Instead of trying to reinvent what has become an institution for the affluent Ridgewood community, the new owners of THE OFFICE BEER BAR & GRILL simply refined an outmoded menu while continuing to bring fantastic craft beers to local minions. A veritable sportsbar (previously home to the long-gone Brass Lamp), The Office quickly earned its stripes as a reliable downtown hotspot since opening in 1995.
Located one block away from the train station, a black and red awning welcomes patrons to the green-walled, mahogany-wooded Chestnut Street landmark. Montreal-bred General Manager Hugh Cohen, who came aboard in ’99, constantly revamps and upgrades the craft beer lineup while making sure cocktail selections stay topnotch. Presently, six to eight dedicated tap handles serve standard fare and the other fifteen to seventeen tender a rotating surfeit of choice suds. Fifty bottled beers add further versatility.
Recently, The Office purchased a state-of-the-art NuCo system that makes its own oxygen and maintains perfect gas pressure for draught beer. One carbon dioxide tank is used for pilsners, lagers and light ales while another is used for heavier porters and stouts. The last one is strictly for sodas.
”The NuCo system is clean, efficient and low maintenance,” Cohen insists. “It adds more freshness, creaminess and consistency to the beers.”
Since Mardi Gras is just around the corner during my early February visitation, several Creole flags and danglers decorate the bar area. In a few weeks, it’ll be March Madness and basketball tournament brackets will inundate the interior. Next, Cinco De Mayo will be celebrated. Year round seasonal rejoicing is a top priority for this busy locale. And the ongoing party is centered around fine brews poured from the three solid brass mushroom-like wells at the bar.
”All of the seven Office’s in Jersey are known for craft beer,” Villa Enterprises Marketing Manager Kathleen Janssen claims as we quaff pints of The Office Amber Ale, specially made by High Point Brewery for the Ridgewood pub. “Being a beer bar and grill is our calling card. And we made it more centric towards local craft beer. There’s usually only two international beers on tap, Guinness and Corona, and we have Coors and Bud Lite for the masses. Every location has at least nineteen taps. We dedicate four to seasonals and the rest to local or national favorites picked by our customers.”
Now family-owned by Villa Enterprises’ Bioggio and Antonio Scotto since 2011, The Office offers ridiculously cheap Happy Hour specials such as $3 craft beer draughts, $2 domestic macrobrews and $4 margaritas from 4 to 7 PM Monday through Friday. In business for fifty years, Villa began as a pizzeria chain, Villa Fresh Time Kitchens – a string of highly frequented eateries at airports, malls, casinos and arenas. They also own the Green Leaf chain and recently purchased Jersey’s oldest restaurant, the Black Horse Tavern, built in 1740 as a stage house.
“We take pride in our food,” Janssen says. “We’ve revamped the outdated ’90s menu the defunct Charlie Brown owners used to have. It didn’t represent what the food really was supposed to be. Every item on the menu is cooked in the back. Everything’s fresh. The meat’s brought in raw and fresh fish comes daily. We implemented new items like Lettuce Wraps and sauteed chicken and shrimp.”
I chow down the Tuna Tower, a crisp tuna tartar with avocado and arugula in a wasabi and balsamic glaze, while sipping Saranac White India Pale Ale, a new brew with bright citric overtones and lilting herbal spices.
“In northern Jersey, the market available to us in nearby Manhattan boasts an amazing variety of restaurants. There’s a higher level of expectation since much of Ridgewood’s populace works in the city. We can’t just shovel food out of the kitchen and expect people to enjoy it. That happened beforehand. The Office had become an antiquated steak house,” the Philly-born Janssen says.
Since the coolest new trend is matching craft beer to artisanal foods, The Office hopes to educate their customer base with exciting pairings. But it’s just one of the steps Villa has taken to help customers appreciate a transitional upgraded menu.
”The Office is beer focused and family friendly. Villa’s not a huge corporation operating restaurants in an uncaring, profit-taking manner. We appreciate everything that goes into being a successful venture. The Ridgewood-based Office, comparable to the Montclair and Morristown franchises, has the best character and largest sales,” Janssen concludes.
I stopped by The Office once more four days hence to try the smoothly vanilla-buttered, cocoa-draped dessert treat, Breckenridge Vanilla Porter (perfect for chocolate lovers). Stacy, christened by the surrounding Happy Hour customers as the ‘best bartender in Ridgewood,’ shows off her handiwork by making the couple next to me a few highly distinctive Bloody Mary’s.
so don’t settle on slick corporate giants such as Bennigans, TGIFriday or Applebees for average food and limited beer selections. For maybe a few bucks more, The Office will offer better cuisine, finer brews and nicer ambience.