We ventured to Bellmore last week to sip the latest selections from the Brooklyn Brewery. We came away with a strong urge to drink more of the new Brooklyn Gold Standard–this spring, this summer and beyond–and a desire to make it back to Effin Gruven, the ahead-of-its-time beer bar that stands like a diamond in the rough just across the road from the LIRR station and that was packed with a mix of bearded young gents and suds-drinking chicks that could have easily been Court Street instead of Sunrise Highway.
(For those who missed the party, it was part of the collaboration between Edible magazines and Brooklyn Brewery around the region, including in Boston, New Jersey and Queens, these Quarterly Carousels are celebrations of food, drink and stories, and the Reserve Series of seasonal, limited-edition, tap-only beers created by Garrett Oliver, the celebrated brewmaster, including the Brooklyn Gold Standard, according to the brewery, “unusually hoppy & unfiltered lager made with Spring in mind.”)
Effin Gruven owner Joe Dantona opened the bar in 1999 with 12 taps and about 30 bottles. Today, the bar sports 30 taps and about 100 bottles. In the early days, Dantona reports that there were many nights where he didn’t have a single customer. Hundreds of others walked in and, seeing no Bud or Bud Light for sale, walked back out. (A neighboring bar owner warned that people wouldn’t know what to order because they wouldn’t have heard of any of the beers.)
Fortunately, those days are far behind, and Effin Gruven overflows with fans–young and old, male and female–while Long Island overflows with craft breweries, good beer bars and locally focused good beer blogs like “Super Neat Beer Adventure, Yes!!” Deliberately, the bar doesn’t have a pool table, doesn’t collect it’s patrons email addresses and would never consider anything in the realm of a wet t-shirt contest. “We’re true believers here,” said Dantona, who claimed he’s had more fun since opening the bar than a person should be allowed. “We enjoy beer.” A self-proclaimed “one-dimensional” Rangers fan, Dantona was rivetted to the playoff game that was on the night of the tasting. (The Rangers won.) “We were probably on acid when we painted the ceiling,” he said of the arched blue creation with well-placed tapistries that, along with the Dead-inflected iPod shuffle, gave the joint a Haight Ashbury coziness.
Effin Gruven doesn’t offer food, although we did find some excellent pizza and traditional pasta (voted best on Long Island by Newsday) at Piccolo’s in the shopping center down the road; their Silk Road-fusion calamari corleone, topped with wasabi and cashews, was worth the trip. Alongside the beer, attendees nibbled on Edible-curated bar snacks, including SlantShack jerky (made from grassfed Vermont beef, headquartered in Brooklyn and offering a pretty insane range of flavor combos), a barrel selection of Horman’s pickles, North Fork Potato Chips, and Taste of the North Fork mustard, which was a perfect dip for the Uncle Jerry’s pretzels.
And while Dantona humbly suggested that the bar’s success has been one lucky break after another–the hiring of a flamboyant 20-something punk bartender just after he opened lead to a solid 20-something customer base that has persisted–he clearly knows what he likes. He has tried most of the new nano-brews on Long Island, but has stuck with carrying tried and true locals, like Brooklyn Brewery, Kelso of Brooklyn and Southampton Publick House. (Dantona is the former comptroller for Brooklyn Brewery, and his pour list routinely features a half dozen selections from his former employer.) Beyond New York City, the beer list is heavy with producers from the state, the Northeast and California. “We’re kind of hippies, so the beer’s got to have some hoppiness to it..” We can dig that.