LITTLE FALLS, NEW JERSEY
An exquisite upscale sportsbar, 381 MAIN BAR & GRILL sure knows how to throw a great autumnal Saturday beer bash. Inviting every Jersey microbrewery to bring sixtels, kegs or bottles of their finest offerings for a sunny October 2011 afternoon shindig proved to be quite successful, as local patrons, eager beer geeks, and a host of brewers enjoyed the clean ambience and friendly interaction of this former martini lounge.
During November 2010, owner Steve Baskinger converted his hitherto fluffy white parlor into a sandstone-trimmed ruddy maroon tavern. He’d already run Woodland Park’s flourishing Bask Bar & Grill for a decade and though he owned 381 Main’s capacious one-room space since ’05, the martini lounge idea ultimately proved limited in its appeal, especially the restrictive nighttime consumer base. The Little Falls native, experienced in all aspects of the bar business, worked as a dishwasher, busboy, and waiter before becoming a cruise ship activities director and then taking a job in the entertainment biz.
“The challenge of making money in this business keeps me going,” Baskinger snickers as I indulge in an easygoing pumpkin-spiced, pie-crusted, crystal-malted River Horse Hippo-Lantern Imperial Pumpkin.
“The difference between the martini bar and my new place is we do food, we’re open seven days per week, and it’s a more lucrative business. We have better hours of operation and better clientele. Even the music’s changed. We have a jukebox now and fresh draft beer,” Baskinger says of his totally redesigned space.
Across from an elevated DJ booth, Addams Family’s black-suited Mortimer welcomes patrons through the front entrance of this pristinely adorned nightclub-like pub. Several hi-definition TV’s enliven the left side bar, where several college football games capture my attention between conversations.
The beautiful bronze-glazed rusted steel countertop complements ample mahogany wood furnishings and liquor shelving. Two ‘Big Ass’ airplane-winged fans hang from the midst and seasonal pumpkin lanterns light the front two window tables while low-voltage track lighting brightens the 15-seat bar area.
Ruddy-hued walls are brought to life by painted sharks, gold record plaques (Jimi Hendrix/ Aerosmith/ Motley Crue/ Limp Bizkit), Rangers and Yankees surfboards, and a Jets stingray. For those seeking an outdoor retreat, a gray-partitioned back patio with pre-cast concrete-tiled floors contains a large enough awning to cover a widescreen TV and a few speakers.
Though Coors and Miller Lite regularly outsell Guinness Stout and the four varied craft beers on tap, there has been an increasing awareness of microbrewed product. An efficient food menu includes reasonably priced brick oven pizza, massive burgers, amazing wings and hearty sandwiches. I got to try the bratwurst with sauerkraut while imbibing the tapped version of ethanol-fueled, clay-hopped, peach-orange-fruited Cricket Hill Colonel Blides Altbier.
“Sometimes we might have a daily special for one micro beer,” Baskinger claims. “And we may tweak the aesthetics. But we already have top-of-the-line sound and video systems, high quality liquor and good beer.”
In fact, this initial New Jersey Craft Beer celebration proved to be a very memorable experience. At 1 PM, 381 Main was filling up. By 2 PM, the bar was two-deep with enthusiastic guzzlers. The party reached fruition in quite a hurry.
As Michigan State upsets Michigan on TV, I get poured Hoffmann Oktoberfest, an autumn-spiced, leafy-hopped moderation with light citrus illusions crafted by long-time Climax Brewery owner, Dave Hoffmann. In comparison, Flying Fish Oktoberfish (10th Anniversary edition) preferred up-front pumpkin spising to citric leanings. Its astringent grassy-hopped oats toasting embraced the dsweet pumpkin pie frontage as well as the ripe apricot-orange glaze.
Some people started gathering at the six windowed side tables across from the bar as I began quaffing impeccable seasonal, Ramstein Double Platinum. On tap, its advertised apple-clove spicing takes a backseat to brisk orange-fruited brightness.
Then came creamy caramel malted, Belgian yeast candied, white-peppered delight, River Horse Tripel Horse and another worthy River Horse selection, German dark wheat-styled Dunkelweizen, which brought orange-oiled banana-clove spicing to wintry gingerbread notes. Loaded with just as much creamy caramel-malted dried fruiting was Boaks Two Blind Monks, a Belgian-styled dubbel overlaying candied yeast with fig, prune and raisin imprints.
Originally from North Arlington, internet marketer John Fladung was key in promoting 381 Main’s craft beer event. Throughout the afternoon, the diligent busybody stopped by the tables and bar to make sure everyone was happy and well served. A long-time beer lover, Fladung boasted about this years’ version of Cricket Hill Nocturne, a peat-smoked, cocoa-powdered, black chocolate-chalked Munich dunkel (dark ale) premiered on tap this crisp autumn day.
Before 3 o’clock arrived, the most anticipated beer of the session was tapped. Since there was only a sixtel of this one-time seasonal available, nearly everyone had their eyes on the three bartenders because they didn’t want to be left out in the cold not getting the chance to investigate the delicious elixir. But the wait was worth it as Carton Pumpkin Cream Ale made quite a splash for the new Atlantic Highlands nanobrewery. A special limited edition brew just right for the fall, its pearly white meringue head covered the gold-hazed body of this creamy pumpkin-spiced sensation. Cotton candy, lemon meringue, bruised banana and light herbs provided subsidiary illusions above its wet-papered clay hop plasticity.
Whether amassing the working class for after work ‘pops’ or serving the family crowd for early dinners, 381 Main has a lot to recommend. Let’s not forget the symmetrically placed multi-TV’s sprawling across the bar encouraging sports fans of all stripes to come on down and have a few nightcaps.
There’s something to be said about the calm solemnity and relaxed solitude of being the only patron at the bar during its pre-noon opening. After stopping by nearby Totowa’s excellent Wine & Beverage Depot (buying Climax Tuxedo Stout), I hit Little Falls pristine cocktail bar, 381 MAIN, once again.
Owner Steve Baskinger’s made this lounge-y hangout the perfect sportsbar for craft beer enthusiasts. Beer enthusiast-promoter John Fladung boasted, “There’ve been a few brewery events like this, but this type serves all Jersey brewers in one spot.”
On this crisp and sunny November 2012 jaunt, I hit the one-room hotspot for some excellent wintry seasonals featured on tap. But it proved to be only a convivial warmup for the November 29th Chimay Beer Tasting.
Settling in at a seat in the middle of the bar across from the tap handles, I dip into the first, and arguably foremost, winter ale. Though exalted beer snobs may dismissively smirk at the thought of Boston Beer Company’s Samuel Adams line making new libations that aren’t as worthy as a host of independent local brews, there’s no denying the rich Christmastime luxuriousness of Samuel Adams Merry Mischief Gingerbread Stout. As the college games begin and owner Baskinger sets up his latest hanging surfboard (featuring a modern day pin-up girl), I sip the frothy gingerbread cookie-like dark ale. Soaked in brown-sugared dark chocolate malts and speckled with cinnamon-nutmeg spicing, this veritable holiday treat really benefited from its creamy nitro gassing, bettering the bottled version by a wispy bourbon nip.
Argent’s cryptic “Hold Your Head Up” blasts in the background as a few customers straddle in adn i notice the new Giants Super Bowl 2012 surfboard regaling the maroon ceiling. My friendly head waitress, Jess, pulls my next draft, a richer version of Cricket Hill’s Nocturne Dark Lager. This years’ model deepened its dark-roasted nuttiness and hop-charred dark chocolate malting while the peanut-shelled walnut bittering contrasted the vanilla hazelnut sweetness more efficiently.
As I began to chill, Fladung joined me for the astonishing Southern Tier 2 X-Mas, a full-bodied winter solstice bringing pumpkin-pureed autumn spicing to yuletide gingerbread-snapped cinnamon-nutmeg as well as fig-sugared stewed prune, golden raisin and bruised cherry dried fruiting.
Boaks Brewing entrepreneur Brian Boak then strolled in, tried a few brews and explained his upcoming ventures.
“Whoever sold the most Boaks beer will recieve first right of refusal to hold an annual party featuring sixtels of my first batch of Monster Mash Imperial Stout from ’07, plus three sixtels from ’08 and ’09. The flavor profile has changed over the years. The hop bite mellowed out and a Cognac-like mouthfeel ensued.”
Boaks’ standard fare (Double BW Witbier; Two Blind Monks; Abbey Brown) will also be available. Get definitive dates and times of these events at www.boaks.com
381 Main begins to fill up by 1:30. Chef extraordinaire, John Carlo Vitale, readies a bunch of delectable brick oven pizzas while several specialty burgers get served to the left tables across the bar.
I then slip into a fabulous non-seasonal full body from Michigan. Founders Breakfast Stout, a tantalizingly creamy chocolate malted Imperial with rich coffee bean roasting, molasses-sapped vanilla sweetness and sturdy hop-charred rye influence, brought oats-flaked Brazil nut, walnut, cola and hazelnut illusions to the milk chocolate core.
By 3:30, the Notre Dame game had begun and I retreated back home to watch the Fighting Irish move to Number One as Oregon and Kansas State both lost later that evening.
I ventured once more into 381 Main’s main space on a chilly Wednesday ’round dinnertime for CHIMAY NIGHT. As a long-time fan of the Belgian Abbey brewery run by Cistercian Trappist Monks at Notre Dame de Scourmont in the southern Ardennes region, I couldn’t wait to meet the incomparable Chimay ambassador, Luc ‘Bobo’ Van Mechelen. Presently, there are only eight true Abbey breweries in the world including six in Belgium and one each in Austria and Holland. Each has received tremendous attention from spirited beer connoisseurs.
As I enter, Bobo’s hanging out with owner Steve Baskinger at the bar. An aged-in-the-wool veteran of the beer circuit, he came to Austin, Texas during 1979, joining Pierre Celis of Hoegaarden to help launch Celis microbrewery (later bought by Miller) after running Belgian-styled cafe, Gambrinus. He’d hook up with Chimay thereafter.
“The secret to Chimay is the well water and no pesticides being used. We don’t use any chemicals to alter our water. Some brewers use salts to change the quality of water,” he proudly explains over a bottle of the blue-labeled Chimay Grand Reserve, a Christmastime brew crafted approximately 100 years after 1862′s original maroon-labeled Chimay Premiere Dubbel.
A native of Leuven, one of the world’s renowned beer cities (located 25-minutes east of Brussels), his family owned a pub on the main drag since 1880. Originally, Bobo’s favorite beer was Duvel, a famous Flemish strong pale ale with a history nearly as old as Chimay’s.
“Leuven’s a better party town than Brussels. And my hometown has an old Catholic college that goes back to 1453. It used to be the only school where you could study about breweries,” Bobo recalls.
As we drown a few bottles of Grand Reserve, he says, “This particular yeast strain dates back to 1948 because everything got destroyed in World War II. It took four years after Patton’s army won the Battle of the Bulge and liberated Belgium to get restarted.”
Furthermore, he states, “There are no spices used (even though the hops attest otherwise). Most of Chimay’s flavor comes from the same yeast put into all three beers.”
We share a few wonderful Chimay cheeses alongside the white-labeled Cinq Cents, a peppery citric-spiced dubbel with honey-glazed candi sugaring. Grand Cru cheese maintained a soft-toned pasteurized milking while Trappist Ale cheese was bathed in Chimay beer, whole-milked Vieux cheese retained a light sharpness and Classic cheese had a hard-pressed natural rind.
Finally, we’d whet our whistle with Chimay Speciale Cent Cinquante, an elegant limited edition 150th anniversary celebrator based on the white-labeled tripel. Its champagne-sparkled fruity bouquet sashayed around a herbaceous pink peppercorn and lemongrass cluster, picking up Chardonnay-buttered honey mead nuances to contrast citric tropical fruiting. (Full reviews are found at Beer Index).
As the clock struck ten, Bobo and I had satisfied our appetites. He had chatted with a few dozen Chimay admirers along the way and I got to spend quality time with Hunterdon Distribution rep, Cori Cornett, who brought me up-to-date with her company’s latest offerings. A perfect evening for all in attendance.
During October ’13, stopped by to eat hearty bowl of creamy cheddar-cheesed potato soup (with scallions and bacon) while consuming three fine autumnal offerings (fully reviewed in Beer Index). Flying Dog Dogtoberfest scattered leafy foliage across yellow-fruited hop spicing and dewy earthiness while Flying Dog The Fear layered pumpkin pie sweetness above dark-roasted chocolate malts. The canned Wachusett Pumpkan contrasted vegetal squash-zucchini plainness with humble pumpkin pie-spiced brown sugaring.
With wife onboard, journeyed back two days hence for first pouring of nearby Cricket Hill’s Jersey Devil Red Ale, a bold medium body with stylistic caramel-toasted fruit spicing. Brewed for New Jersey Devils hockey games in Newark, the tapped version went well with Sunset Pizza (mozzarella-cheesed sun-dried tomatos and pineapple) and moist barbecued chicken wings.
Though I missed 381 Main’s Fall Fest, my wife and I returned the following day (Sept. 24, ’14) to enjoy three newly marketed New Jersey-based pumpkin ales by Carton, Bolero Snort and Cricket Hill (reviewed in Beer Index) plus a few delicious food items. Cheese-sauced pretzel bits and lobster bisque were fine appetizers for Nonna’s Pie (a parmesan-cheesed pizza with olive-oiled plum tomatos).