Tag Archives: JERSEY CITY NJ

IRON MONKEY

IRON MONKEY’S YARDS NIGHT UNDER JUNE MOON IN JERSEY CITY

On a beautiful early June eve in 2012 I finally got the chance to peruse the wholly revitalized Jersey City financial district at a highly praised drinking establishment founded when the craft beer revolution exploded upon the Jersey scene in’96. Thanks to a much needed and overdue redevelopment and beautification program, this Hudson River sanctuary across from Lower Manhattan (and staring out at Lady Liberty) has gained belated prominence over the past decade.

Once a destitute urban wasteland filled with political corruption, shattered railyards, and rundown factories, Jersey City’s reputation changed with the building of several upscale riverfront properties, shopping plazas, residential towers, and waterfront walkways. Best of all, a local red-bricked tavern with a wiry iron monkey figure and baby blue sign with beige insignia changed the way these territorial beer drinkers viewed handcrafted American brews and vintage imports.

Tucked into its downtown Greene Street neighborhood on the York Street corner, IRON MONKEY RESTAURANT & BAR serves over 100 bottled beers and a dozen tapped beers at any given time. Owned by Steve Mc Entire, a local entrepreneur whose meditational ’80s China trip inspired him to open a successful restaurant-bar, this narrow 4-tiered tavern appears out of place amongst the mammoth multi-office edifices in its modernistic urban surroundings, but local businessmen and post-teens keep this intimately rustic hotspot going.

Two benches, a chalkboard menu, and neon beer signs welcome patrons to the ground-floored, low-ceilinged, slate-topped right side bar. Sanctified beer bottles line the walls and a glass mural centers the 12-seat bar, where a few TV’s are tucked into the corners and 24 tap handles serve only the finest craft beers.

Patriarchal mahogany stairs lead to the second-floored 4-seat bar (with several family-styled tables, olden tiled ceiling, gothic-draped windows, taupe walls, and antique wood-steel furnishings). Beyond the third floor open kitchen lies an upper deck open-air 5-seat bar serving red umbrella-sheltered lunch tables. A copper water wall with greenish oxidized patina and an adjacent building serving as a video projection screen add to the coolness factor.

As Oasis’ heavenly “Champagne Supernova” blared from the rooftop patio speakers, my wife and I struggle to find space in the cozily cramped outdoor confines for this evening’s highly anticipated event, YARDS MEET THE BREWER NIGHT. Celebrating Philadelphia’s oldest living microbrewery (established 1994) with 6 well-priced libations, Iron Monkey is packed to the hilt tonight. The highest demand is for Yards India Pale Ale, which was finished off by 9 PM.

Founded by Tom Kehoe and Jon Bovit, who’d previously worked at an English-styled Maryland brewery, Yards Brewing Company began as a garage-sized operation in the yuppie-like Manayunk section in northwest Philadelphia, crafting Yards Entire Porter and an adjunct non-spiced golden barleywine, Old Bart. Soon after, caramel-honeyed, almond-toasted, off-dry conqueror Extra Special Ale debuted at ‘95s Philadelphia Beer Festival, increasing Yards recognition.

From 2001 to 2007, Yards moved to the Kensington area of Philly, but the space became too tight and the brew crew had to move yet again, allowing the smaller Philadelphia Brewing Company to thrive better in this former spot.

Now stationed at the Northern Liberties district north of Philly’s Center City, Yards gets respect for being the first 100% wind powered brewery in Pennsylvania. In fact, this very ‘Green-leaning’ brewery recycles hot water and cardboard, provides spent grain for local farm animals, and even uses salvaged mahogany trim for its bar and walls.

After ordering my Yardage samplers, we decided to sample each refreshing tasting at the less populous second floor bar, where the taps serve Lindeman’s Framboise and Peche, two world-class Belgian lambics, plus exotic herb-spiced, rye-dried, Finnish-styled Dogfish Head Sahtea. My wife, Karen, had to get her fruit juices going, settling into the middling Boulder Kinda Blue Blueberry Wheat Ale while I ripped into the previously untried Yards Brawler Pugilist-Style Ale.

A soft-tongued, dry-toned, bronze-bodied, English dark mild ale, the feisty-named Brawler Pugilist brought brown-sugared, raisin-greened, port-sauced, plum-fig-apricot illusions to coffee-iced chocolate nibs duskiness, picking up ashen nuttiness as well as chamomile tea herbage along the way. It’s claim as a pugilist styled ale may be a bit overstated for such a calming moderation. Perhaps, it’s only supposed to be a welterweight boxer they’re trying to emulate.

As a bunch of admirable post-collegiate craft beer denizens begin to assemble at the bar behind us, we’re now in very close quarters, unable to freely swing an arm or stretch a leg. But I feel fortunate to be here since a rep from Hunderdon Distributors that came earlier never gained access due to the incommodious dinner time conditions. She had to go elsewhere in Jersey City to find a cool brew, but then admitted to being a bit impatient following the heavy traffic conditions pre-Fourth Of July. At least we’re seated. And I’ll need to be for the more Herculean 18th century presidential offering about to reach my lips.

One of Yard’s ‘Ales of the Revolution,’ which includes General Washington’s Tavern Porter and Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce Ale (in honor of Ben Franklin’s 300th birthday), the exquisite Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale was originally made with ingredients grown at the ex-prez’s self-sufficient Monticello, Virginia estate. A fully expressive English Strong Ale, the Jeffersonian vintage placed honey-sugared caramel malts and butterscotch spice caking atop berry, citrus, and quince fruiting ‘til its gin-soaked, ethanol-burnt aftertaste threatened to overwhelm the 8% alcohol elixir. It got the eyes bleary, numbed the body, and ultimately pleased three of my five senses.

Moving on…

Yards boss, Tom Kehoe, claims he liked Bass Ale and wanted to make a beer that retained similar characteristics, resulting in the beefed-up chocolate malting of Yards Extra Special Ale. At Iron Monkey this eve, the subtler cask version of the bottle-conditioned ale was available for scrutinizing. Its cherry, citrus, and berry illusions stand out a bit more as the frisky spice hop tingle of the bottled edition gets toned down against the enhanced fruited niceties.

Yards Saison Belgian-Style Ale benefited most from its tapped version, escalating its peppery-hopped, orange-peeled, lemony grapefruit bittering and counteractive sugared spicing.

Though I didn’t get to try the ever-popular English-styled Philadelphia Pale Ale at this mobbed shindig, its bottled version had a sourdough buttering that usurped the understated wheat-chaffed dryness and roasted hop bitterness.

Now and then, Yard’s onsite tasting room, open from noon to 7 PM Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 PM Sundays, features ambitious tap-only concoctions such as bourbon barrel aged beers and other one-off specialties. But customers will also find 6-packs, half-gallon growlers, cases, kegs, and pints of their favorite delectable liquids as well.

In its newest warehouse space on North Delaware Avenue since 2008, this ascending microbrewery continues to craft quality beers and ales for essential East Coast imbibing. Surely, as proven here at Iron Monkey, there’s a major interest from Jersey City’s proudly elitist craft brew hounds, heretofore labeled ‘brewpies,’ courtesy of Mercury Brewing’s head zymurgist James Dorau.

www.ironmonkey.com

 

BARCADE – JERSEY CITY

BARCADE EXPANDS TO JERSEY CITY AND BEYOND…

-John Fortunato

Barcade introduced one of the best original concepts for a craft beer bar during 2004. Its five owners, led by hands-on entrepreneur Paul Kermizian, wanted to re-invigorate the homey recreational experience of drinking beers with close pals while playing vintage arcade games. The novel whim would prove to be the coolest idea for an urban pub common city folk would like to hang out at, much like Kermizian’s Brooklyn apartment had been theretofore.

Barcade’s nascent Union Avenue post in the trendy Williamsburg section of Brooklyn has continually increased its customer base over seven years, allowing westward expansion to Jersey City and Philadelphia in 2011. Not only does each Barcade site offer 24 revolving taps of respectable American beers, the caliginous metropolitan clubs also feature select stateside liquor plus red and white wine. Furthermore, each location keeps it green by utilizing 100% wind-powered turbines instead of electricity.

“We keep our theme of having only American craft beer on our taps,” Kermizian says as we celebrate Weyerbacher Night in early November. “Two-thirds of the beers come from the local northeast corridor and two-thirds are sessionable beers the general public enjoys. There are only eight or nine strong Big Beers on tap at any given time because there’s only so many people who’ll drink 10% alcohol beer. That’s a cutoff. But we always try to be flexible and stylistically diversified. We always have the basics – a pilsner, India Pale Ale, and stout available. The rest we play around with.”

I originally met the dark-haired Kermizian after conducting a phone interview for American Beer, an insightful travelogue documenting forty national breweries the Bound Brook native perused with four close friends, three of whom co-own Barcade. We were at a High Times softball game with fellow documentary pal (and Cape Ann brewer) Jeremy Goldberg quaffing several Canadian brews bought during my family trip to Niagara Falls. Then, I introduced him to high profile Ipswich brewer, James Dorau, who’d brought down a few sixtels of rich and creamy Ipswich Oatmeal Stout for Barcade to tap in November ‘05.

Over the years, I revisited Barcade prior to many chic Williamsburg rock shows, trying my hand at Frogger, Pac Man, and Donkey Kong. Though known by some as a nerdy hipster joint, there was always a multifarious assemblage of people on hand at this former metal shop. Word spread and regional growth was just around the corner.

For my first trip to the Jersey City-based Barcade, Allagash Night got celebrated on a rainy October afternoon. An amazing 22 dedicated taps served the Portland, Maine brewers’ wild, sour, Belgian-styled and traditional beer styles. A former Washington Mutual Bank, Barcade’s newest hotspot across the Hudson River opened April, 2011. Its priceless corner spot, in close proximity to the Path Train, has a sandalwood exterior and lengthy front side windows. The high-ceiling black-walled interior nearly doubles the size of Brooklyn’s inceptive space. Six re-purposed wood tables centralize the elongated right side bar and left-walled gaming area.

The recently completed Philadelphia-based Barcade, situated in the gentrified Delaware River waterfront village, Fishtown, was chosen for its similarly fashioned industrial art community.

Besides 24 taps and 35 games, the new two Barcade’s also serve food. In Jersey City, General Manager Al Bacchiochi handles cuisine duties. A onetime kitchen worker at a private midtown Manhattan cigar bar, he brings plenty of experience to the table. He’d worked for Brooklyn Brewery’s sales force in the mid-‘90s, gaining a keen perspective into the beer scene.

“Al is a former chef,” Kermizian explains as he serves up Weyerbacher’s 14th Anniversary Wheat Wine during Weyerbacher Night a week after my initial Jersey City venture. “We wanted to bring in someone knowledgeable about preparing food and helping us choose appropriate beers. We told him to run with it and have fun.”

Whether trying the pickled hop shoots from a Washington State farm or the rosemary uncured ham, each short dish from the small bar side kitchen is handled with utmost care. And the sandwiches and cheeses look yummier than the usual bar food.

“The food in Philly is based on the same concept, but there’s also a yard so we could take advantage of a smoker for meats,” Kermizian informs as he pours a cinnamon-nutmeg-spiced Weyerbacher Pumpkin Ale from a hallowed-out pumpkin.

Though Jersey City’s site had much better structural integrity, Philly’s larger Barcade was carved out of an all-wood old carriage house (with a back barn and side yard). Construction began at the same time, but the very detailed work at the Philly spot took more time to shape up, even if Jersey’s antiquated liquor laws burden most startup beer bars.

“New Jersey’s bar scene is pretty clandestine except for Jersey City,” Bacchiochi divulges. “Fortunately, most of our clientele is young professionals that are serious craft beer enthusiasts. Jersey City’s transportation is easily accessible and we have a lot of customers within walking distance.”

ZEPPELIN HALL

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JERSEY CITY’S ZEPPELIN HALL STANDS TALL

Fabulousness is nothing new to Zeppelin Hall proprietor, John Argento. The former owner of New York City’s premier ‘80s nightclub, Danceteria, now runs the Garden State’s largest German biergarten. Including its three-room interior, the 26,000 square foot public house truly does dwarf any competition in both expanse and draught selection.

“Danceteria was more interested in being fabulous than rich,” Argento says as we sit in his loft office. “We were always working on a budget and four weeks from bankruptcy. We were drawn into getting our name on Page 6 (of the Daily News) than buying Jersey Shore houses. You learn to be lean and mean and that’s how I run Zeppelin Hall.”

Taking its aerostat name from rigid airship inventor, Count Von Zeppelin, this luxuriously detailed ground floor space in Jersey City’s newly developed Liberty View was a raw shell of a building when local developer Peter Mocco recruited his pal Argento to take charge. They had already turned Jersey City’s Sand Bar into a successful restaurant lounge in the ‘90s – before Argento went to culinary school and got ‘headhunted’ to be General Manager of Queens-based Bohemian Hall.

Though Bohemian Hall offered good business, high income and low expenses, Argento claims the place looked like a 1970’s basement with drab wood panel. However, he enjoyed its ethnic diversity and interesting mix of business professionals and young artists.

“A poorly managed Czech Society owned Bohemian Hall, New York’s oldest biergarten,” Argento explains. “But it was crowded seven days a week. Lunchtime would gather 800 people. Peter came over unexpectedly one Saturday afternoon. There was a line down the block. Realizing nightclubs only made money from 10 to 2 in the morning twice a week, I knew the biergarten concept was being underutilized. People of all shapes, sizes and color sharing a common economic level came to enjoy sausages and beer on a beautiful day. Nightclubs segregated their population to narrow bins.”

Since Czech pilsners and lagers lack stylistic diversity, Argento wanted to open a Pan-European bar that took in Belgian beers, German wheats, British bitters and American micros as well. An astounding 144 taps were installed. He expected 400 people on a Thursday night soft opening in June ’09, but instead got 1,200 during a rainstorm. Some complained the first few nights because getting a beer from the understaffed bartending crew was difficult. Thereafter, an expanded staff was hired to cater as many as 2,000 varied customers at any given time.

“People thought I was crazy opening a mammoth space in the middle of nowhere – Jersey City’s ass end wasteland before revitalization. But it became a destination location,” he concedes. “You can’t survive as a local neighborhood bar here. But people will come to a big place with a wide beer selection because it’s a Happening.”

Unlimited free parking, path train access, and easy waterway transport afford Zeppelin Hall plenty of traffic. Upon entering, the Pub Room offers homey warmth with its stone fireplace (with overhead projection screen), multiple cafeteria-styled wood tables, and ample J-shape bar.

The middle room has a small stage area and a template of a German castle and Bavarian village sidling the open kitchen (serving pretzels, schnitzels, bratwurst, kielbasa). Filigreed iron doors lead to The Ratskeller, a 9-tabled 12-tap banquet spread with a beautiful nighttime view of Manhattan from the tall glass windows.

Then, there’s the festive biergarten featuring a tile walking plaza, 48 outdoor taps, London plane trees, and German-styled gravel ground. Backing up to the rail line, this colossal 12,000 square foot courtyard proves no stone has been left unturned.

“At age 50, I knew I had to get out of Danceteria’s trendy edge, beating my head against the wall appealing to only 5% of the people who went out nightly,” he asserts. “I’d send a booking agent twice a week to Manchester, England to book popular British bands, bringing the Smiths over and becoming the first to play Bananarama, Sade and Soft Cell. Billy Idol debuted “White Wedding” there. After culinary school, I tried to do something that’d appeal to the other 95%.”

During my inaugural November trip, hotshot beer mavens such as Hunterdon Distributors’ Dan Masterson, Flying Dog owner Jim Caruso and Victory Brewery sales rep Steve Gates stop by to enjoy a pop. There are some post-collegiate types, several white-collar businessmen, a few lab technicians and two moms with three kids on hand.

“There’s a German word, gemutlichkeit, which means a sense of well being or coziness amongst friends,” Argento elucidates. “That’s what we engender here. We encourage people to talk – a lost art amongst singles bars where people dress to the nines. It’s very low pressure. I don’t need any drama at this point of my life.”

So check out the capacious beer hall with the weirdly rock and roll-styled name that’s clearly connected to Jersey’s Hindenberg disaster or dare to miss out on one of the most unique drinking experiences you’ll ever encounter.