By Donavan Hall, Long Island Beer Correspondent
A couple of weekends ago I got a text message from one of the guys in my soccer club. He and another coach had decided to head out to a bar for a couple of beers. "We're at Ugly Jacks," said the message. I texted back, "Grumpy Jacks, surely."
My phone had been off while I was in the movies so my soccer buddies blamed me for their lack of knowledge about where to go for a beer on a Friday night. "You guys need to get out more," I said. "Or at least get a copy of my beer guide."
Grumpy Jack's is a sports bar not far from the Port Jeff train station. I knew the place because my wife's family are football fans and when they visit on the holidays we seem to end up at Grumpy Jack's for an afternoon of football and beer. They have Blue Point Toasted and Long Ireland Celtic Ale, but the rest is BMC.
I didn't even have to ask. My soccer friends were nursing pints of Blue Moon -- the default brand for beer newbies who are trying to trade up but can't take the hops of American pales ales (let alone IPAs) or the roast and toast of the dark ales (like porters and stouts). "Why don't you drink Blue Point Toasted?" I asked. "Too bitter," they said. Really?
We stood around in Grumpy Jack's talking about our favorite sport, ignoring the fact that every screen in the place was beaming images of teams playing "American football."
I typically avoid sports bars unless I want to catch a game. Sports bars don't typically cater to the craft beer enthusiast. Even sports bars with 30+ taps seem to think 28 different brands of American Standard and Light Lager is the epitome of variety.
When I heard about the opening of the Long Island Ale House, a flicker of interest stirred inside me until I visited their website. "Oh, another multi-tap sports bar." I filed it away on the low-priority list.
On Sunday, I met with my business partners to take care of some issues concerning the operation of our brewery. During the meeting Mike mentioned that he'd been down to the Long Island Ale House. "They don't have anything on tap that I hadn't had before," he said. "The food's okay though."
Monday evening my plan was to visit C'est Cheese in Port Jeff for a third time in a month. This time I was going to get some photos and write them up proper for the New York Cork Report and my beer guide. (They promised that some of Mike Philbrick's Port Jeff Brew would be on tap by the time I returned -- a promise I expect them to keep.) But, then I remembered that C'est Cheese is closed on Mondays. I'd already roused the troops (wife and offspring) and they were ready to go out.
"There's the Long Island Ale House," I suggested. When my son confirmed that the Ale House served wings (what sports bar doesn't?) he started chanting "Ale House, Ale House!"
When we arrived at the address I immediately recognized the location. I'd been there before when it was Global Sports Cafe (owned by a Turkish family and supporters of Galatasaray, or maybe it was Besiktas) --- before the place had its Long Island Ale House make over. "This is where I used to come with Franz to watch the Arsenal matches," I said to Alice. Arsenal is Franz's passion. We had this international exchange going. He'd watch MetroStars matches with me and I'd watch Arsenal matches with him. It was an excellent excuse to drink beer.
All the screens were tuned to ESPN in anticipation of the big Monday night game between the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints. "Go Saints!" screamed Alice when she saw the screen. Everyone in the whole place turned to see what the excitement was. She and her whole family are Saints fans. Her uncle has had a set of four season tickets to the Saints games since the franchise began in 1967 when the team played at Tulane University's stadium. In fact, Alice's brother and his wife were in New Orleans that night in the Superdome waiting for kick-off. "I wish we could stay and watch the game," said Alice. I shrugged. "It's a school night," I said. "Beside we already know the Saints are going to kill the Giants." Alice nodded, resigned.
Our friendly server brought the beer list. I scanned the list for anything Belgian that Alice might like and was amused by the creative spelling of Gulden Draak, "Golden Dreak," it read. The server wanted to be helpful and tried to guide us through the palate of such esoteric offerings as Stella Artois, Palm, and Arrogant Bastard. Without transforming into a Beer Dick (well maybe just a small one), I assured the server that we were familiar with every beer on the list.
We ordered. Since I almost always order local, I went with the Great South Bay Sleigh Ryed, since I hadn't tasted that one yet. And Alice went with the Blue Point Double Blonde. The GSB Sleigh Ryed was disappointing as a starter. I was hoping for something drier and hoppier, but what I got was spiced and sweet. "It's a chick beer," I said to Alice as I offered her a sip. "Eww!" she said making a face. "I like mine better," she said. "At least yours tastes like beer," I said. "Light, quaffable."
"I want wings!" announced my son.
The food was merely okay. Decent pub fare for filling the gnawing void if you happen to be there for the game, but it's not the sort of cooking you'd go out of your way for.
"I see the intent," said Alice after reading through the menu. "They're are working the local angle. Local beers, local ingredients; but points off for execution." About a quarter of the beers were from local brewers, the big three: Blue Point, Long Ireland, and GSB. Some of the ingredients listed on the menu were from local farms (spinach, for example). But it seemed more like a gesture, rather than an operating principle.
My son was fascinated by the pre-game show on ESPN, mostly involving images of a Syracuse basketball coach. "I used to watch the Arsenal with Franz in that back room," I said getting into a nostalgic mood. "It's funny they only have the one channel. All these TVs and one channel. Is this the only game on?" Alice asked if there was any soccer on TV at the moment. "The only match I know about is Sophia versus Ludogorets in the Bulgarian league, but I doubt that's on TV here."
About halfway through the meal, our sever returned, this time with a Blue Point Rastfa Rye for me and a "Golden Dreak" for Alice. The Gulden Draak was even in the appropriate glass. My Rasta Rye was in a Bud-labeled shaker pint -- you can't have everything, I suppose.
When it was all over and we were headed back to the car, Alice asked, "Well? What did you think?"
"Not enough of the local stuff," I said. "I understand the pressures that these places face. If you're running a sports bar, you gotta cater to the sports bar tastes, or lack thereof. Craft beer bars, on the other hand, don't tend to have that many TVs. It's a different crowd."
Then Alice asked the all important question. "Would you want the Long Island Ale House carrying your beer on tap?"
"Speaking as a businessman or a craft beer lover?"
"Just answer the question," said Alice.
"I'll plead the fifth then."