HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY
Taking its name from owner Chris Schiavo’s Beat-inspired novel celebrating the duality in man, Haledon’s SHEPHERD & KNUCKLEHEAD began slinging suds in 1998 at the very beginning of America’s gloriously ascending craft beer movement – alongside Bogota’s highly respected Andy’s Corner Bar and Caldwell’s Cloverleaf Tavern.
During September 2016, S & K opened its second location at Willow Avenue in Hoboken and immediately scored points with local denizens. And the dichotomy between the good shepherd and the marred knucklehead could also somehow relate to the duality of S & K’s two locations. While the original Haledon pub is a no-nonsense craft beer dive bar with an unassuming atmosphere, tight seating arrangements, small bar areas and discriminating beer geeks tucked inside suburban splendor, Hoboken’s larger sportsbar space boasts a more diversified clientele, twenty spread-out tables, an elongated 12-seat copper-topped wooden bar, an experienced mixologist and upscale urban locale.
A historic figure in Jersey’s craft beer scene, entrepreneurial sommelier Chris Schiavo gained experience working for Super Cellars and Grand Opening Liquors. After S & K gained prominence, he entrusted son, Joe, with the daily operations while hoping to expand business beyond the William Paterson University locale.
It took the Schiavo’s a few years of negotiation, but they finally obtained a centralized hotspot inside Hoboken’s central corridor on a main thoroughfare entering the Mile Square city. Besides boasting 60 taps and a steak-dominant food menu, there are 23 TV’s for beer-centric sports enthusiasts to enjoy. Industrial metal chairs and wooden table tops don the remodeled wood floor across from the brick-walled left side bar and exposed ducts crowd the high ceiling.
Upon my initial September visit, I consumed eight previously untried libations (all reviewed fully in Beer Index) while conversing with Joe Schiavo, his mixologist and a few suppertime commuters. Perhaps my favorite, enduringly fruitful strong ale, Ellicottville Pantius Droppus imperial IPA, recalled a syrupy malt-enriched Sangria-bound barleywine.
But the rest of my tastings were lighter summertime fare. Hoppy American wheat ale, Bolero Snort Bullringue, and citrus-soured Bolero Snort Kowabunga Kolsch, sported delicate lemony resilience. Approachable citric-pined IPA, Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion, led to the easygoing citric-floral serenity of Boulevard Tropical Pale Ale and the lemony passionfruit tranquility of Green Flash Passion Fruit Kicker. Soft-toned raspberry-candied Harpoon R.A.Z. and mild raw-honeyed Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest Marzen also sufficed.
“We’ve been trying to open up in Hoboken for four years,” Joe Schiavo offers as I quaff suds. “It fits our demographic the right way. The crowd that lives here appreciates quality beer, wine and cocktails. We sell American craft beer unlike anyone around here. We have 60 taps and a lot of diversity.”
Knowing Hoboken was a big sports town, S & K made sure to please the crowd. And based on the amount of beer sold during the first weekend, it was a good call.
“We kicked 20 kegs in three days. But we also concentrate on getting valued spirits, handcrafted cocktails and a Happy Hour that draws the vast train crowd. We try to make this there first stop before heading home,” Schiavo insists.
As for the spirits, veteran mixologist Craig Schiedlo started at Jersey’s Morris Tap & Grill before working at Manhattan’s established Dead Rabbit and Death & Co. The competition-proven Schiedlo uses fresh ingredients (such as kale) to create relatively strong cocktails from hand-selected liquor poured into different vessels, glassware and gadgets that heighten the ambiance.
“We’d like to eventually expand beyond Hoboken – perhaps Manhattan, Jersey City, Denver and San Francisco. Those are places that interest us,” Schiavo claims before getting busy with his staff.