sculptors and other artists.
To put the serendipitous cherry on top, Simon soon met a patron who happened to be a professional carpenter with studio space at the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center. They struck an agreement where Simon could work nights and weekends at the studio and have access to all the tools he needed for cheap.
Now, after about two years in the U.S., Simon spends several days a week working at Milk and Roses and does carpentry in his free time. In order to keep costs low and truly suffuse his creations with DIY spirit, he gathers all of the wood for his projects from pallets salvaged around Greenpoint.
He describes his style as rustic and simple outdoor furniture, including flowerbeds, tables, and chairs. He currently has four pieces under commission, mostly for friends, and is open to taking orders from anyone that is interested (if you’d like to request something, he recommends coming by Milk and Roses, enjoying a cocktail and asking for Simon the Frenchie.)
He says Greenpoint has been the perfect home for his work, although when asked about any possible dream projects, he responds with his typical troubadour charm.
“If I ever became patient and skilled enough, I think I’d built a sailboat,” he smiles. “Something small enough for one person to sail but big enough to be comfortable. I would build this beautiful boat, hop on it, and just say bye!”
You can find Simon mixing delicious cocktails at the oh-so charming Milk and Roses (1110 Manhattan Avenue) in Greenpoint.