Sometimes, over the years, your memories of a place end up being better than how it had actually been. Call it the haze of years, or want to reminisce about the past. And sometimes the place is even better now that what you remembered.
Over the weekend I had a chance to go back to our old College Haunt: The Shepherd & the Knucklehead Pub in Haledon NJ. To say I had gone there since the beginning would not be a stretch, or at the very least, I was there to help blow out the candle on their first birthday cake.
Flash back to the tail end of the 90’s: If you asked someone what a micro brewery was you may get an answer of Sierra Nevada, or Sam Adams Boston Lager. A time that was a good decade plus before the first instance of someone speaking the now ubiquitous term “craft beer”
Here you have a small bar nestled in a quiet somewhat industrial area only a few blocks from William Paterson College [ editors note: maybe it was already University by then?] With a simple sign on the roof to let you know what you were driving past.
Entering narrow walkway between tables and the bar, you would have found 20 or so beers on tap, none of which were any of the big name Macros. Even in by today’s standards that is quite the sight, but for back then, it was simply unheard of in our area. A few others had tried it but for one reason or another they were all out of business within a few months or years.
Depending on the night you may find yourself chatting with the owner Chris listening to one hell of an extensive and varied Jukebox, or being treated to Tuesdays open Mic jam session chock full of the Willy P jazz students and other slightly off centered musicians. Of course, who can forget Sunday Nights poetry readings, host to the likes of Alexander the Poet, or readings from the pub patron Poet, Allan Ginsburg’s seminal work Howl.
Just to have one of these things be listed as a main attraction back then was utter madness, but to have all of them? Inconceivable. But I loved it, every minute of it. I brought friends who would get it, and they loved it, and so on and so on.
So as life moved on, I had found myself going less and less, and before this weekends visit it had probably been a good 6 years before I had been back.
Driving over blasted me with memories, what changed along the way? New building added and old ones closed. Pulling up the side street to park on that oh so steep hill, I had to do a double take, there was a now a parking lot, and as parking lot landscaping goes, a very nice one. My friend shared my amazement a few minutes later when he arrived.
Next on the list of shock and awe – there were two entrances. Choosing the original door i walked inside. “Wow this place was bigger” was my first thought. Just about the only things i remembered for its original set up was the Little brick wall that had been the home to the dart board. The Oliver Wendell Tweed sign over the bar, and the bathrooms. Everything else was new, including those 90 glimmering taps
As I looked around I soon found in the second room there was not only a pool table but a second bar!
Drafts had always been good and that hasn’t changed at all. I was a bit saddened to see some of the taps empty as they were working around getting the fall line ups going. It was Labor Day weekend after all, so it made sense. Pretty much everything I had wanted to try was still there (and you can peruse the last few days of the blog, or read on until the end to see those reviews).
With a night of catching up and enjoying some class A beers, we would have been remiss to not try out the new food menu. Ultimately I was even more surprised by the food than anything else. Settling on the Buffalo blue cheese burger, I asked to have bacon on it, because, well it is bacon, why not?
Upon bringing out our food, the chef informed us that he was a fan of bacon and took as a challenge to make sure I got a bacon worthy experience: Bacon fat in the accompanying hot sauce in the butter that was brushed on the bun before grilling, pretty much anyplace you could use it, save frying some up with the fries, which would have been just fine by me if he did that. 🙂
Bacon aside, it was cooked perfectly, and was amazing. Easily the best local burger I have had Kobe beef or otherwise, and for a price, that for the quality, was insanely low. – On par with what a chain restaurant would charge for their burgers.
We ended the night splitting a huge fresh made pretzel with homemade mustard. Again fantastic.
So sometimes you can look back on things with rose-colored glasses and remember how things were – or sometimes you can find everything you remembered turned on its head in beautifully quirky ways making it all that much better.
- Ballast Point: Sculpin IPA – Dare I say this is the perfect IPA?
- New Jersey’s Own: Carton Brewing Beer Reviews